Repetition in martial arts is crucial to becoming better. If you wish to improve (as I’m sure most of us do), you need to practice. And practice means repetition.
Whether it be a punch, kick or armbar — only through repetition can we “understand” a move. This means executing a move until the body’s neural networks “click” into gear and we perform the move automatically and efficiently. There is an old saying that if you have to think about a specific movement you haven’t practiced or performed that movement enough. Bruce Lee — arguably the most famous martial artist — understood the simplistic importance of repetition. Beautifully stating: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
The Oxford dictionary defines muscle memory as: “The ability to reproduce a particular movement without conscious thought, acquired as a result of frequent repetition of that movement.” An example of muscle memory is teeth brushing. Adults shouldn’t have to think about the brushing process — because we’ve brushed so many times, we no longer need to consciously think about the process. We simply switch to auto pilot and comfortably execute the series of moves and let the process happen. The same applies to any move in martial arts. If done frequently and repetitively, our neural network electronically “memorises” the conscious move such that it becomes embedded — and if the situation warrants, the said move in the absence of conscious thought can be executed with fluency at accuracy and high speed.
NB. Be aware the term muscle memory is a misnomer. It’s not the muscles that remember the movement, no. Changes occur in the motor cortex within the brain when learning new patterns of movement.
Nobody learns any type of movement at maximum or high speed. New or unfamiliar movements starts slow. We need to learn to crawl first then walk and finally run. We repeat a basic movement until eventually we can do it quickly via conditioned reflexes. But this takes time. Repetition seemingly “burns” the movement to our biological hard drive, allowing the motor nervous system to access the movement quickly and hence execute the movement at speed. This conditioned reflex is often called, “no mind” movement. Minimum thought, maximum output.
Muscle memory isn’t magical — it’s simply the result of hard, repeated training. You have to work at it. Learning a new move requires the combined efforts of mental and physical application. Eventually, the once seemingly complex martial arts’ move will become easier as the slow seeds of repetition will bear the bountiful fruit of movement mastery.
Yours in Martial Arts Repetition,