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Learning Strategies and Martial Arts, Part 1: Repetition

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

In this series of posts, I will be discussing some of the educational approaches we use at Fight Flow Academy. By blending strategies used in traditional martial arts with more modern learning methods, teachers and students can effectively reach goals and level up skills!

In education, "pedagogy" refers to methods of teaching — the science and art of imparting knowledge and understanding. Effective learning methodologies can be applied across a wide range of subject areas, academic and otherwise.

My own focus on pedagogy is informed by many years spent in educational product development for K-12 and higher education students. I find it fascinating to compare modern educational science with the practices codified in traditional forms of martial arts.

Specifically I'll be examine the following approaches, and talking about why they are important for martial arts learning:

  • Repetition

  • Gamification

  • Simulation and experiential learning (sparring)

  • Social cognitive learning

  • Mastery learning

Martial artists need to develop mental and physical understanding that encompasses a complex range of subject areas: martial techniques and strategies, body mechanics, movement dynamics, and mental awareness to name a few. Understanding pedagogy helps us focus our learning and optimize results.


“Progress comes to those who train and train; reliance on secret techniques will get you nowhere.” Morihei Ueshiba

Repetition and drilling is central to any martial arts practice. Repetition of movement leads to muscle memory - essentially transferring a conscious skill into your subconscious, which frees up working memory. As your body learns to perform actions with minimal thought, your attention can focus on refining your technique, or adding more complex variation.

Spaced repetition is one of the most effective learning strategies for virtually any discipline. By repeatedly re-introducing instruction at systematic intervals, whether through flashcards or through the lesson planning itself, we encode the material into our long-term memory, and build and strengthen the neural pathways that retrieve information from our brains.

In practice, this means we want to perform as many reps as possible during training, and then repeat the same techniques within a reasonable interval of time. Generally, more reps means faster and more effective progress.

As a rule of thumb, when your coach gets you started on a drill, keep doing reps until instructed to stop! Don’t worry, you won’t do too many.

To achieve proficiency, your reps should be measured in the thousands. Practice these tips to get best results from your drilling:

  • Start slow with new techniques. Try to flow through the drill without varying your speed, increasing speed gradually

  • If your execution is faulty, repetition just creates bad habits. Make sure you understand each technique you are practicing. If it doesn’t “feel right”, you may be missing a detail or perhaps be out of position.

  • Practice with resistance. Training partners help each other learn through providing appropriate response while drilling.

  • Remove distractions. Put aside worries of the day.

  • Make it fun!

Stay tuned for the next installment in this series, where I'll discuss gamification, and the importance of sparring. And please feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!

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