“I fear Not The Man Who Has Practiced 10,000 Kicks Once, But I Fear The Man Who Has Practiced One Kick 10,000 Times”– Bruce Lee
Who doesn’t love Bruce Lee? Even folks who don’t study the martial arts can have a deep appreciation for his skill, speed and technique. The quote above the photo is one of the most widely-shared quotes allegedly said by Bruce Lee. I say “allegedly” because, well…. I wasn’t there! And there’s often a significant number of quotes attributed to a person, even when it may not be provided that they said it. After all, you can’t believe everything you read on the internet. Abraham Lincoln said that. See what I mean?
But now that I’ve finished being sarcastic, let’s get back to the quote itself. If one were to question the thought behind this quote, one could easily interpret that it suggests muscle memory is more effective than variety. And I would be inclined to agree. Even in smaller numbers, you may gain more from doing one technique for an entire workout than doing ten techniques over the same period of time. The idea is that doing too much waters down your ability to master certain techniques and find the ability to do them without thought.
This is why muscle memory is so important in the martial arts. When it comes to a real life fight situation, which you’ll hopefully never have to deal with, having the ability to call upon muscle memory can mean the difference between getting your ass handed to you and being seriously injured, or hopefully coming out of it with only mild injuries. Because realistically, there’s no such thing as a real fight where you don’t get hurt in some given way, shape or form.
So, what is “muscle memory?” Well, the Oxford Dictionary defines muscle memory as “the ability to reproduce a particular movement without conscious thought, acquired as a result of frequent repetition of that movement.” Even just based on that definition, I’m sure you can see why it would be important in the martial arts. It’s a bit like a toddler, learning to walk. They’ll stand, stumble and take a few steps before falling. But then, they’ll get back up and keep at it. Through repetition, they’ll learn to walk and it occurs naturally through muscle memory.
Can you imagine if you had to remind yourself how to walk EVERY time you went somewhere? Granted, I have a tendency to walk into walks at the best of times, so perhaps my muscle memory isn’t as good as I think it is. But I digress…. The point is, muscle memory is important to the overall function of routine movements in the body. From the martial arts perspective, it becomes important because in a real fight scenario, your ability to respond depends on your muscle memory. Taking the time to plan out your defense usually doesn’t happen and if it does, chances are your opponent isn’t patiently waiting for you to figure it out.
Back in my “younger” years, I used to hate doing lines of one particular technique. It irked me to be doing only one movement when my body and mind wanted to throw in so much more. During youth, it can seem boring to do so little and we rarely have appreciation for the fact that as we perform frequent repetitions, we’re honing our bodies to be able to reproduce that movement on a moment’s notice, usually without thinking about it. Mastering one piece of the puzzle is how you ensure you’ll get a clear, complete picture. ☯️