I find it interesting that many martial arts students only train in class. Many of these students will go to three or more classes a week, but they don’t train outside the dojo. Now I don’t expect people to practice their bo kata in their living room, but I think independent study is important. I am surprised that more students don’t practice more on their own.
In sports people train outside of their practice sessions, especially athletes that perform at advanced levels. Runners run on their own, basketball players shoot hoops but martial artists wait for class. This lack of outside work can really be evident at test time. I was assisting a school in administering their test and there was a stark difference between the students in the execution of their techniques. There were a couple of students that really exceled, one of whom cannot make it to classes regularly because of his work schedule. The students that performed better trained outside the dojo.
Martial arts are complex. If one is going to really get a strong understanding of the techniques, they need to train on their own and I am not talking just about test preparation. To get the full martial arts experience and to understand the moves more completely you need to work through the moves outside of class. I like to compare it to a math class. There is not enough time in class to learn math and to practice. The teacher assigns homework to allow the students to practice. Then when the students have to test, they can’t just give the answer, they have to show their work that gets to the answer. The same goes for martial arts. It is not just knowing the techniques. It is being able to execute each piece of the technique. It is important to know the techniques inside and out because tests don’t just occur in the dojo. People are tested everyday on the street and most people fail the test and failing those tests can result in physical injury.
Although fitness is taught in martial arts, martial arts classes are not fitness classes. You will see overweight martial artists (me included, but I am working on it). Overall physical fitness is important in martial arts. You will find it difficult to defend yourself if you have to unbuckle you pants to tie your shoes. This means you need to focus on fitness inside and outside the dojo. This is especially important if you have sport karate as part of your curriculum. It is hard to go for gold when you get winded in your first match. To reach your full potential you need to exercise outside of class. It is even better if you can find exercise routines that support your martial arts curriculum. Talk to your instructor about what exercises work. You can also check out the reading list on www.dauntlessfightclub.net for books on fitness for the martial artist.
Flexibility is also very important not just in martial arts but in general fitness. Many classes start with warm ups and stretches but to reach your prime flexibility, you need to stretch every day. Mornings are a great time to stretch. Your morning stretch needs to be more than a vigorous yawn in bed. Flexibility like strength is built a little bit at a time. It is also not permanent. If you don’t stretch regularly, you will lose flexibility. Unlike strength training, there isn’t a recovery time. You can stretch every day without overtraining.
Flexibility helps us feel healthy and allows us to do things that others can’t. As martial artists, when we hear flexibility, we think of high kicks and splits. In general life flexibility is much more valuable than a kick or a show of flexibility. You will have better range of motion and will be less susceptible to injury. I was in an office and I saw someone drop a pen and he had to get down on one knee to pick it up. He then had trouble getting up. The guy was younger than me and I am not that old. When you are young, you don’t need to worry about reaching your feet to tie your shoes or to reach down to pick up a pen. As you get older, you need to work on flexibility and that can be best accomplished outside the dojo by stretching every morning.
Can someone pass belt tests by just training in class? Yes.
Can someone get a more complete understanding of martial arts with superior execution by just training in class? No.
There are too many nuances in the techniques to learn without doing homework. To be fit you need to work out outside the dojo and to be flexible you should stretch every morning. It is important for you to pay attention in class so you learn how to do the techniques and stretching correctly. Practicing incorrect technique does not help you. Train hard, train often. Be the best martial artist you can be.