What To Do When Your Martial Arts Practice Feels Stagnant
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Have you ever felt like something was off in your martial arts practice? You find that it’s becoming harder to drag yourself to class, and when you do make it there, you’re stealing glances at the clock the entire time. Or perhaps you do enjoy going to class and working out, but it feels like you’re going through the same old motions over and over again. Maybe you don’t feel challenged enough, or you’ve hit a plateau and feel frustrated that you can’t get past it.
The question is ”Are you burned out, or are you just bored?”
Burnout is well-known and often discussed phenomenon among athletes and martial artists, but what if you’re just feeling kind of blah? You don’t have to feel mentally or physically burned out to experience a low point in your practice. Maybe you’re not burned out, and you don’t even want to quit, but putting in the minimal effort or skipping class entirely is becoming more tempting.
Boredom, while seemingly harmless, can be a red flag that something deeper is causing the martial artist to disengage. If left untreated, it could lead to burnout and at worst, the martial artist leaving his or her practice entirely. So what to do when we want to continue doing martial arts, but our practice has begun to feel stagnant?
1. Ask For Feedback
While you may be able to gauge your progress depending on your level of self-awareness, feedback from an instructor is highly valuable and essential to your learning and development. An instructor can offer a fresh perspective on what you’re doing well and what you need to work on. Talk to your instructor after class, and tell them you would like some feedback.
Asking for specific feedback and coaching will help your instructor to give you detailed guidance which will help you improve. Tell your instructor why you want feedback: you need motivation, you set a goal, you want to compete in a tournament, etc. Think about questions you can ask that will narrow the scope. For example:
“What is one thing I can do to improve my speed in sparring?”
“I’m having trouble mastering the throwing technique we worked on in class. Can you watch me do it and tell me what I need to fix?”
2. Seek Challenges
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Whether or not your martial arts follows a belt system, there should always be something you can strive for. If you’re getting tired of your routine, try seeking out challenges that can awaken your competitive edge and push you out of your comfort zone.
Is there a person you avoid sparring or rolling with during class? Are you afraid of getting hurt or are you simply getting too comfortable with your regular partners? Step up to the challenge, and work with them. As long as your instructor approves, go ahead and ask those larger, more advanced, or more skilled students to practice with you. Learn from them.
Another way to challenge yourself is to find a way to embrace what you don’t like. This little mind trick will help you break down subconscious negative barriers you may have around your practice. Think about your least favorite part of training, and choose to focus your full attention and effort on practicing it. What is something new you notice about it? How can you learn from each mistake? Who does this well, and what can you learn from them?
For some of you who has a little bit of extra time, you can leap even further by joining a martial arts training camp. Not only will you find yourself refreshed in a new environment, you’ll also have the chance to meet new people and new sparring partners. Moreover, since you won’t have to worry about work while you’re at the training camp, you’ll find yourself more concentrated in improving your techniques.
3. Go Back to Basics
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Once you’re past white belt you don’t have to work on the basics anymore…just kidding!
We all recognize, or at least we should, the value of our foundational techniques. It’s easy, though, to want to cast them aside for more complicated (and often more fun) throws, strikes, and combinations. While that’s a natural part of our progression, the lack of a strong foundation can come back to haunt us with poor and ineffective “advanced” techniques.
Revisit the fundamentals. Try unusual combinations of basic movements, balance activities, speed drills, and just enough change in routine to make your fundamentals challenging and exciting. If you need some inspiration, search the web for videos that break down your favorite techniques.
For example, forms are one of my favorite elements of Taekwondo, but even I get tired of running through the same sequence of the color belt and black belt patterns. A simple challenge is doing the form facing a different direction than where I usually begin. It’s amazing how a simple directional change can challenge the mind. It gets even more interesting (and unintentionally funny) when I try out a form with my eyes closed.
Something else you can do to revisit basics is to break down complicated moves into their fundamental pieces. This will help you address any bad habits you may have developed over time. Getting tired of the same old roundhouse kick? Go back to basics. Just focus on pivoting on your front foot and turning the hip of your back leg. Focus on balance, precision, and the angle of your hip, and chances are you’ll have a more effective kick by the time you go back to the full movement.
4. Take a Break, and Take Care of Yourself
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Some martial artists may disagree with this advice, claiming any break in training can begin a swift and irreversible decline. However, if you’re at the point where you are in a bad mood during training, going through the motions half-heartedly, or avoiding training altogether, consider taking a break.
Not only will a break give you a mental vacation from something that has become stale or unenjoyable, but it can also remove any guilt you may be feeling about not giving it your all every time you go to class. Take care of yourself during your break: eat well, get plenty of sleep, and most importantly rest. Take the time to slow down and allow yourself to refocus. you'll likely find yourself refreshed, renewed, and ready to return to your practice with newfound energy and appreciation.
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