We all seek ways to get better at our skills. We learn new drills. We add new techniques to our arsenal. We find new ways to test our skills. Learning these things can keep us excited about growth. However, learning new techniques and drills don’t always make us better or even more skilled in applying our chosen arts. A lot of our improvement comes from spending time cultivating the skills that we have already learned. It’s not so much about the techniques, but the quality time we spend practicing them.
We need many repetitions and the experience that comes with those repetitions to get better. Initially, we start developing a new skill by training the body to move properly. With more repetition, we develop precision that allows us to control the weapon and be more accurate. Eventually, we begin to “feel” the right movement without needing to think about every detail. It takes a lot of repetition to make this happen.
With all of this repetition, we learn subtle details about the movement that allow us to play with it. We learn how we can modify it and how we can connect it to other movements that we know already. This is how we commit a skill to long term memory and make it a part of us. This is how we make a skill available for use. This is the initial progression for mastering a skill.
The Power of 500
The truth is, you need a lot of repetition and experience to make significant progress. However, how long that takes is up to you. If you change your training approach, you can also change your skill development timeline.
How can we do that? Put simply: Do more now. Get more repetitions done in a shorter amount of time. If you approach your training this way, you will begin to notice improvements in hours vs. weeks, in days vs. months, and in months vs. years.
Imagine this scenario:
Someone challenges you to a fight, or maybe you just sign up for a tournament. You are scheduled to fight after two weeks. Both you and your opponent train to prepare for the fight. As a part of the training, you both decide to practice striking combinations with a rattan stick. You each start a daily routine.
Your opponent decides to do one hundred strikes a day in order to prepare for the fight. One hundred is a good number for repetitions. Many people get bored after just fifteen or twenty. You, however, really want to be ready, so you decide to do five hundred strikes per day. Let’s look at how this unfolds:
After day 1, your opponent has practiced 100 strikes. You have done 500.
After day 2, your opponent has done 200 repetitions. You have done 1000.
After day 3, your opponent is at 300. You are at 1500.
Who is going to win after 2 weeks of this?
You both had the same amount of time (two weeks), but you trained much more in that same amount of time. If you both actually trained for all fourteen days, then your opponent would have completed 1400 strikes, and you would have completed 7000. This approach is what Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje calls "the Power of Five Hundred.” It’s more than just cranking out more repetitions than your opponent.
It’s More than just the Total
If you perform five hundred repetitions in a row of one movement, then you will develop much more skill in that one training session, than if you were to split those repetitions over several sessions. This accelerated development is not just from the numerical fact that you have done more repetitions. It is also due to the fact that when you do many repetitions in a row, you become more aware of the subtleties of the movement. As you become more aware and more intimate with the movement, you can refine it more. If you only do a few repetitions in a row, then you will have a harder time recognizing and cultivating the subtleties that could make a big difference in your ability to apply it.
If you break up the repetitions across multiple sessions, you lose some of that intimate familiarity with the movement. This is true even if you just break up the repetitions into smaller sets, with breaks in between those sets, all in the same training session. After a break of even just one minute, you will have to work back into the state of deep awareness that you cultivated in the previous set. If you break up the same number of repetitions among different training sessions, then you may even backslide a bit between sessions, so it will take you longer to get back to where you left off. Try to do all five hundred, in one session, with no breaks.
The actual number of repetitions does not really matter. It could be 300, 500, 600, 1000, etc. What matters really is the concept of pushing yourself to do a lot more repetitions in a shorter period of time. This approach is especially relevant when you are developing your coordination and familiarity with a new skill.
Quality, not Quantity
You must stay engaged for the training to work. Your mind must be present and working hard during all of the repetitions. You cannot just blow through repetitions while your mind drifts. You must consciously practice with the intent of making each repetition better than the one before it. You must explore, analyze, test, reach, and adjust the movement in what Anders Ericsson, an expert in what drives human performance, calls deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is a method of using high concentration and self challenge to reach high levels of skill.
The quality of your attention during practice is more important than the quantity of the repetitions you complete. Practice with quality being more important than quantity. Five hundred repetitions performed without you trying to learn from and improve them are almost wasted repetitions. You will get more out of only one hundred repetitions if you are truly engaged in them. However, with practice, you will be able to stay mentally engaged for longer durations. This mental stamina will allow you to perform more quality repetitions in a single session.
Putting it into Practice
When you start training in high volume, gradually work up the repetitions over a period of several days or weeks. Allow yourself time to recover between sessions. Warm up before your training. Stretch and mobilize your joints to avoid become overly sore and tight. Overuse injuries like tendonitis can be a big setback if you do not take the steps to prevent and manage them. Learn to recognize the warning signs you are over doing it and get rest when your body needs it.
Apply the power of five hundred with the skills that will give you the most use. This includes your fundamentals. You can easily use it to improve your footwork and striking skills. You can apply it towards your biggest weakness and eradicate it quickly.
Consider reducing the number of new skills that you practice in a session. Focus on making more progress with just a few things. Instead of touching on ten skills or techniques, devote your time to only two or three. This will allow you to dig deeper into the things you practice and benefit more from the depth of understanding that you develop.
When you practice drills and techniques with a partner, do more repetitions before changing roles. It does not need to be five hundred for you to see the benefit. Instead of doing three repetitions, then switching roles with your partner, try ten repetitions, then switch roles. It makes a difference.
Incorporating high repetition training into your regular practice sessions should not replace the other practice that you do. There has to be a balance in your training. The high repetition approach is for primarily for developing your coordination and stamina. You do need to learn new things, and continue to improve the skills you have already been learning with other training methods.
The value of this approach is that you can get much better at a skill in a shorter period of time. Apply this method regularly or simply use it when you are preparing to meet a specific goal or challenge. Get battle ready for a tournament or be unstoppable on sparring night. Prepare for a test or be just ready for anything.
In short: Do the work now. Do more of it now. Dedicate yourself to improving your skills right away. Don’t think it must take you a lifetime to be good. Aside from the skill itself, you will develop stamina, discipline and grit. Now, pick up your stick. Go outside, and get to work!