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BellaOnline's Martial Arts Editor

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How do you learn Martial Arts?

Guest Author - Caroline Chen-Whatley

When training, it’s important that you’re both a macro- and micro-learner.

What exactly does that mean?

Simply put, people who learn Martial Arts the best can absorb both the detailed aspects as well as the big picture of what they are training. For some, this skill comes naturally. But for most of us, the ability to both look at the details and look at the context is not as intuitive as you would think.

First thing to do is to understand how you learn. There are some basic questions you can ask yourself in order to help you determine which type of learner you are. Remember, neither type of learning is wrong or weaker or any other negative connotation. They are just different:
    When doing math problems, do you like to work with:
      (a) word problems
      (b) formulas

    When you look at a painting, do you like to examine:
      (a) how it looks from afar?
      (b) what sort of strokes/techniques the artist used?

    When getting directions do you prefer:
      (a) knowing the end location and seeing a map to visually orient yourself
      (b) having detailed instructions on each turn


Remember, be honest with yourself here. You might be a mix of both; but which side do you lean towards the “a” or “b”?

A) Macro-learner

If you lean more towards the “a” answers, you’re probably a macro learner. For you it’s important to see the big picture. Where is this moving? What is happening in this particular movement?

For you, it will be important that you ask your teacher up front to illustrate visually what is happening. Simple questions like: Where are the attackers? How is the attacker coming in? will help you visualize the form you’re learning.

What will be key for you to capitalize on your learning is taking the time to understand the smaller details. You might be able to accomplish this by dividing up your notes in such a fashion that you link the higher level visual with the detailed steps. Leave big gaps between your visual references so you can fill in the details as you notice more and more of them.

So for instance your notes might looks like this:
    attacker on right, do an upper block
    • Foot position:
    • Hand position:
    • Angle of arm:
    • Posture:

    turn to attacker on left to block a low kick
    • Foot position:
    • Hand position:
    • Angle of arm:
    • Posture:


Fill in the bulleted details as you gain understanding of what you’re doing. Take the time to notice and focus on those smaller details which will make your Martial Arts stronger.

B) Micro-learner

If you lean more towards “b” answers, you’re probably a micro-learner. While the end of the journey might be important for you, it’s just not as important as the details in between. You’ll naturally pick up on the little things that the instructor might do, like an extra step or a small hesitation.

For you, it is important to make sure you position yourself in a spot which you can easily see the instructor and absorb their movements. If you find yourself in the back of the ranks (which you probably will be to start with), try to shift and find a straight line where you can focus on just one aspect of the instructor. If you try to see it all at once, you might overwhelm yourself. Instead, pick something like hands, feet, posture, and stick to watching that. The next time you see the form/technique, focus on another part.

As a micro-learner, you will find that picking up the steps are easy and you will be able to mimic them with ease compared to your macro-learning partners. But the piece you may be missing is what the objective is you’re trying to accomplish. Because of this, your movements may not feel or look as “strong”. The intent/purpose is not there.

Take some time to reflect upon what it is you’re trying to accomplish with your movements. What may be best for you is to actually put the movements into application so you can see how the movements couple with the bigger story.
For your notes, you may want to either split the paper in half or get bordered paper so you can write notes on the side. Your notes might look like:
Left foot at 45 in a short bow stance. Right hand wing block, turning it as the hand rises. Thumb tuckedBlock incoming punch from the side by brushing it to the side,


In order to be a well rounded Martial Artist, you must be able to absorb both the micro- and macro-learning that is involved in this art. Taking the time to understand how best you learn and how to capitalize on it will make you a stronger artist and person. Learning how to compliment your learning style to absorb the other style of learning will become the yin-and-yang of your training – the balance that will make you whole.
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Content copyright © 2014 by Caroline Chen-Whatley. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Caroline Chen-Whatley. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact BellaOnline Administration for details.

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