As one of the more popular member benefits of the CMD Program, the Open Mats session is usually well attended. Not because it’s free but because the members have little restriction in deciding how to spend those 2 hours of their Saturday. Often, it is spent sparring and members get a lot of enjoyment and learning from it but is it the best way to improve their skills?
I have mentioned this before to earlier members and those who have been training a while; that is, while “training = sparring” is very fun, “training = practicing drills” will be more productive. The challenge is to find a balance between these two as they make up both sides of the same coin.
Without the necessary skill set, your “training = sparring” will resemble a sloppy, drunken, swinging bar fight. With the right tools, your sparring will be precise, economical and effective. To get those tools or techniques right, my advise is to drill them ad nauseum. Practice them so much until your really, truly sick of it then stop. Now go and spar. Repeat for each technique or flow sequence. You will see improvement much faster this way.
As a beginner, more often than not, and especially when sparring with one of the seniors, you notice how quickly the sparring session ends up being a semi-instructional? This is because the culture that we have instilled from the very beginning in all our members is to help others improve. When one of the senior members pauses to offer some suggestions, first understand that they may have spotted something which could improve your sparring experience or your movement has reminded them of a common error that should be fixed straightaway. I know I’m guilty of that, however, please understand that it is up to you whether you want to heed the advise. Above all, it is never a personal statement or be misunderstood as criticism on your present abilities.
In the 2 hours, my formula is as follows:
Do your physical and mental warm up. You know your body best. You know what day you’ve had. You know how well (or not) you slept the night before. Use the same music to get you ready for the open mat session everytime so that you know you are coming for training. You know it will be a positive, productive experience because you have told yourself that and have visualized the outcome ahead of time. As you know your body and it’s limitations, use the warm up to work on improving the areas of concern and to improve your strengths. While you do this, add in positive self-talk based on the visualizations and training objectives.
Select your training partners carefully. Always choose a wide range of training partners with varying levels of skills. Communicate with them about your training objectives and adjust the timing and intensity of the sparring/drill so that you achieve the desired outcome. Once you are able to achieve the same results with one partner, be sure to return the favor and if you are still able to achieve the same results with them, move on to someone with better skill and so on. Even if you can’t “succeed” with a better skilled training partner, you realize that you haven’t “lost”, on the contrary, you have gained by understanding where your mistakes are. More often than not, the better skilled partner will offer some suggestions on improving your technique. Naturally, this works best when you have clearly defined a specific drill and desired outcome.
If you have currently sustained an injury or other physical limitation, you should ideally rest off the mats. You are more than welcome to come over, practice the same visualization and be immersed in the energy of Open Mats. I personally find that when I am injured (rare nowadays), and come in to watch a session, I find that I improve after taking a short rest and let my visualization go to work. As much as I learn from watching people do the correct technique, I also learn from their mistakes and make mental notes with reference to my own training.
During my training, I usually keep unnecessary chatter to a minimum, preferring my training to do the talking and focus on what I am trying to achieve. I find that when I keep too many thoughts and training ideas, talk about 1001 things and still try to train, I become distracted and my performance becomes a reflection of that mental traffic. So, the simpler I keep things the better my training becomes.
I hope this gives you some ideas on how to train. Of course there is a lot more however I will prefer to keep those to share with you in person on the mats.