It is my belief that most people have been told “Practice makes perfect” at some point in their lives. What you don’t hear as often is “Perfect practice makes perfect”. As a child I spent hours with my father as he taught Aikido to youths at a rec center. I enjoyed watching him teach his students Aikido, a Japanese martial art that uses an opponent’s energy against them. Daily, students learned how to perform submission wrist locks, a move used on an attacker to cause a temporary paralysis with the least amount of energy expenditure from the defender. Occasionally, the Bokken was used; a piece of wood shaped like a Katana sword to practice defending against weapons. The rec center was filled with a cacophony of students putting each other through drills and slapping the mat with their hands. It was thrilling! I wanted to be a part of it so badly. I was a few years younger than most of his students and mostly outsized, but I always wanted in on the action. Dutifully, I would don my Gi, do my warm ups and anticipate my father’s beckon to join the class. Almost every time, to my great disappointment, instead of joining the rest of the class in super fun practice sessions, he instructed me to roll endlessly back and forth in the corner of the room. Stand tall, lean forward, fold the wrist, roll from my wrist to my shoulder, follow through on the side of my body and end on my back with a slap on the mat, then reverse the movement. Over and over. I hated it. I never saw a point to any of this. I could be kicking butt and taking down students twice my size. He would come over and say “perfect practice makes perfect” while moving my hand into the right position or shifting my legs into a more stable stance and repeat. Then he would return to his other students. Sure, I did some other drills but most of my time in class was spent rolling in the corner, all by my lonesome. At the time, rolling repeatedly made no sense to me. But, I did what I was told.
One glorious day, he called on me to join the class. This was it. I was gonna make a name for myself. I’m gonna go straight from white to black belt! Clear as day, I can remember how the day went. Basically, I sucked. I’m certainly not a master of the art, and I didn’t take anyone down, take names or earn a black belt. But I did make a name for myself. How? I was the girl who be thrown or tossed and get right back up like nothing happened. Before you let your imagination get too crazy, Aikido is a very gentle discipline. I wasn’t thrown or tossed across the room, just moved by my opponent. I had spent so much time rolling around in the corner that it became second nature. I would begin my attack move on another student, they would then use my energy and push me back but I would just roll right out of it and come back for more. That’s what all that darn practice was for. It wasn’t just busy work or my father nitpicking at my rolling technique. It wasn’t because he didn’t think I could join the regular class. He wanted me to be safe and for the safety to become a second nature to me. Because of my ability to roll safely out of holds I was able to learn so much more in the following years.
Perfect practice applies ‘perfectly’ to any movement or skill we do. Do you strive to get your first unassisted pull up? Practice perfectly with a band. Thumbs around the bar, shoulders engaged and core tight. So when you get your first dead hand or kipping pull up, you will have developed the hand, shoulder and core strength to perform a beautiful and efficient pull up. Are your thrusters not as streamline as you would like them to be? Break the movement up into smaller and more manageable movements. Grab a PVC or light bar after class and practice front squats and shoulder presses. Want to make that move to heavier kettlebells for swings? Hone the technique with a lighter bell. Keep your weight on your heels, flat back and drive with your hips. Perfect practice. Don’t be afraid to be a child rolling endlessly in the corner. Practice until it becomes second nature. After you finish a workout approach a trainer, ask if they have a second, and get feedback about a movement you may be having trouble with. Most likely they will be willing to help you improve and may have some insights as to what can help you. I’m not saying you do another 100% effort workout after you’ve just pried yourself off the floor, just practice a few reps at a lighter weight or use some drills you may have learned in class for a movement you want to improve upon. That perfect practice will build on itslef and before you know it your goals will be achieved. Don’t be hesitant to allocate some time after class and pick something to work on. I promise, you will improve and continue to do so as long as you keep practicing perfectly. As an athlete practicing perfectly, you’re probably not going to break any pull up records overnight. You most likely won’t be able to complete Fran with a 200 lb. thruster right away (who would want to?). And unless you’re an amazing, heavy hitting, kettlebell superstar masquerading as a CrossFit athlete; one would think that swinging a 70lb bell around like it’s a cotton ball on a string isn’t in your future. Let’s stick to realistic weights and spend a few minutes before or after class practicing perfectly. Happy perfecting.