You’re sitting in heavy traffic, on your way to the dojo.
You’ve had a long week at work, and it’s finally time for some good old Karate.
You hope that your sensei will teach you something new and exciting today (“maybe a new kata, or some cool takedown technique?”) – because your patience has been tested all week with angry customers and now you want to have some fun.
When you finally arrive at the dojo, this is what your sensei greets you with:
“Hey! Today we’re gonna practice the basics. Again and again. Nothing else. Just kihon!”
“Ugh, w-what…?!” is all you manage to blurt out before your sensei skips away.
It was a shit-sandwich and you ate it.
You’re ashamed to feel disappointment and anger at this point, but you try to think positive. You try to act grateful for this wonderful opportunity to repeat the same old goddamn techniques over and over again – for two hours straight.
- You look at your car keys.
- You look at your bag.
- You could have gone home, you know.
But you decide to stay and practice anyway – even though it will probably be the worst class in the history of mankind.
Turns out, it was one of your best decisions ever.
Because, after training you feel AMAZING.
Like a million bucks.
Like you’re floating on a giant cloud of whipped cream, surrounded by golden butterflies with Nutella-covered wings and hot chocolate fountains.
And the butterflies serve you magical carrot cake infused with giant strawberries and rainbow roll sushi, while the sountrack for Fresh Prince of Bel-Air plays in the background on repeat.
[Jesse-san, snap back! You’ve got an article to write!]
That training session was so amazing that when you got home you ran straight to the computer to write an e-mail to your favorite Karate Nerd™.
That’s what Colleen-san, from South Africa, did the other day, as she wrote me:
Yesterday I was feeling like I wanted more from karate, and was feeling dissatisfied. Then I went to training and we did kihon, again, which was exactly what I needed – not to learn something new but go deeper into what I know, focus on my technique and realize I still need to work on it.
I think we can all learn a lesson from this.
Our greatest insights often come from exploring the depths of our basic knowledge – not the breadth of our technical registry. (Click to tweet this.)
When in doubt, always practice the basics.
More smash, less flash.
But sometimes, it’s not enough to “just” practice harder or deeper.
Sometimes we need more.
Something that will get us unstuck. Like a specific tactic or method, that will help us achieve the quantum leap we’re longing for.
Well, today I got one for you.
It’s called ‘proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching’ (PNF) – and is one of the best, yet least known, ways to boost flexibility to a ridiculous degree.
I learnt this specific flexibility technique at an advanced sports coaching course a couple of years back, and have been using it to great success with my students.
If you don’t believe me, listen to this:
When I showed this simple stretching exercise to Anette, a brown belt woman in her mid 40’s at our dojo yesterday, she literally increased her flexibility by 39% (that’s 7.0 cm/2.75 in difference) right there, on the spot.
Just like that.
And the best part?
It took her 8 seconds.
So, what kind of magic is this? No magic. Just some good ol’ science. Allow me to explain, and then you can try it out for yourself.
It’s super simple.
Here’s what you do:
- Stretch as you usually do. You can choose any stretch. In this case, the illustrations show a classic inside groin/thigh stretch (often known as the ‘lotus flower’ position).
- Contract for 8 seconds. Either with help of a friend, against an obstacle or against yourself. Make sure the pressure activates your antagonist (opposite) muscles.
- Relax. Then repeat the process a couple of times (3-4 times is enough).
There you have it.
One simple exercise to increase your flexibility by 39% (or more!) in 8 seconds.
This can be used for all kinds of stretches; hamstrings, hip flexors, glutes, calves, chest, shiko dachi, splits – you name it.
Just figure out the opposite direction of any stretch and apply pressure in 8 second intervals – against the floor, yourself, the wall or a friend – combined with pauses of relaxation and passive stretch.
But before I let you run off with this exercise, I need to ask you something:
Do you really need more flexibility?
See, when people say “I want more flexibility” they often mean “I want to kick higher”.
But flexibility alone won’t make you kick higher.
(In fact, research shows that too much flexibility is actually bad for performance.)
To kick like Chuck Norris, you need:
(And if you’re kicking an opponent, you need even more stuff; power, timing, distance, speed, accuracy, strategy etc.)
In other words, flexibility is just one single piece of the puzzle.
Keep this in mind.
Lastly, for those of you who think you’ll never achieve any impressive degree of flexibility, please ponder what Itosu Anko, the grandfather of modern Karate, wrote in his 1908 seminal treatise on the essentials of Karate:
“A torpid bull, regardless of how slowly it moves, will eventually cover 1,000 miles.”
And the journey of a thousand miles always starts with a single step.
The best time for flexibility training was twenty years ago.
But the second best time is NOW.
So go flex!
(And bring a measuring tape to share your results in the comment section.)