Tips for practicing alone

by Ingo Põder

Over the last two years most of naginata practicioners have had a periods of training alone, which has been less fun and not so good for the progress. There are many studies published about the results of training individually and in groups and large proportion of them have found there are both the positive and negative sides of training alone. I’ve been practicing naginata, kendo and other martial arts mostly alone for years and that has shaped me as a practioner of nagitata with various deep improvement areas. The following is by no means comprehensive guidelines but merely some conclusions I’ve drawn based on my small experience, which may be useful for the beginners as I am.

Let me start from stating the obvious – how brilliant atarashii naginata by its components of training is in my humble opinion. Every part of the training concept has meaning and contributes to the whole. If to take different parts of theory, kihon, waza and kyogi it’s a great mix of exercises to foster your body and mind to become a better person. Now how do you benefit from such a brilliant concept if you are forced to or decided to practice alone. That’s a question I’ve found very hard to answer and I tend to believe training alone is far less effective compared to group trainings when it comes to naginata.

It was a wake up call for me the participation in seminar and friendship tournament in Brussels last autumn. Shiai and engi practice and competition was a shocking experience. Not only that I missed the striking targets by miles and had wrong distance I was striking my opponents too hard. Consequently, it was a well deserved experience to learn from. So, what I have learned from it to continue doing and discontinue when training alone.

Importance of strong kamae and footwork

If you can’t do it well in practice it’s very little or no chance that you can do it in jikeiko or in competition. Many senseis have stated the importance of posture and moving not only with the feet but from the hips. Sloppy beginning of the strike ends up with a sloppy posture and problems with ki-ken-tai-itchi. I’ve increased the time spent on practicing chudan and hasso kamae, more specifically change of sides and types of kamaes in front of the mirror as I’m lucky to have them in my dojo. As I’m a tall person my footwork is especially important and so I’m dedicating more time for that. Back and forward, left and right with the naginata in my hand. Watching a kissaki movement or should I say a lack of movement and existence of correct posture is what I’m doing more now.

Increase the duration of practice

One of the positives when practising alone is that you can choose the intensity of the trainings and use the training time more effectively. As there is nobody late for training and no fooling around you can really accomplish the practice within an hour when you train alone. But there’s a problem as some drills simply need more time as repetition is needed and they work better when you are somewhat tired. In my opinion the training can become too easy if to train alone. Yes, I could very effectively practice all kamaes, strikes and happoburi but I feel it’s not enough repetition and it’s too little time to sink in the learning points. 10 sokumens or 5 uchikaeshi simply is not enough. Short training is not intensive enough, which made me increase the duration of typical training from 50 minutes to 75 minutes. As I’m training 2-3 days per week I choose the elements or techniques to focus in particular day and I’m not practicing too many elements every training any more. Takami Sensei said once, “who goes slow, goes fast”. I keep on reminding myself that statement. I’ve slowed down the pace of movements when practicing kihon and it has a miraculous effect of how much easier it becomes to isolate the improvement areas when training. And that’s another reason why I’ve increased the duration of practice.

Use physical targets and make marks on the floor for you feet position

One can’t only keep striking the air and hope it’ll work out in shiai or with an opponent. Correct distance and valid strike is what becomes extremely difficult to achieve if you only strike the air and practice alone. As my dojo is in yoga studio I’ve not been able to bring in all the equipment to have physical targets for striking practise. But I’ve managed to figure out how to use various yoga gear in dojo as targets to practice sune and men. The sound, the part and the angle of the blade that meets the target will tell you a lot about the correctness of strike. Absence of an opponent could be a problem to feel proper maai and a posture for a valid strike. I’m using tape on the floor to mark a starting line and where my feet must land in the end of the strike. If the feet are in place it’s easier for me to control the posture.

To sum up, it’s obviously more fun and easier to find a motivation when practising naginata in group but it’s also possible to progress when practising alone as you can choose the schedule and intensity of the training that suits you. Focusing on kamae and footwork, slowing down and increasing the duration of training session as well as using the physical targets could help to avoid some of the problems of practicing alone.