I was a little under the weather last week and, for a moment, considered not training. Instead I slowed things down, way down. In the process I was reminded that, whether you are sick or not, slowing the pace of training has a lot to offer the serious martial artist. And by slow I mean, “Tai Chi slow,” and if you currently practice Tai Chi, think, “glacial slow.” Many of us have been so engrained with the notion that only full speed techniques work in combat that we have a tendency to practice that way all the time. Not only does this make for repetitive practice but, any habits that you had when you started training that way, good or bad, are almost impossible to change. I have seen students repeatedly corrected on a movement and each time they go back to doing it full speed, their body returns to it’s previously scheduled programing.
So slow things down. Don’t do this once, for a lark, but as a regular part of your practice. From the most straight forward punch, to a complete kata, I can’t think of any technique in the martial arts that does not have multiple components. The trouble with doing these moves fast is our brains are too slow to focus on each individual piece. That is fine in actual combat; the less thinking the better. But, when we are trying to learn at full speed, all our brains can register is how a technique generally feels. Do it hundreds of times and you will get used to that feeling. The move will start to feel “good” and your brain will associate that good feeling with correct technique. But, you might have had it wrong all along.
When your body moves at a snail’s pace your brain can keep up, registering each separate component of the movement. When punching, is my elbow in? Is my palm up? When do I rotate my fist? Did I lead with my knuckles or my shoulder? Is my fist tight the whole time, or just at the end? How extended is my arm? Did I lower my body weight? When did I lower my body weight? Did my retracting arm rotate and protect me? Was I relaxed or tense; or both, and in what order? Where was I looking? Which way were my feet and knees pointing? All these components are in a simple punch. When you slow it down you will notice these pieces and you can consciously change each one. If you continue to practice slowly, over time, you will need to make fewer changes and you will begin to feel what “correct” should feel like. And eventually, when you pick the pace up again, you will be able to tell the difference between what you were doing before and your new, corrected movement. Now, what feels good should also be correct.