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  • Writer's picturePSBN David

Learning How to Learn

In all Martial Arts, you’ll have to both memorize and practice a huge amount of different movements. Most of these can be boiled down to core basics, each with just some added “flavour” to make it unique to a set of techniques or form.

Side note: this is why instructors will always return to basics! You’re aiming to perfect each of these core movements and be able to do them consistently every time, even when you’re tired or not thinking. Get that one basic motion almost perfect and everything where the motion shows up will be that much better.

This is why figuring out your favoured learning styles is a useful exercise (and can apply to many other things you’ll learn in the future). There’s two parts of learning: Memory and Practice. Memory is just as it sounds; getting the sequence in your head in the first place. Practice is where you continually go over it until you’re sick of it (and then do it more!).

Over the years, I’ve seen some common learning styles pop up. If you’re aware of yours, this can help you to zero in on the instruction that sticks best with you. I’ll break them up into Memory and Practice sections. Keep in mind that you likely don’t have just one learning style, and yours may not necessarily be listed below!




If you haven’t heard of them, mnemonics are little “hints” that you can use to remember things (and can sometimes be quite silly). “Number 12 is always under the arm”, “chicken wing!”, “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” (for PEMDAS, the order of operations in math), using your knuckles to track which months have 31 days, etc.

Your instructors might offer up the “usual” mnemonic for certain techniques, but if you find your own that work better for you, by all means use them! You’re learning the syllabus, and the mnemonics aren’t part of that, so don’t feel pressured to take on mnemonics that don’t work for you. Sometimes your mnemonic will be related to the technique (“This one sort of looks like an 11”), sometimes it will just be something funny that happened once when you were practicing it (“It’s the burger!”). Just remember it only has to make sense to you!


This one is pretty straightforward! You learn a technique, then you just do the same one 30 times in a row to get it to stick.

This can be difficult if you learn several all at once, especially if there’s not quite enough time to go through them all that many times before the class is over. In these cases, just pick it up next class! Never be afraid to ask to be shown something again. Even after years of training, every so often something will just drop out of your head for a bit. There’s no shame in asking; it’s expected when you’re first learning!

Also never be afraid of feeling like you’re “wasting your partner’s time” when doing this. This is a very common hang-up of people who learn through repetition, especially if there’s no one their level who learns this way as well. No matter what level, everyone could stand to drill each technique over and over again. There’s always details to learn through practice!

Training aids

This is a blanket term for things like flashcards, textbooks, videos on youtube, whatever you can find! These also can work well in tandem with mnemonics.

The key thing you want to keep in mind with any training aids is the quality of them. A good example of this would be looking up videos on youtube of a form or a technique set. Most of the time, these are from demonstrations or at least from someone trying to show off a bit. This means that the accuracy may not be 100%, depending on how many artistic liberties the creator has taken. You also likely won’t know the creator’s history! They may have broken off from the official Art years ago and have created their own version. Or you may just pick up their instructor’s “quirks” instead. As with all things on the internet, take it with a grain of salt and a critical eye!




Of course, this is the most obvious way to learn something through practice. Do it over and over again.

Change up the repetition to focus on different aspects each time: “This time, I’m going to go through with a lower stance”; working on reaction time or speed; going through a set backwards or in random order. Whatever you can think of! Just keep doing it over and over! The idea is to get it into your muscles so you can do something without even thinking about it.

The caveat here is to do this practice correctly! It doesn’t do you any good to practice something incorrectly and form a bad habit that’s hard to break. This leads into the next one in the list:


This requires a bit of explanation: by “study”, I mean break a technique down, piece by piece. Think about every single action you take and getting it correct, but also think about WHY you’re taking that action.

Why was it decided to do it this way and not another? Would the other way be as effective? Maybe changing that piece would render the whole technique useless.

This method of practice should go in tandem with repetition. Think of Study as more quality vs the quantity of Repetition. When going through a set with Repetition, you might do the set or form 10 times in a class. With Study, it may be once!


Focusing is where you take a small, problematic subsection and work through it. This is a way to combine both Repetition and Study at the same time, but it can also be very time consuming. This is best used when you’re having issues with a particular piece of your form, or a couple techniques in a set.

Slow yourself down and do it correctly. Do it again and again until you get through without pausing. Then speed up the motion. Can you still get through it without making a mistake? Then expand it out to encompass a larger part of the form or set.


Once you know what methods work best for you, you can focus on them to really enhance your martial art ability. You can also let your instructors know if there’s one particular way that you’d like to learn as it helps us to teach more effectively. It doesn’t help a pilot by giving road directions!

Remember: it’s called a “drill” because each turn, you’re a little closer to your goal!

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