How to Track your Progress in Martial Arts

An effective Martial Artist is one that is technical, strong, fit, flexible and possesses the mental fortitude and confidence to overcome difficult situations.  These are a diverse array of attributes that require targeted training approaches to develop them.  How can you make sure that your Martial Arts training covers all these aspects?  How do you know if your technique is effective?  Is your mind tough enough to get you over your next hurdle?  Well, you will never know unless you are incorporating all these components into your training.  Each one needs to be trained deliberately and with specific goals in mind.

What are the important aspects of Martial Arts Training that you should be focusing on?

I have found that breaking up your training regimen into the following areas, will lead to the most beneficial results:

  • Technique
  • Physical Conditioning
  • Mobility and Flexibility
  • Mental Strength and Mindset

You will improve your Martial Arts skills, your mental and physical health by training each of these aspects.  This will help you achieve balance in your Martial Art and ensure that you are getting better in the areas of mind, body, and technique – Shin Gi Tai.

It is critical to structure your training such that each training session focuses on at least one of these aspects.

During my own practice, I focus my training sessions on one aspect at a time.   This allows me to think about a specific goal and gear my training towards that goal.  As an example - when training technique, I pick my weakest technique and aim to do as many repetitions as possible of that technique with perfect form in a single training session.  This helps my muscles and nervous system get used to the movement.  Each subsequent training session should feel more and more natural when performing that specific technique.

Training at the dojo, which almost always combines all the aspects of training, is a perfect setting for me to test how fruitful my own practice has been for me.

 

How do you track your progress in each aspect of training?

Keeping track of all these different aspects and goals can be very complex and confusing.  One of the best ways to help you keep track of how well you are doing is to keep a training journal.  Record every single training session and introspectively assess your gains based on your training performance.  A Martial Arts training journal such as the Martial Devotee Digital Training Journal or the Martial Devotee Printable Martial Arts Journal is a fantastic tool to measure and track your progress. 

This training journal mirrors the structure or focus areas of Martial Arts Training and provides a flexible and effective way to document your training sessions, progress, and potential areas of improvement.

Get the Martial Devotee Digital Training Journal

 

Why I needed to track my training and measure my progress

I began training in a new style of Karate and suddenly my brain and body was flooded with new techniques, philosophies, and approaches.  I had to modify and adapt to the new style and quickly became overwhelmed.  The idea of journaling and tackling one technique at a time was born out of this dilemma.  Training technique was not good enough though.  More physical demands were placed on my body, and I also needed to quickly improve my fitness.  Finally, I had to cope with the physical demands of training by strengthening my mind and chose meditation to help me stay calm as my body panicked with the increasing loads that had been placed on it.  I ended up with the Martial Devotee Digital Training Journal which really helped me structure and improve my Martial Arts training and I hope that it can do the same for you.  I believe that it can be used for all skill levels from beginner to advanced.

The process that I undertook was super-simple.  I began by capturing my next training goal.  When selecting training goals, be specific and think about how you will measure and test your progress against that goal.  When starting out, try to pick high-value goals which are also low-hanging fruit.  This will help you improve quickly.  I am a huge advocate for developing solid basics.  These are foundational building blocks that will help you grasp the more advanced techniques and concepts.

Armed with a specific and high-value goal, I planned all aspects of my solo training around it.  Take my most recent goal which was to achieve a good proficiency in Sanchin kata.  This is a great example as technical skills, physical conditioning and mindset are equally important for Sanchin.  This kata requires full body muscle contraction, powerful breathing, strong execution of technique and a laser focused mind.

 

Technical Training

My technical sessions comprised of performing each technique, stance, coordinated breath and transition correctly.  This often led to me completing the entire kata many times over in a single technical training session.

At the end of each technical training session, I recorded the date, duration, and details of my training.  I also reflected on my training session and recorded my current proficiency level along with some notes on the areas that I was lacking.  This self-reflection helped me focus on my weaknesses which, in turn, improved my proficiency in the execution of the kata as a whole. 

Here is a little snippet of my technical training log:

Martial Devotee Digital Training Journal - technical log

 

Physical Conditioning

You would recall that I mentioned that Sanchin is a physically demanding kata which requires full body muscle contraction.  By using Muscular Irradiation, the practitioner creates tension throughout the body by attempting to contract all muscles.  To sufficiently condition my body for this work, I found that isometric training and especially planking was extremely beneficial.  My aim was to get better at tensing the entire body and holding that tension for as long as I could.  I began with 3 sets of 1-minute planks and slowly worked my way up to 2 sets of 2-minute planks.  I aimed for full body tension in the plank position for as long as I could.

Again, at the end of each training session, I logged my workout which comprised of the date, duration, and details of the work that I completed.  Self-reflection was critical as I noted how long I was able to tense my entire body for in the plank position. 

Here is a snapshot of my physical conditioning log:

Martial Devotee Digital Training Journal - physical conditioning log

 

Mobility and Flexibility

Although this particular goal did not require much mobility or flexibility, I found that dynamic stretching before my workout was great for warming up my body for each technical or conditioning workout.  I have always struggled with flexibility.  Keeping a good degree of mobility and flexibility requires consistent stretching and I try to maintain this by going through a general static stretching routine.

Here is what my mobility and flexibility stretching log looks like:

Martial Devotee Digital Training Journal - mobility flexibility log

 

Meditation and Mindset

One of the most difficult aspects of Sanchin kata for me is to coordinate my breathing with the techniques correctly.  It requires a high degree of focus and concentration to make sure that you inhale and exhale as you transition from one state of the technique to another.  I really struggled with this initially.  I was completely overwhelmed by the complexity of the kata.  My mind raced from one technicality to another, and it felt like I couldn’t get anything right.

It was at this point that I decided that I needed to begin my practice from a calm and relaxed mental state.  I began the practice of meditation before training which allowed me to achieve an intense mental focus.  I soon realised a phenomenal improvement in the way I was able to coordinate my body, technique, and breath to execute the kata with a good proficiency.

Take a look at my mindset log:

Martial Devotee Digital Training Journal - meditation mindset log

 

General Training Notes

While it was important to me to gain proficiency in Sanchin kata, I would have done myself a disservice at neglecting other aspects of my training.  I also captured general training notes to keep track of my shortcomings at skills that I was utilising and training at the dojo.

My general training notes afforded me insights into broader aspects of my training that needed attention and would ultimately influence my future goals and aspirations.

Here is a quick glimpse at my general training notes:

Martial Devotee Digital Training Journal - general training notes

 

Milestones and Goal Achievement

It’s great to identify and work on your weaknesses as this is important to progress and improve.  There should also be positive reflection, and this is why I recorded key milestones and achievements in my Martial Arts career.  Many of these were way after the fact, but it was important to me to have a view of how far I have come.  This motivated me to keep working hard and trying to excel at my Martial Art.  No matter how small an achievement was, it mattered more to me since I had put in the hard work to get to that point.

 

Progress Tracker

Tracking my physical parameters was non-negotiable to me as I wanted to know how my training was benefitting my overall health and fitness.  The key parameters I opted for was:

  • BMI
  • Resting heart rate
  • Maximal heart rate
  • VO2Max

Already being at an advanced age, I wanted to make sure I was at a healthy body weight according to the very generic BMI standards.  Similarly, the VO2Max measurements was something I wanted to measure to assess my fitness so that I could continue fighting for long periods of time without feeling too much fatigue. 

It is important to note that I used these measurements as a guide of health and fitness.  I was not too caught up on the measurements but rather tested myself during training, grading and competition situations.

Here’s what my numbers looked like:

Martial Devotee Digital Training Journal - progress tracker

 

Final Thoughts

Although it is great to carve out your goals, it is equally important to develop a system to track and measure your progress towards those goals. 

To quote James Clear:

james clear goals quote

 

I used and developed a Martial Arts Training Journal for this purpose and saw phenomenal results.  I created a framework for myself which helped me actively improve in all aspects of training and was beneficial to my goal.

I hope that I have shared some useful insights with you and that these insights will help you achieve success, not just in Martial Arts, but also in life.

 

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