Despite what anyone who knows me might think, this is not an article on how to be more like the beloved space pirate Han Solo…
… instead this is an article on how to maximize your training time away from the dojo!
I recently celebrated the birth of my first child. It’s been exciting, challenging, happy, and (most of all) time-consuming. Rather than both of us staying up all night, my wife and I decided to sleep in shifts. This is giving us a chance for both sleep and one-on-one time with the baby. Because of how busy we are with the newborn, and because of our sleep schedules, my class attendance has been pretty bad and the majority of my training is taking place alone, at 1am.
This got me thinking – what are the ways to maximize this unconventional training schedule? Obviously the best training is with a partner and under and instructor, but how can I get the most out of the time I do have? Let’s take a deep dive into the “do’s” and “don’ts” of solo training!
Waste Your Time
It’s easy to set aside some time to train only to find yourself half-heartedly running through some forms for 20 minutes before ultimately getting bored and giving up. I know I’ve been guilty of this more than once! There are times where I’ve caught myself thinking “well, I don’t want to invest the time in doing a proper warm-up and stretching, so I just won’t train my kicks…” Other times I’ll actually do a good warm up only to not think of anything I want to practice in that very moment. It’s way too easy to lose quality when you’re alone and making it up as you go.
Structure Your Time
When you train alone, pretend it’s a real class. You don’t want to show up to class and hear the instructor say “I don’t really have a plan for today, just practice whatever you feel like then go home.” You expect the instructor to warm you up, cover different aspects of martial arts, and keep the class moving. A good instructor will be sure to cover basics, forms, self-defense or once-steps, and free sparring in a structured, well thought-out way. When you train alone, try to follow the structure and progression of the best classes you’ve been to.
Just Do One Thing
Just like above, it’s too easy to fall into the kata trap. The same can be said for basics or any other aspect of training. If you have a heavy bag it’s easy to roll it out, hit it until you’re tired, then call it a day. Even if you train with intensity and get good work done, it’s too easy to just practice your favorite aspects of the martial arts and neglect the rest. If you hate rolling, odds are you won’t go to that first when you train alone.
Make a Lesson Plan
Weight lifters have their workouts pre-planned when they go to the gym, and that’s typically a solo activity. Martial artists should follow this best-practice. Make a well thought-out list of curriculum that covers a wide range of topics. Use a dedicated workout tracker or even just a notepad app on your phone.
Take however much time you have to train and then divide it evenly among your “to do” list, then check off each item as you go to make sure you’ve covered what you set out to!
Assume You’re Doing Great
We all need instructors to keep us honest. I’ve had gaps in my training because of school and work, and every time I’ve gone back I’ve found my stances have gotten much worse. Without someone telling you to bend your knees you’re going to naturally slack off a little. Everyone is different – it might not be stances, but without the extra motivation something will slip through the cracks.
Most of us have phones with halfway decent cameras (and less than halfway decent battery life), so there’s no reason you can’t record yourself. No teacher right now? Be your own teacher right now! Film your form, and see what needs to be improved.
Remember, when making corrections, start from the ground up (correct stances before hands) and correct the big things first (make sure you have the moves right before focusing on details like thumb position on a knife-hand)!
Forms looking good? Watch yourself hit the bag and see if you’re dropping your non-striking hand (it’s easy to not notice this when no one is punching you in the face)! We all have bad habits the pop up when no one is watching. Remember, cameras work well and take only a minute to set up.
Only Train the Way You’ve Trained Before
The last time I stopped training at a school, I had their curriculum written down. During my gap I would review it all and then stop for the day. Beware, if all you do is review, you stagnate. Just because you aren’t in a formal school doesn’t mean you stop learning.
Seek Out New Ideas
The sum of all human knowledge is literally available to us at the press of a button. There are so many blogs, YouTube channels, and social media outlets for martial arts. Take advantage of all these sources, you have no excuse – most of them are free! Watch a video, read a post, or pick up a book. Find something to keep it fresh!
There are some things that you just can’t improve, or even maintain, if all your training is done by yourself. That’s okay! If you could be an expert all by yourself you wouldn’t need to go to class.
With my schedule right now I can’t go to the gym, and I had recently been making progress towards doing a 1-arm pull up. This was in a large part because of the assisted pull up equipment at the gym. I had been gradually reducing the amount of assistance I was using while I worked towards my goal. Working out at home I don’t have access to that equipment, and I know when I go back I’ll have lost some progress. It would be very easy to get frustrated but instead I need to make a conscious effort to…
Focus on What You Can Improve
Okay, I can’t use my favorite piece of gym equipment right now, so this seems like a really good time to work on core strength instead. When I go back to the gym, my progress in one area will have only dipped a little bit, but in another area I’ll have made a lot of gains.
Martial arts is the same way. If you can’t spar, you might not be able to work on timing. Meanwhile nothing is stopping you from improving in another area! You can easily work on flexibility during your solo training. There are tons of drills and stretches you can do to kick higher. When you go back to class your reflexes might be dulled a bit, but you might just be able to kick taller people in the head!
Stop When You Go Back to Class
Watch out for this one! If you do all this solo training and make noticeable improvements, you risk losing it when you get back to your normal routine. You don’t want to carve out time to improve only for it not to last.
Continue Solo Training as a Supplement
Set attainable goals! If you went to class 3 times a week before, and then trained alone the same amount during an off-period, you want to try to continue solo training at least once a week once you’re back in a formal class. Plus, we all know you really can’t get too much training!
Remember, There’s No Excuse to Do Nothing…
You might not be able to go to class, or train the way you want to train, but you can always do SOMETHING. Something is always better than nothing, and with a little thought and planning you can maximize that something!