Focus in Martial Arts
Many parents elect to enroll their children in martial arts classes to help them develop focus. Sometimes the child has been diagnosed as ADD or ADHD; sometimes there is no diagnosis, but a parent feels that their child doesn’t pay attention very well, or bounces around all of the time. We don’t often hear from new adult students that they want to develop their own focus through martial arts, but after training for a while, it is not so uncommon to hear them say how their ability to stay organized and focused has improved.
Does martial arts training really develop focus? It’s not magic, nor is it instant, but martials arts does develop focus in its practitioners. In martial arts, one of the first things we talk about is attention, defined as watching and listening, as well as using our attention position, which shows self-control. We teach students to focus on their own image in the mirror, while practicing techniques, and to focus on the teacher whenever the teacher is giving instruction. These behaviors are positively reinforced. Then we use various kinds of targets to practice striking techniques, so that students learn to focus their attention and their power. Using targets is a very effective way to develop focus, precision, and power. The sound, feel, and sight of striking targets all give feedback, and reinforce every bit of effort put forth. Instructing the students to emphasize different qualities on different repetitions of the strikes, also helps develop focus. For example, one quality of practice may be speed, hitting as fast as possible, and another may be power, hitting as hard as possible, yet another may be extension, with the target being held increasing high or far to require more reach. We also do drills that introduce distractions, to make students practice staying focused.
Another way martial arts trains people to develop focus is by using memorization. Yes, educators look down on rote memorization these days, but using one’s mind to memorize increasingly long or difficult pieces, takes concentration, and develops the ability to focus. At Karate West, we do a little work on memorizing some spoken lines, but mostly we train people to memorize movement lines, in combinations of techniques used for sparring or self-defense, and in learning more traditional forms. Of course, we don’t expect that in a self-defense situation a student will make sure to only do a set response in a set order, but having repeatedly practiced such a response will make it more possible to respond automatically and successfully.
Focus is a skill we all require to be successful in completing daily tasks, throughout our lives, and martial arts practice is one way to help train ourselves to improve that skill.