Please do not misunderstand me.

I know the value of training; hard and consistently. I do not, however, think that it the only factor in achieving an improvement in skills.

Some years ago I discovered the benefit of doing nothing for a short while and I want to raise it as a topic for discussion. Some history to accompany this (probably) controversial observation might be in order.

Before I was smitten by Karate, I was a diver of the scuba variety. The training for this is quite rigorous and vigorous. Amongst other things I had to be able to do before I was allowed to dive anywhere other than a swimming pool was to swim under water for 25 metres holding my breath. I was not allowed to use a snorkel or breathing equipment. I couldn’t do it. I did everything I could think of to achieve this landmark. I was not in a defeated frame of mind when I tried, I knew I was going to do it. The only problem was that I couldn’t.

To cut the story short, I went for a short visit to Scotland to visit my parents and during the two weeks I was away, I didn’t go near a swimming pool.

When I returned, the club had moved to a different pool while the old one was being refurbished. There was no one to teach me that evening, so I just practiced for the 25 metre swim. I managed one length of the pool on the first try. I did it a few more times and then went to ask someone how long the pool was; the old one had been only about 15 metres. I was astounded to find that the pool was 25 meters and I had been doing the “impossible” without realising it!

At the time I put it down to the psychological factor of “not knowing I couldn’t do it”. That would have been an end to it if I hadn’t noticed that often if I have a break from training, I am often better at techniques when I return to training than before the break. I do not believe it can be adequately explained by just having a better mental attitude to training when I return. I have often been despondent about the amount of training I will have to do to make up for the break and have been pleasantly surprised when I find I have improved without having done anything to deserve the improvement.

This improvement by doing nothing is not confined to physical skills. I have found that topics that I studied, but did not understand at school (even after all that time !) I can often understand easily despite having not thought about them for many decades.

So my questions to this forum are :

Have any of you experienced anything similar and do you have any plausible explanation ?

If you would like to have your comments published, click here to e-mail them to me and I will append them to this article.

Once again I am not challenging the perception that constant practice and study are essential to progress in Karate.

I would welcome your comments


Reply from Karl Green

I read your article and it is a little controversial, but I have found similar, sadly not really in my karate as you'll read in a moment, but with cycling. I used to ride EXTREMELY hard to work everyday while using a cycle computer to keep track of it. My times were pretty constant most of the time, but if I took a break of a week or more it changed on my return.

For the first few days after a break I could cycle harder, make it to work quicker and recover from it faster. I put this down to a physical rest allowing my body to recover from my normal constant "abuse". Sadly the improvement wasn't sustained. Once I return to my regular riding my times and tiredness returned to there normal constant despite by best efforts to prevent it.

In my opinion karate can be look at the same way but with one major difference. Yes I have found that after a short break from karate my physical endurance rises for a while. BUT at the same time I also notice that my "muscle memory" has suffered. By this I mean that whoever is instructing might be willing to give me 10/10 for effort but they start spotting errors in my application of techniques.

Being very self critical I normally notice my stray techniques before it's pointed out to me. But although I'm flying along with new found speed and power the return to good quality performed techniques is very hard. In fact by the time I've got back to performing a decent technique again the benefits of my endurance boosting short break are almost gone.

So in short my answer is YES and NO

YES I think having a SHORT break from training can help your body recover from the stresses of hard training, giving a feeling of sudden better performance.

NO I don't think it has the same effect on techniques because karate training promotes "muscle memory" by repeated movements so that your reactions and so movement of limbs etc become virtually subconscious. Sadly I believe that without the continuous training of these muscles they "forget" very quickly.