The answer to this common question is simple: MORE.
No matter the skill, every physical skill needs practice or the skill will deteriorate over time. This axiom is true whether you are talking about martial arts, gun handling skills, or carpentry.
Don’t take my word on it…Let’s ask Bruce Lee:
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks one time,
but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times”
Several thousand years ago, Solomon, the son of King David, wrote in Ecclesiastes:
If the ax is dull and it’s edge unsharpened,
more strength is needed,
but skill will bring success.
Now, Solomon was talking about swinging an ax to split wood, but the principle is the same.
On average, it takes 25 repetitions just to get the basic mechanics of any physical skill learned. That’s an important point, particularly for those who study martial arts for self defense. In an effort to keep students engaged, traditional martial arts instructors and those who teach self-defense seminars, generally move on after 10-15 repetitions of each technique. The 25 number is just the bare minimum physical muscle memory, not the ability to apply it under stress; that takes THOUSANDS of repetitions.
As a student, practice more repetitions on your own; as an instructor, resist the urge to move on to the next technique until they’ve done at least 25.
A multi-stage technique like a throw or a defensive combination (defense against a front kick, for example), needs that many repetitions OF EACH STEP. For example, for a throw, 25 reps on grabbing the opponent, 25 on unbalancing, 25 on the throw itself, and 25 on the follow-through. Then 25 more repetitions of the whole technique, just to get the basic mechanics down.
As you can see, in order to truly learn to apply martial arts for self-defense (or any physical skill), you need many more repetitions than you are currently getting.
This is where instructors start sending me emails about limited class length. Yes, I know; I’m a martial arts instructor, too. Stop trying to cram so many different things into each class every day. If you slow down the pace and spend more times on repetitions, your students will actually learn more and perform better. You’ll also end up with less complaints from parents, because their children will be performing much better.
A note for instructors about forms training: This applies EVEN MORE here. I can point at entire mornings with Sabomnim Collins of PKSA Karate (www.pksa.com) where I did nothing but 4 steps of one form, until I had it perfect. Stop teaching entire forms in one class.
This idea holds true for gun handling skills. You would never consider taking one defensive firearms class and then carrying a gun every day with no other range time. If you would, I ask that you go turn in your concealed carry license.
If you carry a firearm every day for personal protection, it’s your DUTY & RESPONSIBILITY to continue to train regularly with your defensive firearm. If you don’t, you open yourself up to potential liability, both civil and criminal.
Notice I said “train” and not “shoot”. Shooting implies going to the range, and punching holes in paper for 30 minutes. I can do that at my desk with a 3 hole punch. Training means conducting realistic drills and engaging in scenario based training. For example, rather than just shooting 100 rounds, conduct actual drills. Some examples:
- Failure Drill: Two rounds center mass/one round to the head
- 3/3 Drill: Three rounds into a 3 inch circle
- Response Drill: Partner calls “triangle/circle/square” and you shoot that part of the target
- Emergency Reload: Fire 2 rounds, drop empty mag & insert new mag, then fire 2 more rounds
The possibilities are endless, as long as you use common sense. It’s worth noting that most ranges won’t let you do some more advanced drills, so find somewhere to shoot where you can draw and fire, move and fire, etc.
You can practice tactical reloads standing in your living room watching TV, as long as you aren’t using live ammunition.
A caution about replicating shooting drills that you found on YouTube: ask yourself if this is a skill that you will really use. A friend, whom I love dearly, is always showing me some new drill he’s working on from somewhere like “Uber-Ultra-Super-Tactical Skills” and while they look cool, he will literally never use them. One was shooting while walking on a treadmill at multiple targets. He said “It simulates walking and shooting”. I pointed out that if you are walking in a straight line at a steady pace, you’ll be dead, and that if your attackers are standing perfectly still while you walk at them, they deserve to die. I’m joking and making light, but this is a real problem. Don’t confuse cool things on the internet with real-life physical skills that will save your life.
Another area of physical skills that needs practice is first aid. This is probably the most overlooked skill set in the self-defense and preparedness communities.
Ask yourself this: How times have I have been attacked? How many times have I cut myself or came across a motor vehicle accident? I’m guessing that this will tell you that you’ll use first aid skills more.
I’ve taken probably 20 CPR courses, and I take them every chance I get. Standards change, and some instructor might offer a tweak to my technique that will save a life one day. I have given CPR to someone exactly one time in my life, but it made all of the training worth the time and effort.
If you train in martial arts to defend yourself, it makes sense to learn how to treat common injuries like lacerations or puncture wounds (knife cuts/gunshot), and broken bones. If you carry a firearm for self defense, it’s your responsibility to know how to treat a gunshot wound EFFECTIVELY.
Once you learn the skills of first aid, practice them like every other skill.
At the end of the day, so many people in the self-defense and preparedness community do the bare minimum to develop skills, but that won’t keep the skill at your disposal; constant training will.
Also, so many people allegedly into “preparedness” are really into “buying lots of cool gear”. Gear are just tools; without effective skills, they are a waste of money. I know lots of people who have mountains of gear (that they won’t be able to carry). I like to pick an obscure item from their stash and ask them how it works. They usually have no idea.
Train. Your opposition is.