Consistency… or put other ways … constancy, regularity, evenness, steadiness, stability, equilibrium, dependability, reliability.
I have noticed an alarming trend in many martial artists. I hope to help you avoid the same trap.
As people make the metaphorical journey through the skill acquisition steps (Learn, Practice, Master, Functionalize, Maintain) there is a temptation to attempt to bypass the hard parts and continue to revel in the easy ones. Everybody enjoys the first time we learn a new skill or technique. It’s fun! Whether it is a new martial art skill, playing an instrument, learning a new language...or whatever. We feel like we are growing because we have learned something new! Yeah for me! (hear my sarcasm? ;-) We may even enjoy practicing it for a little while…. and then the hard, monotonous work to progress towards mastery begins and it doesn’t seem like fun anymore. This is where many people lose focus and attempt to find “fun” again by going out and learning something new ... again.
On the surface it may appear that this approach actually is a valid way to grow, but over time all that happens is you acquire a longer list of stuff/techniques in your notes without actually growing in your abilities. In the context of the martial arts, these people are the ones who rarely become more than mediocre martial artists. They may have great ability and skill in the dojo, but little depth, ability or understanding of reality outside of the perfect training environment. These folks tend to be "talkers" and not "doers."
Referring back to the skill acquisition steps listed above... if you are constantly going back to learning something new... when do you ever get any skill up to a functional level? You simply can not because you haven’t spent enough time with the material. As an example, let’s look at learning to drive. When you first get behind the wheel all of your attention is focused on just trying to keep the car going straight! There is little thought of anything other than the most basic operation of the vehicle. Then after many years of driving, most people have “funtionalized” their ability to drive in many different and varying environments. At this stage of the game it’s not unusual to see someone driving, talking on the cellphone, eating a donut, and drinking a latte... all while operating their vehicle "safely." If you asked the new driver to do all of that at once they wouldn’t be able to do it, but over time, most people can to varying degrees.
Now look look at a training drill we practice called "5 count sumbrada" as another example. When you first learn the pattern you desperately try to just keep up and HOPE that you aren’t going to get hit! You can’t even imagine doing it fast, much less while inserting feints, half beats and off hand hits, savate and pananjakman, or with double stick, stick and knife, left handed, and asymmetrical weapons. Then as if that isn’t enough, add a third person in the mix “hunting” you with a knife while you are dealing with all of the above. When you even try to explain that to a new student, they can’t even begin comprehend what you are talking about. Why? They have no familiarity whatsoever with the environment. Yet, over time with proper instruction, most people can get to this level quite easily. How does this seemingly magical transformation take place? The answer is quite simply this: Consistent time in the environment with a progressive introduction of variables.
Practicing a skill consistently over time allows a familiarity with the “environment” to form. Only when you start to feel at ease can you begin to explore that environment. When you are able to “explore” you can begin to functionalize. Not until then. There isn’t any shortcut. A problem can form with consistency though. That is if you are not training intentionally, you may just do the same thing over and over again without ever growing. You may have heard the example of the martial artist when asked how long he had been training his answer was, “20
years”, but upon further reflection he realized he had only trained 2 years ... ten times. There wasn’t any growth beyond the initial 2 years.
So how can we consistently train material without falling into this subtle trap? This problem is easily solved by progressively introducing variables to our training. By doing this we can train the same material over and over again without doing the same thing over and over again in a mechanical, rote fashion.
There is no magic to martial art. There is just hard work and consistency. The magic is in you making the skills functional. This allows you to apply them when and where you need them. That’s it.
The bottom line is simply this: Without the dedicated, consistent practice of a skill set it is impossible to pass from what I call a “pedestrian” to a “practitioner” in the arts.
Blessings and Strength!