To get good at something, you need to practice. To get really good, you need to practice a lot. It’s common knowledge that with a lot of practice, there is a lot of repetition, and one of the theories for keeping students engaged in a classroom (especially in martial arts) is disguised repetition. The idea is that if you just do something over and over again, it can get boring and uninspiring, so if a teacher can just make it look like you aren’t doing the same thing (even if you are) then everyone is happy and growing.
An inexperienced instructor might take some skill (let’s say a hammer fist strike) and practice hitting into a target, then practice rolling and coming up for the strike, then practice leaping over something and striking, etcetera. While these are indeed valuable drills, they are rather static. The student is often just doing something else first then doing the hammer fist. In short bursts this is good, but do this for very long and it doesn’t feel very disguised, and certainly feels repetitive.
A more skilled instructor weaves into the drill other concepts as well. I worked this same hammer fist strike with a youth class the other day. I had them hit a target I put in front of them. Then they practiced two soft ‘touches’ followed by a strong strike. Then the target was in front of them only briefly and if they didn’t hit it, it went away. (They were in a circle at this point, so the order was random … they had to be paying attention). Then there was both a red target and black target and I would thrust one of them in front of a student. (Hit the black target, but not the red one). It only got more challenging from there. We spent half the class working on this strike in various drills. The kids thought we were ‘playing games’ (adult students love these kind of ‘games’ too) and I had to force them to move away from these exercises and on to something else. They would have done this all class if I let them. Of course, the rest of our techniques and exercises in that class also seemed to have a hammer fist in there somewhere.
Looking at it from the outside, it’s clear that the hammer fist wasn’t really the only thing we were working on. There was precision, control, focus, decision making, speed, and several different self-defense applications, just to name the highlights. The key here is that it was those things and hammer fist. Not something then hammer fist. The drills were dynamic. Each hammer fist felt different. The timing was different. The positioning was different. The application was often different. Everyone in my class knew we were working on hammer fists. So there wasn’t a lot of disguise going on. Since each one felt different … there wasn’t a lot of repetition either. But everyone did a lot of hammer fists.
There is nothing wrong with static drills (such as just stand there and hit the target), but self-defense won’t be static. So why would we want too many drills like that in a class? With more dynamic drills, students get a chance to practice multiple skills at once, but even more important, get to understand the principle faster, and naturally apply the principle when appropriate, rather than try to ‘do that hammer fist strike’. Look for ways to add dynamic drills to your own training. (If you train at one of our To-Shin Do dojos, it’s probably already there!) Repetition is good. Not so repetitive is even better!