Karate training
Shutterstock / Kzenon

I have a confession to make: I’m a romantic for cheesy martial art movies.

One of my favorite things to watch in kung fu cinema is a teacher tortu–er, training a novice student. Of course, it is easy to see how we fit in the script. Regardless of our level, it is important to have a mentor who can help guide us properly in our training.

A big part of our growth as people and martial artists is finding the correct ways to be challenged and to promote our depth of understanding. While that duty often is seen as only befalling on the person you study under, there are various things we can consciously do to mix up our training to glean better benefits.

Check out these methods and you’ll soon be able to add new levels of realism to your training and find any hidden holes in your techniques!

#1 Challenge Yourself With Different People

It is extremely easy to fall into a comfortable rut of working with the same partner. If you are proficient with a technique or tactic, you should be able to make it work appropriately against even an unfamiliar person.

It may be easier to perform your favorite drills with your favorite person, but when have us martial artists ever sought growth from the “easier” route?

Challenge yourself to explore the perimeters of your comfort zone.

Bonus Tip: even teachers can fall into a rut teaching only a regular group of students they are comfortable working with. If you are a teacher, ask yourself if you are truly effective at communicating your thoughts to new minds or if your students are simply acclimated to your teaching process.

When you mix up the group you teach, you may find gaps in your communication that need to be clarified better. Think of how much more powerful your lessons will be when you ensure your speech and actions are accurate, comprehensive, and concise!

#2 Train With Diminished Sight

Let me start by saying that you don’t have to become Daredevil and begin fighting blind.


Well, not entirely.

What you can do is shadow box or drill your forms with one eye closed to affect your depth perception however. Or close both of your eyes to focus on your kinesthetic awareness and proper coordination.

Another variation you can also do safely with a partner is to train in low light or with a harsh light positioned in the room.

Challenging your senses in this manner during training allows you to truly focus in ways, paying proper attention to your movements and staying especially keen on what little you can see from your partner.

#3 Rock A Different Look

As anybody with pocketless pants can tell you, fashion and function are two vastly different considerations. What looks good may not be good for you to move in.

With that being said, you are a person with a life to live. Sometimes life takes you to formal dinners and events which frown upon wearing sweatpants and sneakers, even if that form of attire allows you to easily kick and run.

Here’s an assignment for you: go to a thrift store and shop for your next training outfit there. You aren’t necessarily looking for clothes easy to move in, you are looking for something similar to what you typically wear (either day-to-day or for special events). Wear this the next time you train and see how it affects your preferred techniques and tactics.

Bonus points if you train in the cold with a suuuuuper thick coat and heavy boots on, bundled up a la Randy in A Christmas Story!

#4 Swap to Training Tools Which Allow Safety and Commitment 

If you have a well-crafted wooden or metal training knife (perhaps you even got the Aku Strike Training Knife), that’s an excellent step in the right direction for training. Great tools can result in great sessions.

Take note that I said “great”, I didn’t specify that it had to be “expensive” however.

If you are looking to switch up your training and add new elements of realism, consider swapping to various alternative tools.

Using an empty plastic bottle instead of a training knife allows the attacker to strike fast and viciously without much concern for safety (the plastic also makes noise on contact, adding in another level of feedback throughout the session).

Using a water gun instead of a rubber firearm allows the attacker to pull the trigger and give feedback (be careful that the attacker’s trigger finger doesn’t get caught and injured if the defender continues their technique to a point of disarming).

Using a pool noodle instead of a kali stick can give similar levels of attacker realism, allowing you to actually strike with full speed and commitment.

Play with your options.

#5 Change your background noise

Your environment has a dramatic impact on your mentality, your mentality impacts what you physically do. One of the more beneficial things you can do is bring a degree of immersion therapy to your training approach.

Whether training for sport or self-preservation, we need to understand the environment we are likely to be put in and get acclimated as best possible.

A simple way to do this is by changing the sounds in your training environment.

Trying to get used to handling violence? Let your partner step into the role of an actor as they attack you, adding dialogue and “angry” shouting.

Feeling nervous about performing or competing in front of a crowd? Find a video on YouTube with crowd noises and play it while you practice (it’s the internet–you can find hour-long videos dedicated to simply crowd noises with no problem).

Closing Thoughts

One of the most important attributes a martial artist can develop and refine is their curiosity and creativity. A teacher or coach provides the knowledge you need, however we need to make sure that the knowledge given is assimilated and allowed to grow properly.

My advice: explore the listed ideas and then come up with your own.

Your teacher can show you the path of mastery, however it is up to you to put on the right shoes and walk that road!

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