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Practice Makes Perfect

The Art of Coordination Under Pressure


In a world of instant gratification the old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ is a hard sell. Everyone wants a quick fix, and yet if you want something to become an immediate and honed response we need to do the repetitive practice required. This is particularly true when it comes to our defensive skills, because when we are suddenly presented with a stimulus such as a violent assault we are required to act immediately with the correct response. What we are talking about here mostly is coordination. The effectiveness of our response is completely controlled by our ability to coordinate the information being fed by our eyes, ears and other sense receptors, and initiate the most effective physical response. Our muscles must then fire with a sudden and coordinated enthusiasm, propelling our limbs in the correct direction and to a precise location.


We of course have been honing these skills since the very first year of our life. Our first goal may have been to get our hand to touch our mother’s face, moving on to learning how to use our hands to pick up our dummy etc. And so it went until we reached our current abilities, where the ‘simple’ movements we were unable to achieve as a baby, are no longer even considered. Why? Practice. We have refined our motor skills and coordination to the point that we no longer have to think about simple movement. I raise this example because I think as adults we often are frustrated when a new physical action is not acquired immediately. I often have new students who falsely believe that having simply performed an action once or twice they now ‘know’ it and stop practicing. The sad reality is that if they walk away at that point and then need to use the action in a defensive manner, the likelihood of them successfully performing it is next to zero.


Coordination is the key that unlocks our martial abilities, and coordination's life source is repetition. Without it we cannot hit our target or initiate the correct defence. So whether you are warming up or are doing exercises to gain additional fitness and conditioning it’s important to use every second of your training time to enhance your skills.

  • Skill specific warm up and conditioning drills:

When you are doing your warm up, find a way to incorporate a skill. For example, in self-defence training instead of jogging around in a circle you could practice your footwork throughout the room. Another example would be to incorporate the practice of your blocks in a light manner to either an imagined or real training partner. If you want to work on your abs then have a standing training partner ‘attack’ you whilst you are grounded. Hold your head off the ground, protect your head and keep your legs toward the attacker, whilst the attacker tries to get to your head. Within 30 seconds you have had a good workout on your abs and fitness alike.

  • Gradually increase the complexity of your training drills:

Start with the first movement, practice repeatedly; add the next movement, practice them together repeatedly; add the final movement, practice all of techniques repeatedly. This way you are building on learnt skill and you will more easily flow one part of the action to the next. It also allows you to increase the number of repetitions without the boredom of doing the exact same set of actions. It will provide you with a steady stream of interest and challenge.

All of these basic training techniques ‘hide’ repetitions and provide a way of gaining your base skill.


Unfortunately this kind of repetition alone will not be enough if self-defence is your goal. Why, you ask? Well, for the simple reason that during a violent assault or aggressive confrontation you will not be feeling the same as you are during a calm and polite training session. Whether your goal is self-defence, tournament fighting, or competition sport, practice as much as possible under the same conditions with which you will need to perform the action. In terms of self-defence training this means learning to perform techniques whilst under duress. What this means is that you will need to add some pressure and practice your techniques whilst under the effects of an adrenal dump, because coordination whilst calm and unhurried is one thing, coordination whilst under duress is quite another. Your fine motor skills will be diminished, you will experience ‘tunnel vision’ and auditory exclusion, making it much harder to coordinate your response.


Varying amounts of mental and physical pressure can be created by training techniques such as:

  • Verbalisation – have your training partners yell at you whilst you do the drill.

  • Confinement - doing drills in small hallways, rooms, cars or buses, or even a circle or between two lines of people holding kick-shields.

  • Altered state - spin until you are dizzy before executing a drill. This helps to re-create the effect of having been hit.

  • For advanced students – With both your training partners and yourself wearing protective training equipment, have either one or a few training partners attack in a realistic manner (using a safe level of force and appropriate contact areas). You will quickly see if all the repetitions have paid off and know what techniques you need to still work on. Try to get your training as close to reality as possible whilst still maintaining a safe training experience.

It’s important to remember that you should not take your training to this level until you can competently perform the technique/s in a calm, normal training environment. Otherwise you will fail at your attempt and lose confidence. These drills should be about realistic practice and empowerment, not demoralisation.

So in summation - practice, practice, practice, then add some pressure and practice again.


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