High Volume Practice
an article by
Master Mike Sandham
5th Degree Associate Master
About a year or so ago, I wrote an article called I Try Harder where I tried to talk about using the intensity of your practice to set the pace of your progress. In that article I attributed most of my success in the martial arts to the fact that I was willing to go harder, push farther, and train more hours than most other people I know.
Now I know I'm not the hardest working person in the world, and I'm certainly not the first to make the claim that more work = more output. But I will tell you this, the person who can keep going, keep pushing past the point where their mind wants to quit, will always have an edge over everyone else.
In a way, the martial arts is all about building willpower. No one wants to do 1000 push-ups, or practice that new form until you can't see straight. But sometimes, you have to get past want and see the need inside you to perfect and hone your technique.
What I want to talk about here is what I call High Volume Practice. This is the process of taking a new skill or technique or form and practicing well past when you want to quit or think you're done. Instead, it's about practicing it as much as you need to in order to perfect it. Sometimes that means pushing your limits and testing your willpower.
I'm not talking about training yourself into an injury here, let's be smart. I'm just trying to get you to realize a simple truth: Mastery comes from repetition. And by that I mean a ridiculous amount of repetition.
Not the four or five times you go through the form during class with your instructor. Not the handful of times you practice at home in your backyard. But literally thousands of repetitions, spread over time. That is how you make slow progress. That is how you achieve, or at least approach Mastery.
So when you learn a new form or technique in class, try this. Instead of repeating it 2 or 3 times in class and waiting for the instructor to come by and help you fix your technique, do it 20 times, do it more than that even, and you'll find something interesting start to happen.
The questions that you were going to ask your teacher about the technique can often be answered by repetitive practice. Practice slow, practice fast, practice everything in between. Practice pushing hard, practice deepening your stance, practice feeling the flow of energy inside your body. There are a million ways to practice even the most basic techniques. They just require focusing on different aspects and concentrating on the movements.
If you're practicing at home, try even higher numbers. Do your new form 20-30x in a row. Do it past where you're tired, past where you want to quit. Do it 50x if you can. Each repetition has something new to teach us.
Don't sit on your laurels either with the material that you think you know. How well do you really know it? How well do you understand it? Not just what the material is, but why it has to be that way. How well do you think you could apply the techniques in a real situation?
Because that's the real test. And it takes millions, yes you read that right, millions of repetitions to get a technique to work when you need it. It needs to be flawless, effortless, and graceful. Ask yourself if your katas or even just your simple techniques are any of those things. Be honest with yourself, there's no room for deception or delusion when it comes to self-defense and personal safety.
So once you start working on your High Volume Practice, raise your reps up each practice session until you get to your peak level. And don't stop there. Keep working on those techniques over time. This isn't a one session deal. Keep at it. Keep practicing and working at your peak level as long as you can manage it.
Set a long-term goal, something like a year or 2 years. Do your High Volume Practice on the same material a few times a week for that entire time span. You'll be amazed at the progress you make and the insights into the material that you realize. You will also realize many things about any other material that you know. It's all connected, like a dense spiderweb.
Remember that in the martial arts, a year is not a long period of time. Many techniques or katas require years of training and shifting perspectives to truly understand and master. And keep in mind that it all comes back to those 3 things: flawless, effortless, graceful.
And as always, try harder than everyone else. Martial Arts or Kung Fu is not about talent it's about effort. Put 100% of your body, mind, and spirit into your training and you'll get that 300% return, I guarantee it.
No matter where you start, it's your mindset and determination that take you as far as you go. Start with the right attitude, set your goals, and go forth and slay them. Do the work, reap the benefits.
Practice, practice, practice, my friends.