Finding time for karate training can be a challenge for many people in today’s fast-paced world, but with some thoughts, planning, and prioritization, it is possible to carve out dedicated time for your practice. This post covers some strategies to help you find more time for your karate training and progress faster in your martial arts study.
1. Make the best of the training time you already have
The first thing you can do is to make the best of the training time you already have. If you put in 100% effort and totally focus on your training instead of just cruising along, you can immediately double or triple your training time without spending any extra minute on the dojo floor.
Starting with your drive, walk, or bus ride to your dojo, instead of going over a problem you have at work earlier, worrying about a report due tomorrow, or planning for your coming weekend, get your mind ready for a good training session and tell yourself that you are going to give it your all.
If you arrive 10 or 15 minutes early, think about how you would spend those precious minutes. Don’t stand around chatting to other students, practice some techniques that you want to improve, go through a kata you have just learned, or work on your favorite combos at slow speed.
During your training, listen to your instructors, follow instructions closely but ponder and, if there are anything you don’t quite understand, ask questions when you have the opportunities. Also listen to your body when performing any techniques and ask yourself how you can do them better, how you can improve the speed and power of the techniques, or how you can cut out redundant movements and make them more clean and sharp.
Ideally, after each training session, you should come home with some new ideas or are puzzled by something new concept that you want to explore and gain a deeper understanding of. You should also feel mentally and physically exhausted because you have put in 100% effort.
Life is too short and you only have a few tomorrows so don’t half-ass anything in life. If karate is truly your passion, give it your all with every minute of training time you have. If you can’t give it your best and there is something more important than karate in your life, forget karate and follow that passion instead.
2. Increase your training time through daily activities
Even when you are not training physically, you still can improve your karate faster by practicing visualization, zanshin, and mushin and improve your balance, strength and endurance through daily activities.
Visualization refers to the process of creating images in your mind reflecting things that you want to happen in your life. This practice can greatly benefit your karate because visualization can strengthen neural connections in your brains and facilitate the learning process.
When you vividly imagine yourself performing techniques or kata, your brain activates similar neural pathways as when you physically perform those actions. This is because your brain has a hard time distinguishing between imagined and real things. Visualization, therefore, can accelerate learning and skill acquisition, helping you progress more rapidly in your karate practice without actually spending time on the dojo floor. 
Visualization is a powerful tool widely used by elite athletes (e.g. Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan, Katie Ledecky, and Emily Cook) to accelerate skill acquisitions, enhance performance, improve focus, boost confidence, and reduce stress.
You can practice visualizing when you are on the bus, on the train, on the plane or when you are waiting for an appointment. You can go over a kata in your mind or imagine yourself doing a set of sparring combination or simply a particular technique.
If you have an upcoming tournament, make visualization a part of your preparation. Visualize the venue, the crowd, and the atmosphere. Imagine yourself blocking out distractions, entering the mat, bowing, taking deep breath, being calm and focused. Mentally go through each movement of your kata with precision and focus.
If you are in kumite, imagine yourself analyzing your opponent’s movements, identifying weaknesses, and formulating effective strategies to overcome them. Visualize different opponents, scenarios, and tactical approaches. Visualize facing various fighting styles and visualize yourself adjusting your strategies accordingly. Imagine successfully countering your opponent’s attacks, utilizing effective defensive techniques, and finding openings to deliver powerful strikes. Visualize yourself as a skilled and successful fighter.
Another thing you can do to improve your karate without increasing the actual training time is to practice zanshin through daily activities.
Zanshin (残心) means “lingering mind” or “remaining mind” and refers to a state of heightened awareness and mental presence before, during and after executing a technique or engaging in a fight with an opponent.
In the state of zanshin, your mind is calm and clear and you are fully engaged in the present moment, without getting caught up in past actions or anticipating future events. Your body is relaxed but alert and ready.
By maintaining zanshin, you have a better chance of receiving and countering an opponent’s actions and changes in the environment effectively.
There are many ways that you can cultivate a zanshin mindset through your everyday routine:
- Mindful activities: Engage in everyday activities with full presence and awareness. Whether it’s cooking, cleaning, walking, or eating, pay attention to each action, focusing on the sensations, movements, and details of the task at hand. Avoid getting lost in thoughts or distractions and bring your attention back to the present moment
- Single-tasking: Instead of multitasking, focus on one task at a time. Dedicate your full attention and effort to the task, whether it’s spending time with loved ones, working out, walking your dog, cooking, cleaning or writing an important report. Avoid distractions, prioritize quality over quantity, and immerse yourself in the task with complete focus
- Environment awareness: Observe your surroundings, the streets, the crowd, the buildings, the exits, the weather, and the sounds. Take them all in without judgment or attachment. Cultivate a sense of curiosity and openness, allowing yourself to be fully present and attentive to the present moment
- Observation of thoughts and emotions: Pay attention to your thoughts and emotions without getting entangled in them. Practice observing your thoughts and emotions as they arise, acknowledging them without judgment, and letting them go
- Maintain proper posture: Be mindful of your physical posture throughout the day. Stand, sit, and walk with an upright and balanced posture, fostering a sense of alertness and presence. Align your body in a way that supports an open and relaxed state of mind.
Practicing zanshin through daily activities means living the life of a martial artist and being a martial artist instead of just practicing martial arts. It also means living a fully engaged life rather that sleep-walking through life for most of the time.
Practice karate through daily activities
There are also many opportunities for you to improve your balance, strength and endurance during your daily routine if you are on the lookout for them, for example:
- Stand on one foot while hanging out the washing, brushing your teeth, or washing the dishes
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator to engage your leg muscles
- Park the car further away and brisk-walk to your destination
- Do calf raises while waiting in the line
- Maintain a good posture throughout the day by standing tall with shoulders back and core engaged
- Sit with proper alignment, avoiding slouching or hunching
- Engage your core whenever you need to carry or lift heavy objects.
3. Create a training space at home and have an effective training program
Having a dedicated space, a specific time and a training program to train at home can help increase your training time and improve your karate.
If you can’t go to your dojo to train as frequently as you would like due to work or family commitments, setting up a designated area at home where you can train regularly, even for just 10 to 15 minutes a day can add a lot to your total training time. You don’t have to spend time on traveling, getting changed or waiting around, and can devote 100% of the little time you have to your training.
Having a tailored program for home training can also accelerate your progress in karate. Unlike structured classes at the dojo where everyone follows the same routine, at home you can concentrate on specific areas of interest. For example, you can optimize your time by skipping the warm-up and engaging in kihon drills at a slower or medium pace, then moving straight to a kata or shadow-boxing style drills you want to refine.
Having an established training program at home can help you train consistently even when you have to travel because karate training needs no equipment and very little space. Consistency is key to steady progress over time. It’s better to train consistently for shorter periods rather than having sporadic, longer training sessions.
4. Identify time gaps for karate training
Apart from making the best of the training time you already have and finding opportunities to improve your karate through daily activities, you can also go through your daily commitments, assess their priorities and identify time gaps in order to increase your time for karate.
Just like everyone else, you have a limited 24 hours each day to juggle your various responsibilities such as work, family obligations, self-care, social engagements, and hobbies. In order to optimize your daily routine and make the most of your time, it’s important to identify what truly matters to you.
Start by listing down your daily commitments and then assess their priorities. Ask yourself what truly matters to you? What must you absolutely do? What are the most important things in your life? What gives your life meaning? What genuinely makes you happy? What you will regret not doing when you are on your deathbed? These are the things that you absolutely must make time for and give them top priorities. Everything else is negotiable and can potentially be removed from your daily schedule.
It is possible that you may be able to let go of a few things that are non-essential or even time-wasters (e.g. social media, notifications, clutters, emails, meeting, lack of organization and planning, etc.) and identify some time gaps that can be dedicated to your karate training. For example, if you can wake up a bit earlier and put in 15-30 minutes of karate practice each morning, it will make a big difference to your progress in karate. Lunch break is another possibility. Even just going through your basics or a kata at slow pace after lunch can result in substantial improvement over time.
However, it is also possible that after assessing your priorities, you may need to reduce your karate training to spend more time on things that are a lot more important for you like family and loved ones. If this is the case, it is perfectly fine. Life is short and you’ve got to give the little precious time you have to what matters the most to you. You certainly don’t want to become a renowned karate master at the expense of neglecting your family and your growing children.
In conclusion, finding time for your karate training requires thoughtful planning, prioritization, and incorporating karate principles into your daily life. By making the most of your current training time, increasing your training time through visualization and zanshin practices, and integrating karate into your daily activities, you can enhance your skills and progress in your karate journey.
However, please remember to find a good work-life balance and it’s important to prioritize what brings joy and fulfillment in your life. While karate is a passion worth pursuing for many, it should never overshadow the importance of family and loved ones.
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