I have decided to take up karate in the new year, at Phoenix Karate Academy, where my child has been taking youth karate for the last few years. I know the owners and have even taught firearms classes for them and to them, they are great people. I have been training with firearms for the last 16 years or so now and I took a different style of karate as a teenage and went about half way through the belts there. Since then I have had enough muscle memory to move fairly well in a defensive hand-to-hand situation, without a lot of extra thought about my movements, timing would have been a different story.That first class, I felt SO AWKWARD! It must have looked like a newborn fawn when it first starts to walk.
Why do I share that, because no matter what the skill your training, it is awkward as f*&# when you start. Everything feels weird, awkward,and strange. Yet we watch others do it and it just looks fluid, smooth, and intuitive; as they say “If you don’t look cool, then you’re doing it wrong.” So what causes us to have such a steep entry into learning physical techniques and how do we overcome this to succeed?
The barriers that most of us face is are developing unlearning bad habits, building new muscle memory, and overcoming our own pride. When we practice, we form habits, which is our goal. However without training we can learn to do some things wrong, they work during practice out of contexts. These are not always a “bad habit” sometimes you are trying to expand. I have spent a large amount of my life looking at “combat” from a self-defense angle, meaning I have planned and trained to break contact, create distance, draw a firearm, assume a defensive posture while looking for an exit. Doing some research on breaking habits says that step one is usually to identify the habit, I identified that I have a hole in my self-defense plan that centered around hand-to-hand “combat.” I am now having to think and move in a way I am not used to. So I feel like an awkward turtle moving around. But I am exercising, build balance, and gain better coordination. All these will help me with my shooting and aid me if I have to use any techniques to end a situation.
Muscle memory is the ability of your muscles to “learn” a repeatedly practiced motion. Of course muscles don’t actually learn, however your brain does build a S.O.P. or Standard Operating Procedure when it comes to activating a given set of actions. Think of it as a practiced short-cut, you procive a given set of actions and it is practiced normally from 5,000 to 10,000 times. The reason you practice it to build this reaction short-cut. I have placed practice into clearing my clothing and holster, drawing my firearm and acquiring sights, and placing rounds on target. Because of this I can do it smoothly, quickly, accurately, and with little “thought.” This is the same for my teachers in karate, they have a different set of memorized reactionary skills but they were developed the same way. This idea invalidates the “Fake-It Till You Make It” idea of training. If you practice the wrong techniques you remember wrong techniques and that is how bad habits are created.
We all have pride and it can be the downfall of people to growth. We all want to be good at things we undertake and being new, awkward, and let’s face it, sucking at stuff is a bruise to the ego. My first class taking karate as an adult, I sucked. I was flailing around trying to keep my balance. One of the Sosi’s walks behind me and says, “It’s good to see you not good at something, Doug.” Last spring I taught a defensive firearms class for him and others. The two owners of Phoenix Karate Academy have had no previous firearms training, so this was their first class. They felt horribly awkward, they both kept telling me, “I feel like a White Belt!” So the three of us are in the same position, all of us feel confident in our ability to defend ourselves, although the tools would be different. When out of our chosen comfort zones the pride takes a hit and it is a struggle to overcome. So What do we do? Put our ego in check and realize you are learning. Slow down and learn things the way they are being taught, even if you disagree. I get people implying to me all the time that they know a better way, even though they have no experience with what I’m teaching. Once you have learned something the way it has been taught and gained experience with the technique and the situations around it, then you can analyze it with perspective instead of pride.
So short story is what? Learning is process and it can be awkward and even painful to watch at times. It we want to grow and learn then we push through to the goal, it’s mindset. Push through the habits you’ve got to grow and gain new skills. Proper practice will build skill, practice slow, practice smooth, and fast is just around the corner. Pride in your ability may be the largest hurdle to you have to get over. Do the work and learn the technique before you try to improve it with your own flavor. Training is important and training something completely new takes time, effort, and faith to build.