Master Okazaki stresses it, professionals live by it, and society requires it. What is “it“? It’s practice.
Want to improve your abilities in karate? Practice. Nothing is as important, especially in the first 6 months and the last 12 months of your kyu career, as practicing regularly.
Here’s a first hand account of karate practice. When I first joined karate, I was enthralled. I couldn’t get enough (that’s not to say I didn’t get overwhelmed at times) and so I practiced every night for the duration of my white, yellow, and green belts (I skipped orange). I was completing a masters degree at the time, but I would leave the lab early and rush home to practice. I’d push back the couch and TV stand, and practice kihon and Heian shodan and nidan for about 30-45 minutes a night. Every night.
Now here I am, 2.5 years later, with my 1st kyu and I’m practicing at least every other night for 30 minutes. And at variable times during the day for a couple minutes at a time. Backtrack to 8 months ago: I was a 2nd kyu awaiting my 1st and would practice maybe once a week outside of class. Once my 1st kyu came around, I got a glimpse of just how little I knew and how far I would have to go in order to get my 1st dan. I wasn’t as fit as I needed to be, nor as sharp or clean with my techniques. Most of all though, I wasn’t putting the emphasis and effort into my technique that needed to be there for it to get better.
If I travel for a week or more and find it difficult or impossible to practice I see a noticeable decline in my abilities. It only takes a day or so to get back into it, but the point is that continuous practice is the key to staying sharp. Last Christmas I went home to Newfoundland and was able to practice every day while I was there. When I returned to class after being away for over 2 weeks, I was able to continue without feeling I was playing “catch up”. This year’s Christmas break was busier and I was unable to practice save a few pushups and sit-ups 2 mornings out of the 3 weeks I was away. Getting back into it now, at least my brain feels slower even if my body is ready for action.
On occasion I’ll have an especially good class where everything seems to “gel” for me (at least to the limit of my ability, which admittedly is not substantial). Sometimes people will ask how I get so good at it or how they can improve at the same rate. I tell them its no secret: practice at home. I say this not to boast, but to give any example that if frequent practice works for a skinny, historically non-athletic computer scientist, it will probably prove to work for everyone else.
“Karate Wa Yu No Gotoku Taezu Netsu O Atae Zareba Motono Mizuni Kaeru”
– Karate is like boiling water; without heat, it returns to its tepid state
Its not enough to just show up to class regularly if you want to get the most out karate. If your aim is to achieve as much as you can personally achieve in karate (ignoring the progress or level of ability of others in your club), you’re going to want ample practice outside of class.
Some say not to practice too hard. I tend to agree. Here, a difference should be made between conditioning and proficiency. It is rumoured that Mike Tyson only trained hard about 2 months before a big fight. The rest of the year he worked on his proficiency and muscle memory. Conversely, professional athletes such as in hockey and football take it relatively easy in the weeks leading up to the beginning of a season or a big game. Some teams go as far as to prohibit their best stars from even practicing with the rest of the team at the risk of injury. The same can hold true in karate class. In preparation for a grading students may be discouraged from heavy sparring. There’s no rule of thumb that I know of to determine when to practice hard and when to take it easy. Its a judgment call.