Perfect Practice

Proud papa.

This is the last in a 3 part series on practice, training, and focus. The first part, on training, can be found here. The second, on focus and commitment, is here.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.-Aristotle

As many readers of this site know, I am a big fan of the martial art and sport of judo. I studied judo during my years in Tokyo, but never really excelled at it. My anthropometry is even worse suited for judo than weightlifting, heh. One aspect of judo training that has served me well in other physical endeavors where I had more success, namely water polo and full contact karate, is the judo idea of drilling a technique over and over again. Hundreds of repetitions practiced hard until the movement is beyond second nature. I would usually stay after water polo practice, or come early, and go through a series of 10 shots (5 shots done right and left handed) on goal, all from 2-4 meters from the goal, over and over again. In fighting, it was the practice of just a couple combinations, ones that I felt particularly suited me or I had an affinity for, constantly, so that I could always throw those combos no matter how tired or hurt I was.

This repetitive drilling is one of the harder ideas to inculcate in the kickboxing and jujutsu students that I work with. Let’s face it, repetitive drilling is boring. It is a lot more fun and interesting to always be learning new things, new techniques, new movements. Especially when you are paying a hundred bucks a month. But, it is the over and over stuff, the same movement worked ad nauseum, that creates effortless excellence.

In judo there is the practice of uchikomi, which literally means “fitting in” (here and here are a couple of short videos showing uchikomi; watch the incredible speed of the guy at :44 in the first video, and the second features Olympic champ Mark Huizinga).  A person goes for a throw, but stops just short of actually throwing the partner. This is done over and over at a rapid rate. It’s essence is repetition done perfectly. Here is a eyewitness account of Korean Kim Jae-Yup preparing with uchikomi for the gold medal match at the World Championships in 1987.

[He] had so many tracksuits on that he looked like a spaceman and he was doing sets of uchikomi, throwing on the tenth each time. His five training partners kept encouraging him and I was struck by what superb technique he had. He was practicing only one throw, uchimata, and his technique was flawless. Perfect hand action, dancer-fast feet, and he performed his uchikomi with a metronomic rhythm and precision that was fascinating to watch. Equally impressive was his fitness. He must have performed over three hundred uchikomi as I watched but showed no sign of slowing down, resting only at three-minute intervals to peel off a tracksuit top or sweatshirt, then grip and and start again.

I was so enthralled by this striking combination of focus and technical excellence that I lost track of time. Eventually the last tracksuit came off and he put on his [judo] jacket, gave a little shout and proceeded to throw his partners one final time. Each one sailed over at lightning speed: grip, uchimata, ippon, roll over, up, grip, uchimata, ippon…and so on until all had been dispatched. Then he stood up, sweat pouring off of him, straightened his gi, and gave the ends of his black belt a little tug….and began to trot t0 the competition arena. –Mark Law

Kim proceeded to throw his opponent, the then reigning Olympic Champion, in 37 seconds with a blindingly fast uchimata, just as he had been practicing in the warm up area. Bam, one perfect throw, one win, world champion.  You can watch the match here; Kim has the red belt (it’s under a minute). The next year, Kim won Olympic gold in dominating fashion, as he did not allow a single point to be scored against him.

It is common to say that practice makes perfect, but perhaps we could tweak the refrain just a little to say that perfect practice makes perfect. This is also the key to uchikomi and to Get Up Big: do it over and over again, but do it perfectly, do it right.

Of course this can be applied to CrossFit. You want fast pullups? Do them, all the time. The same goes for so many other movements. Muscle ups, burpees, toes-2-bar, HSPU, kettlebell swings, and on and on. Work your weaknesses, so that they are no longer weaknesses, but also work your strengths so that they are out of this world. Loaded movements, such as the snatch, need to be worked repeatedly as well, but it is not enough just to work them, they need to be worked at heavy weight as the the groove is different with heavy weight than with light weight.

Training, focus and commitment, perfect practice. Here is where it would be easy to say something cliched and trite like “this is what makes champions”, but being a champion does not have much bearing on most of our lives. However, change and progress, being better than yesterday, and self-knowledge; these things do have great bearing on our lives. And training, focus and commitment, perfect practice are the keys there as well.

So please, in between having fun with your workouts, put a little thought into training, focus and commitment, and perfect practice. You will never regret it.

Please post thoughts to Comments.


Back Squat

Find new 5RM


3 Rounds

12 Deadlifts

9 Hang Power Cleans

6 Jerks

20 Wallball

Gents, use 155 on the barbell and 20 on the wallball.

Ladies, use 105 on the barbell and 14 on the wallball.