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Two Out of Three?

In my last post, I discussed the difficulty of working on speed, power and precision at the same time, and how it is often necessary to work on each of those qualities individually, so as to eventually maximize one’s development of each without losing sight of the others. Most people will find that they have differing levels of natural ability in each of those areas. Some have the gift of natural speed, and are able to be reasonably precise for their rank, but struggle to deliver power in their techniques. Another person may have a real talent for precision in their movements, a more or less average potential for developing power, but be slower in reaction time than most people. Of course, there are the folks who are often described as “naturals,” who bring a much better than average ability in each of these qualities to their training. Even they, however, will almost always find that one element lags behind the others.

It should then follow that martial arts practitioners would apply the majority of their effort in training to working on their weak points, as they can already expect to be able apply a higher level of whichever qualities feel most “natural” to them. But the truth is, no one wants to suck. Everyone wants to feel good about themselves, and focusing on one’s strength is more likely to make one feel good about oneself. If you are the quickest person in the dojo but slow to acquire precision in your work, it feels great to train in ways that allow you to showcase your speed and not so great to slow down and walk through the technique slowly, step by step, again and again, until you get the details right – and to do that again and again over the years, each time you start getting sloppy. For a practitioner with natural power, especially if their power allows them to make things “work” against most of their training partners most of the time, it can seem kind of pointless to devote time to training for speed and precision. And of course, the person with a knack for precision can often be so pleased about doing everything “right” that they prefer not to look closely at the fact that they are unable to deliver techniques with the speed and power necessary to make them “work” in self defense or competition.

Every martial arts student should seek to become a well rounded practitioner of their art, but that can be difficult, especially in the early years of training. That is why an instructor who truly has their students’ best interests at heart will guide them toward that goal over the long term. It is the instructor’s responsibility to help students develop into well-rounded martial artists. Yes, I want my students to enjoy class, to feel good about themselves, to do work that is satisfying. But if that is my main goal, so that I lose sight of the necessity of asking them to do things that are difficult, things that do not provide the immediate pleasure of playing to their strengths, then I am failing them. If I let my own natural desire to be seen as a “fun” teacher prevent me from pushing them to do what does NOT come naturally, I am failing them. If I do not lead them down the rocky paths, I am failing them.

So when your teacher has you do drills to develop speed and you are not comfortable moving at top speed, they are doing you a service. When you are the quickest person in class and they make you slow and “do it right,” they have your best interests at heart. And when you are proud of your ability to do the movement slowly and carefully while getting every detail right, but they insist on you trying to do it with speed and power while holding onto that precision, they are demonstrating their love for you as their student.

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