So I’ve just very recently started a new hobby. Kickboxing. Yup. Kickboxing. Don’t ask me why – I just felt like something a bit different and it looked like fun. And of course, if ever there was a sport that went hand in hand (or boxing glove in hand) with something as refined and dignified as the classical guitar that would have to be the first choice right? Hah hah!
Well you may not think so on first reckoning – brute force used to beat the living daylights of something with your fists and the other jumping into a ring and leaping about like a mad thing, all arms and legs flailing for a 2 or 3 minute round. Hah hah – I jest!
And before you get excited and say something like “what about my hands/ fingers/ fingernails?!”. Well, my hands are very tightly bound with wraps and have some very snug gloves on. The punches are also very light at this stage; it’s all about learning, feeling comfortable with and developing the technique in these early stages.
Sound familiar? Classical guitarists and martial artists are not so dissimilar.
It’s all about the technique
When one first starts to learn a martial art such as kickboxing one has to take care to firstly think about the technique for carrying out even the most seemingly simple of movements, otherwise you run the risk of (a) injuring yourself and (b) instilling a very bad habit which is going to limit your progress and (c) see you in a big heap on the floor when your opponent bops you on the head because your technique is less than ideal.
So apart from (c) (obviously one would hope…. would make for an interesting guitar competition) this is the same when we’re learning the guitar either for the first time, coming back to it after a hiatus, or learning a new skill. We must take care with and be really aware of even the most simple of movements and hand positioning in case we (a) injure ourselves (pins and needles or carpal tunnel syndrome anyone?) or (b) find months or years down the track that we’ve picked up a bad habit that we have to unlearn and replace with the correct technique anyway or we’re not going to be able to progress much further.
And doing it slowly
I’ve found myself saying this a lot to my students this week – S.L.O.W. = good.
Slow practice of the movements of a set piece in kickboxing, with focus, with purpose, with awareness of what it is you’re doing and why is a fundamental foundation stone of learning to kickbox correctly – with precision and accuracy, with speed, with poise, with real power and “punch”.
And, yep, you guessed it, the same goes for guitar. Slow practice of studies, of new pieces, of tricky sections, even of our true and trusted pieces gives you what? A key foundation stone of learning to play correctly – with precision and accuracy, with speed, with poise, with real power and “punch”.
And doing it regularly, especially with the basics even if you’re the Shifu
The Shifu (master or teacher in Mandarin Chinese) at the studio where I’m kickboxing practices his most fundamental basic moves every day, 6 days per week. The basic knee lifts and kicks, the basic punches. He does these, first of all, slowly and with great control, awareness and precision before then speeding things up.
And so we do with guitar. To be Shifu on the guitar one must practice the fundamentals and practice them every single day. Every. Single. Day (or at least 6 days per week!). Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if you don’t want to right then and there. It’s about building the habit and being aware of what is required for the bigger picture or goal. So just like the simple single punches preparing for set pieces, simple knee raises practicing the movements preparing for a kick, this is where we as guitarists practice our scales. This is preparing for those times in pieces where we can see something is clearly a G major scale for example, or part of, and we can say “that’s my G major ‘set piece’ – bang! Easy”.
This is where we as guitarists practice all those other fundamental guitarist fine motor movements – the arpeggios, the ligandos (ligandi?), the rest stroke, the free stroke, the barre and so on.
It’s also important to remember that by focusing on this and approaching your practice in this way, speed will develop naturally as a matter of course as you become ever more controlled, precise and efficient in your movements.
And you know when you’re getting it right because it sounds good
OK I’m drawing a fairly long bow here now, but when you’re punching and kicking a bag you know you’re doing it “right” because it sounds awesome! It has it’s own particularly juicy thud. Your particular angle of attack with your flicking right leg roundhouse kick, the amount of tension in your body compared to the level of relaxation in the leg giving the kick is balanced just right. And you’ll know when your kicking practice is paying off because you will be getting that juicy thud all the time.
We get this consistency in sound too with our guitar practice. Not a thud, no, but those beautifully full, rounded tones. We know that sound we want to produce, we can do it in isolation perhaps, or in glimmering moments of awesomeness during a piece. However, over time (and yes, it does take time), through slow practice, through being aware of our technique and what we’re doing and practicing regularly, that beautiful sound becomes ever more beautiful and ever more consistent.
See? Told you – classical guitarists and martial artists are not so dissimilar.