2013 Oct 29
Not long ago, I was able to participate in a weekend-long training session with Chief Master Marshall Parnell. During part of his lecture he was explaining how you should practice. He had hit on every point that I had been attempting to get across to students, but I never could find the right words to explain what I meant. He had used "spirit" a few times in regards to striking. I've used this word a few times as well, but always got blank stares back. Far too often people think that "spirit" can only mean something religious. Using terms like "energy" or "force" are so overused in martial arts that students don't register the context with them anymore. Master Parnell managed to find a word that fit perfectly - intent.
There are a few definitions for intent, but two that I will focus on today are:
Intent is an important part of your training. Whether you are training for self-defense, emotional or stress release, or just for fitness, it will help you achieve your goals. The lack of intent may be hindering your training and could be causing you to stagnate.
This holds true for not only martial arts, but things in life as well! How often do you sit down for an exam in school and simply start writing or marking answers without reading the questions completely? How often do you find yourself giving a business or professional presentation for a topic that you have only glanced over? Me neither! The key component missing is intent.
Training with intent helps you have clear and correct techniques. It adds focus to what you are doing - not only once, but every time you do it. Your goals and state of mind help you understand the information and be able to perform it to the best of your ability.
While learning new techniques, do you have a purpose? Of course! Your purpose or aim is to learn the technique. You want to absorb the information being presented, process it, mold it into something you can easily understand, and store it away for later recall. This intent it easy to use, and is quite natural for anyone training in martial arts. The fact that you are in class shows that you intend to learn something, somehow.
Once you have learned that shiny new technique, what do you do with it? Do you set aside some time to practice that technique over and over and over to try and perfect it? If so, you are displaying intent again. Your aim is to make the technique work for you in a way where you don't have to think hard to perform it correctly. You want it to work on demand, you want your body to have muscle memory of what it needs to do. Why? The answer to this question varies from student to student, but the simple answer is because you want to be able to think of what you will do next while performing this technique. For example, you don't learn a block to just block. You learn it, work it, attempt to perfect it so that you can think of what your next move will be whether it is another block or a counter strike.
When you practice your techniques, are you trying to improve them? Even those that you learned as a white belt in your first class? I learned my first techniques in the mid 1980s. I am still trying to perfect those low blocks, middle punches and front kicks nearly 30 years later! Every time I perform them, I do so with the purpose to feel how they work and even try something just a little different to get them to work better. In your classes, it is almost guaranteed that there is at least one person that is training with intent for every technique that they do. You know who they are, and so do the most casual of observers. They are the ones that are full of energy, the ones with techniques that look like they would hurt their opponent, often the ones with sharp focus and good breath control.
Contrasting those in class that are practicing every technique with intent, there is at least one that is not. These are the students that "go through the motions." Casual observers can notice these students as well, but it may not be as obvious. These students are doing the "right" technique, but are lacking some key components. While this is most common in children's classes, it can be found everywhere. The student may not have focus - looking around at others while doing their technique. They may have improper or poor stance, movements ending in the wrong place, and may even not be breathing during the technique. These students may look confused in what they are trying to do - or even worse, they might look lazy and sluggish. When training without intent, the student will perform the techniques the same way every time, regardless of the situation. Their techniques often look like they wouldn't work for what they are supposed to do.
Those that practice with intent every time they do a technique improve that specific technique. Eventually, they are able to make their techniques work for them and may even be able to use them successfully if ever forced to do so in a self-defense situation. In addition, these students often have quite successful exams and look very sharp. They may have fewer frustrations while learning new material because of the way they apply their purpose to the learning. These are some of the helpful effects of training with intent.
Students that go through the motions often don't improve techniques much from when they learned them on their own. They often need motivation to keep going, to focus, to improve. Their exams are often lackluster and look confusing. The lack of intent from a student can imply that something is wrong or that they are not ready to move forward in their training. If confronted with a dire need to use a technique, these students may not be able to defend themselves successfully because their body only knows how to make the motion without focus or a purpose. Techniques cannot work when you most need them if they are not practiced with intent. These are some ways that your training can be harmed from the lack of intent.
What about for those that aren't training for self-defense or competition? We know there are many different reasons for people to train. In addition to self-defense, people start training for strengthening, stress relief, flexibility, etc. Does training with intent help these people as well? The answer of course, is "Yes!" Toward the top of the article, I wrote of the intent while learning a technique. That intent isn't so much the "purpose" of the technique, but the "state of mind" in which you are while learning. The same thing applies for those with reasons other than self-defense or competition on their mind.
To train with intent helps you relieve stress, improve strength, flexibility, and coordination. It gives you improved self-esteem when you are able to see yourself improve toward your goal and keeps you motivated. Giving your training purpose and your full attention while practicing can make you feel better - whether it is short term or long term.
To leave intent behind, you will not see improvements in the same time span. You won't relieve your stress as quickly. Most importantly, you will not gain the self-esteem and pride felt of reaching those goals soon.
Whether you are training a hard art like Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do, a soft art like Haidong Gumdo or Aikido, or both types, train with intent. Make your training count. Get a release from the world around you and live in your training for a period. You might just find that the things we teach reach far beyond the dojang.