A few years back I had the opportunity to train with the Grand-master of Shao-Lin Do, Sin The. A true master in every sense of the word. The training was for a very advanced kata, at the time I was a lowly green belt. I knew when we started I was in over my head, but I stuck with it as it was a fantastic opportunity to train with one of the foremost martial arts masters in the United States. Several others from my Dojo went as well, that allowed us to practice and train after the seminar.
Sadly, my life got to the point to which I was no longer able to attend classes on a regular basis, and had to stop training with the normal classes. This meant I could no longer practice the advanced form. I am sad to say that I have completely forgot most every part of the form.
The point of this story is this: We can train, spend time and money learning new things; however, if we do not keep up with the information and techniques, they will go away. We call these a “perishable skill”.
We go to a handgun or knife course then never practice the skills and techniques we spent days and hundreds of dollars on; I assure you, they will be gone within weeks. In order to retain your new found knowledge you must practice, practice, practice.
If you ever attend one of my classes, you will learn very quickly the significance I place on continuing education. There is no way you can attend an 8 hour or even 16 hour course pertaining to life saving practices and tactics, and retain them for life.
The reality of training like this is: These courses are designed to give you a great deal of information, and maybe techniques, that you can take back and perfect over the next several years into a lifetime. Different researches will tell you different numbers regarding memory retention relating to skills. Suffice it to say, it takes a good deal of time, and hundreds(or more) repetitions to have something so ingrained into your psyche that you make the motions without thinking.
This is typically referred to as “muscle memory”. That is a fine term for this but, if I was being picky; I would prefer the term “train to reaction”. Meaning, if you encounter something you have trained for, you do not think about it, you simply react. For example: In my years studying martial arts, there are specific techniques I have practiced, thousands, and thousands of times. Should I need those techniques, I will not think about it, I will simply act before I can cognitively process what is going on.
What happens if we go spend time and money on a course and never continue to train with the new knowledge? We lose it, I assure you. I understand that it may be difficult to train in some disciplines on your own. My wife and I train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu together when we can. BJJ is not something you can do effectively by yourself.
Practice is critical to perishable skill survival. Most of the skills we use in self defense are perishable, requiring practice. This requires time beyond the course. Perishing is two fold here; not only may the skills perish, but we may as well. If we do not continually train on our perishable skills, we too may perish when we need those skills most. Train like your life depends on it, it just may…
What can we learn?
Train, train, train!
Focus on one discipline at a time and get it down before moving on. Do not pick up 3 martial arts, 2 new weapons platforms and a book club all at once. Only practice what you can digest.
Have you analyzed your self and your skills recently? What have you done to sharpen your edge? Every combat skill is perishable. If you are not improving, you are deteriorating.
Train to reaction. When our life depends on our skills, we cannot think cognitively. We must rely on processes we do not think about.