Have you ever wondered how a large structure like an Egyptian pyramid was constructed? How about the huge skyscrapers of big cities like New York? The first step is always to create a very deep and wide base. The foundation must be strong to support the entire structure. This couldn’t be truer in karate! The foundation of your martial arts is critical to your ability to succeed and progress through the ranks towards blackbelt.
What is the foundation of your karate? It is the fundamentals! It is stances and base techniques. I can make a good argument that if you learn the white belt material really, really well, you can be an extremely good fighter and get very far in martial arts without learning any further new material. Now, that isn’t to say you only need the base material as that would be like saying one can build a great skyscraper without the upper floors, windows, elevators, etc. You still need all the rest of it to be complete. BUT, what is true is that just like you wouldn’t want to go up to the top floor in a skyscraper that has a narrow and weak base, you don’t want to become a blackbelt that has weak stances and poor techniques.
So, how do you go about creating this masterpiece skyscraper of your martial arts? Correct repetition of the basics. Let me say that again. Correct repetition of the basics. Only through many, many iterations can the human body learn the correct movements. Malcolm Gladwell, noted journalist on scientific research discussed in his book Outliers the notion of the “10,000-hour rule.” This rule states that it takes about 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to truly master a skill. Think about what that means. If you took 2 karate classes a week, it would take you over 96 YEARS to master those skills! That is a very long time which most of us don’t have.
To shorten the time to become proficient in the basics, you must practice more than just in class. You might not ever get to the point of mastery of each movement, but your goal is to become the best you can be. As stated earlier, correct repetition is what’s important. You must ensure that your basics (stances, blocks, punches and kicks) are correct by having your instructor watch you and give you feedback. As you continue to practice, you will start to see the movements become more natural and easier to attain. Making sure your fundaments are sound will be the basis for working on more advanced movements. Think about it: how can you throw a good hammerfist, if you are not in a good fighting stance to begin with? How can you counter a punch, if you can’t even block the initial attack?
There is no doubt that having sound fundaments will make you a better martial artist. The good news is that it is never too late to work on these basics. Whether it is in class or on your own, going through the basic stances over and over making sure your alignment is good, etc., can have a huge effect. Having your instructor watch your blocks or your strikes can help to refine the movement and improve your skills.
Remember, the goal is not just to race to blackbelt. The goal is to become a really good marital artist. There is no point in wearing a blackbelt around your waist if your skills don’t represent that rank. You will want to take pride in your rank and that only comes with time and dedication. We like to tell our students during their blackbelt test, that a blackbelt simply means that you now have a mastery of the basics and that is when true learning can begin. So, embrace the fundamentals and work on them as your life depended on it…as it just someday might.