Muscle Memory

One of the hardest things about being a karate instructor is finding the right balance in tone. You want to impress upon your students – especially the younger students – that what they do in the dojo is serious and needs to be done to the best of their ability while still making it fun. The real world is a dangerous place but we don’t want to create a generation of children who become overly paranoid adults. As an instructor, I want to know my kiddos are safe. That they can defend themselves.

So sometimes I have to be tricky. Creating drills that reinforce techniques students can use to defend themselves, while giving them enough repetitions to allow for muscle memory to take over in a moment of crisis. Last night I stumbled across an easy repetition that had the kiddos grinning ear-to-ear while they did about thirty reps of a move in just about as many seconds. It was quick. It was fun. And they learned something.

That moment was why I teach. It perfectly counterbalanced the news I’d read early in the day. Stories filling me with dread and concern. There have been four attempted abductions locally. Any one could have been my student. That fact gnawed at my soul. Last night, watching their faces glow as they did the move made me happy. It let me know I’m doing the right thing and even the hard days are worth it.

If I help make just one person safe, it’s all worth it.

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The Sum Total

One of the things I regularly teach in my classes has to do with attitude. What you practice in the dojo is what you’ll do when it comes time to defend yourself. Sure, adrenaline will give you an added boost but it could also cloud your mind as you stumble trying to figure out what to do. Muscle memory – that’s the key to being able to really defend yourself. Oh sure, using your hips, as I’ve mentioned before, big punches, all of those are important as well, but in the end it boils down to good old fashioned muscle memory.

What your body does in a time of crisis is what it has learned to do. What have you taught it? Instinctively, you will mirror your dojo training if you’re assaulted. What you teach it is important. As an instructor, I can coach you along, demanding you push yourself to do your best, striving to attain new limits but in the end its up to the student to dig deep, providing that added something to their training.

What are you going to bring to the situation? Most students, when they come into class, don’t think about being attacked. They think more about doing their kata, or their basics to get ready for an exam. I know that. I also know, the reality of being attacked is out there for all of us. No, I’m not paranoid, I’m just realistic. I wish the world was made up of completely nice people but that isn’t the case. I’m reading more and more news articles about young girls – very young girls – and boys being attacked. Pedophiles are an unfortunate reality, the same with rapists. These situations are the real test.

Remember, you are the sum total of your training. What will you do next time you train? I’d suggest you look in the mirror – see an attacker then handle him the best way you can. Through repetitions you’ll be ready and the best martial artist you can be.

What you practice

I can teach a student to kick and punch, to knee someone and do awesome hammer fists, giving them the tools they need to defend themselves. But I cannot give them them spirit. That comes from within and is the key component to successful self defense. That spark that resides in them, that fuels their passion and is aided by adrenaline coursing through their bodies – I cannot give them that. Each of us must dig deep and discover our own spirit, incorporating it into their daily attitude.

Unfortunately, as I’ve explained to students, what you do in class is all you have when it comes to defending yourself. If you fling your arms out, without using your body effectively – hip action, body rotation, etc. – then all you’ll have are arms and legs flailing about. They won’t land on their target with sufficient force to deflect an attack. Bringing spirit to class is the difference between a student who labors through every single belt and one who appears to breeze through the classes. Sure, other factors come into play, such as coordination and general athleticism but spirit can help every student rise above those things.

What you practice is what you become. Muscle memory takes over in a time of crisis and need. What will you bring to the fight? Don’t wait until you need it, start honing and using your spirit now. Remember. Spirit first. Everything else will follow.