Every martial artist knows someone who's 'been training forever' but doesn't seem to actually improve. And we all know of people who excel amazingly fast despite being new to the sport or training far less than everyone else. What's the difference? The latter often gets labeled as a 'freak athlete', but what's happening more often than not is a drastic difference in the quality of their training time.
Quality training is just as or more important than quantity. The program, instructors, and training environment play a major role, but in this post I'm going to share 4 under-used and fool-proof things you can do all on your own, no matter where you train, to significantly improve the quality and therefore the progress of your training.
1. Come Prepared To Succeed
Set each training session up for maximum success by being on time and prepared. Not having the right uniform, gear, or water can hinder how you perform in class.
Missing 5-10 minutes of every class adds up! When you're late you miss out on the full benefit of the warm up which is there to help your body get ready to move and prevent injury. Arriving a little early gives you time to settle in, change, catch up with your friends, and put on your hand wraps or any other training gear you need.
Dress for Success
Tank tops are perfect for kickboxing and striking classes, but for anything that includes grappling or ground techniques (like the GWF Friday MMA and Saturday Self Defense classes) you’ll want to wear a rashguard or at least a fitted t-shirt (not too loose!) so your skin won’t hate you. Mat burns don't exactly help you push yourself to the limit.
Bring Your Equipment
Sharing sweaty gloves? or worse- not enough spare gloves for everyone? No fun. Make sure you have everything you need to do AND feel your best in every class! Here’s our amazon storefront with striking gear picks if you don’t have equipment yet or want to add to your collection.
You simply cannot do your best physical training if you're dehydrated. Make sure you bring more than enough water so you're ready to give your all.
2. Conscious VS Mindless Repetition
Repetition is a huge part of developing skill. Over your training you're going to do hundreds, even thousands of reps of the same movements and techniques. But muscle memory doesn’t discriminate. If you train with 50% precision and technique, that’s what quality of skill your muscles will memorize.
In the Girls Who Fight Self Defense Fundamentals Course we do 30 elbows, 30 knees, and 30 front kicks in every single class. Our kickboxing classes have you do 100 kicks in every class! They sure add up, but one good, conscious rep is worth more than 10 so-so mindless reps. So don't just start kicking to get through it, make them all count.
How to practice consciously:
hit the same precise target each time vs just anywhere on the pad/opponent
execute techniques fully: turn your hips on kicks, pivot on your elbows and punches, bridge your hips fully on your mount escapes, etc.
breath with every rep
finish techniques properly: getting back to your stance, circling out, putting your hands up, standing up in base, etc.
These tiny adjustments can make the different between good and great especially over years of training.
3. Focus on Yourself
Comparison is the thief of joy! It’s so easy to compare yourself to teammates and people online, but all that does is either make you feel like crap or give you a pointless sense of superiority. Even the best pro fighters started out as a beginner feeling just as awkward and intimidated as everyone else. Know that you will accomplish all your goals, become incredibly skilled, and get in the best shape of your life— just not overnight! The only person who can actually stop you from it all is yourself, or should I say the voice in your head that compares too much, judges too harshly, and tells you to give up.
There's a phrase I use in our kids class to snap them out of the toxic cycle of spending so much energy looking at the other kids that they rush through techniques and do a poor job as a result. I tell the kids “put on your blinders.” They each pretend to put blinders on the sides of their eyes. Racehorses don’t look at all the other horses during the race. They wear blinders so that they can only focus on what’s in front of them, what's going to get them one more step ahead.
Adults are wise to put their blinders on too.
4. Forge A Winners Mindset
Training is just as mental as it is physical, and so is self defense and combat. Training is a great place to forge a strong, warrior mindset alongside physical skills. How to develop a winners mindset in training:
Train Your Brain Not To Quit
There's 20 seconds left in the round and your body wants to give up. This is the perfect opportunity to teach your brain that when things get tough you don't quit. Pushing past these mental limits every class is what gradually convinces you that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. If you ever have to defend an attack, your mind and body will be so much better prepared to fight for your life because of the mental and physical strength you've built.
Prioritize Skill Progression Over Outcomes
A winners mindset is not about winning.
There's plenty of talented athletes who refuse to train with anyone who gives them a hard time because losing is too hard on their self-image. There's also plenty of beginners who give up before the round even starts because they don't believe they have a chance of winning even if they try.
In both situations, fear of losing holds them back from ever reaching their full potential. They're solely focused on the outcome when what they should be focused on is the learning. A winners mindset doesn't come from winning every single round with every single person. It comes from not giving up no matter the challenge and finding the opportunity for learning and growth with every partner.
Throughout your journey you're going to be paired with people who are more advanced, less advanced, bigger, smaller, male, female, etc. Before sparring with someone, instead of calculating your chances of winning or losing and psyching yourself out before you even start, think of something you can focus on during the round that will help you improve no matter what.
For example if you're sparring with someone who's bigger or more advanced, focus on defense. Don't stress about being offensive just for the sake of 'doing something'. If you get through the round defending all their attacks, that's a win! If you're going with someone who's much less advanced, you can slow it down and be much more technical, like deciding to only work on nailing the timing of your push kick. If you and your opponent are roughly the same level and size, you can both test out your skills with maximum effort and resistance, achieving the most growth for each of you. If you win, great. If you lose, great. The progress happened either way, and you need one another to have the opportunity to reach your greatest potential.
Winning is not an outcome, it's an attitude!
There's always something you can learn from any training partner as long as you focus on skill progression over outcome.
Hopefully you're training at an amazing school with attentive instructors, a structured curriculum, great class culture and well mannered training partners. But no matter where you train, these tips will help maximize the return on your time in every training session.
Written by Gemma Sheehan, founder of
Girls Who Fight.
Our mission is to help women and girls lead safe and confident lives. Learn about our programs >