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Five Unique Ways to Practice Traditional Martial Arts

Traditional martial arts are what I chose to start learning 28 years ago because there was a program in a recreation center close to home. At my first class, it seemed  it taught everything I had ever learned NOT  to do – yelling, kicking, and breaking. Somewhere along the way, I learned that martial arts had less to do with all those things than I ever realized. The physical practice led to the realization that martial arts, while fighting arts, are less about fighting and more about peace and defense.

I do not have to describe what a traditional martial art is. Even non-martial artists conjure up images of this practice. Perhaps they have watched a movie, or have had a friend involved in martial arts who has given them some insights. At some point, most people have been exposed to traditional martial arts in one way or another.

If you practice a traditional martial art, no matter its origin, honing your practice with a different approach or perspective is a wonderful way to improve. While the martial art school, dojo, or dojang is one of the best places to learn, you can practice just about anywhere. Because various circumstances do not always allow me to attend a class setting, I have found a few unique and non-traditional ways to practice my traditional martial art, and fill the gap.

1.  Alone Time

There is nothing wrong with practicing your techniques and skills alone. It is often during alone time when you discover a breakthrough, or when something starts to make sense, because you can work at your own pace and slow down your thoughts.

How many times in class has your instructor unexpectedly called you forth to perform? It seems as if your knowledge flies out the window, and it takes you a moment to regroup. In your “alone” practice, there are no demands, time constraints, or distractions. The only expectations are from yourself in your quest to get better at doing what you love. Training and practicing alone are just an additional way that you can improve.

2. Outside

I have a friend who practices Tai Chi in Canada. In the coldest of winter days, and even with snow on the ground, he heads outside to practice. There is something about the air, the surroundings, and the mindfulness that blends beautifully together as you rehearse your martial art techniques and motions.

Recently I took a bo seminar outside at a park. What a great and refreshing experience! Taking a deep breath and reflecting on my surroundings as I learned something new was a tremendously rewarding experience. I do not think anyone can reject the fact that blending nature and martial arts is an amazing experience.

There is nothing wrong with your traditional practice in your traditional space. Occasionally, though, allow yourself a new and natural perspective.


3.  In Your Mind

Holed up in a hospital room for six weeks on bed rest nearly sixteen years ago made it impossible for me to practice any martial arts. With a very difficult situation at hand, I started to feel despair and hopeless. I wanted to give up, but something told me to keep pushing through. That is when I began to imagine myself practicing my traditional martial art.

This martial art practice in my mind was instrumental in changing how I reacted to the situation at hand. Remembering how I achieved in martial arts, my black belt, and pushing through obstacles like boards, allowed me to believe that I could persevere in this situation, too.

Like meditation or reflection, you can envision yourself engaged in every aspect of your practice, from bowing to kicking, blocking, punching, forms, and sparring. In this mindful setting, you will always find victory.

4. Teach a Friend

Sometimes the best way to practice your traditional martial art is to teach. While that is rewarding in the traditional setting, there is an even more interesting twist. Try teaching a friend or family member who has never learned a martial art.

Show them a stance, or an easy self-defense, or a kick. When you teach a novice, it reminds you of all the fine points you have forgotten yourself. Plus, you see your practice through a beginner’s eyes again, which is refreshing and clarifying.

Both of you will gain a new and rewarding perspective about martial arts. You will remember your days as a beginner and why they were so important to who you are today. They will learn that they have a much bigger capacity to control their own physicality and mindfulness than they ever knew.

5. Keep a Journal

Some people take notes about new martial art concepts that they are learning. For me, writing things down helps me remember them a lot more easily than just watching YouTube or a video. Taking it a step further, keeping a journal of not just the lessons or the skills, but how martial arts affect your life, make you feel, or how they improve your mindset, brings you to a higher level of personal learning.

The physical component of martial arts is so strong, that it is easy to sweep the spiritual and mindful aspects aside. All three however, mind, body, and spirit, are connected, and writing a journal is one way to explore your life as it relates to your practice.

Write about your improvement, your fears or worries. Jot down what you did well and how that made you feel. Write about the role model in class, or how you applied a martial art mindset to your daily living for improvement. These reflections will positively affect your mindset inside and outside the martial art school.

Traditional martial arts have very traditional components. That does not mean that you cannot create a personal practice that means something to you. An instructor can teach you everything you need to know, but he or she cannot teach you to believe in yourself, or to trust in your practice. Explore not just these five options but any others that come to your mind. Expand your positive mindset through the various unique ways that you can practice your traditional martial art.


My new book, The Martial Arts Woman, is now available. Purchase through my e-commerce store:

The Martial Arts Woman shares the stories and insights of more than twenty-five women in the martial arts, and how they apply martial arts to their lives. Unlike most other martial art books, the reader will catch a glimpse into the brave and empowered woman who dares to be all that she can be. Many of these women had to overcome great societal or personal challenges to break into the men’s world of martial arts. This book will motivate and inspire you to go after your goals in life and to fight through every challenge and defeat every obstacle. The Martial Arts Woman will open your eyes to the power of the human spirit and the martial art mindset that dwells in each of us!
Andrea F. Harkins is a writer, motivator, life coach, martial artist, and public speaker. Her book, The Martial Arts Woman, is now available at

5 thoughts on “Five Unique Ways to Practice Traditional Martial Arts

  1. Excellent Blog, I couldn’t agree more!

    I while ago I added weekend workouts to my two classes a week (traditional Taekwondo). This “alone time” in my back yard (nature) has made the world of difference. I recently tested for my high red belt (been at this almost two years now) and because of the extra practice time I wasn’t worried about forgetting my poomsea, and I broke two boards on the first try with my tornado kick because I had been practicing that one hitting the heavy bag. I also feel that these workouts make my class time even better. Because I’m better prepared my instructor spends more time fine tuning things like my poomsea and less time trying to help me remember it!

    I always get encouraged by reading your blogs!

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