Arguably two the most misunderstood aspects of the martial arts experience are coordination and focus. The former because it’s often ignored and the latter because it’s too easily assumed.
Together, coordination and focus are two sides of the same skill, but manifesting in fundamentally different ways. Coordination is physical skill, while focus is a mental one. They are essentially the same! And both are beautifully developed through the practice of martial arts.
This isn’t a skill that we often talk about in martial arts, and still it is a fundamental one that is a natural outgrowth of practice. Martial art training helps students to become aware of their bodies – how they move, how they function and how to control them. In martial arts both gross motor skills like kicking, punching and jumping are developed, as well as fine motor skills like hand and foot placement and vital point striking work.
Why is coordination so important?
Good coordination is a key to building confidence and improving performance. It’s also a skill that transfers out of the training hall and into real life. Improved coordination helps reaction times in an accident, provides injury prevention, builds confidence and more. The skills that feed into coordination are things like spatial awareness, judging distances, changing speed and angle, etc., all of which are fundamental to martial arts training.
What’s perhaps most fantastic about coordination is that it’s a skill that can be improved through practice and training. Though it’s a common assumption that grace and controlled movement are natural abilities, most people are actually able to make vast gains in their coordination with martial arts! That’s because martial arts start off by teaching broad movements, then refines them again and again through repetition and instruction. During a training session, an isolated movement like the chamber for a kick or the angle of a fist might be practised fifty or a hundred times, or more. That repetition teaches the body how to move, and as combinations are added on, coordination improves.
Coordination’s close cousin is focus, though where coordination is about physical control of the body, focus is about mental control of the thoughts.
Often cited by parents as a reason for enrolling their children in martial arts, focus is a big part of the equation. However there is a misunderstanding as to what exactly focus means. Focus isn’t sitting in a classroom desk all day. Focus is taking your consciousness completely to one task, blocking out distractions.
Being focused doesn’t mean being unaware of your surroundings, but it does mean filtering out things that aren’t relevant to the current task. For example, during sparring it’s not essential that the people sparring know who is coming in and out of the side door, but it is essential that they are aware of how close they are to their sparring partner and others who may be sparring around them.
During training, an individual pulls their attention to themselves and their instructor. Just like coordination, focus is both a natural gift and also one that can be developed and improved over time. And just like coordination, that improvement is beautifully grown through martial arts.
Breath control is a wonderful gateway into focus, and one that is taught in most martial arts schools. All it takes is turning the attention towards the sensations of filling and emptying the lungs. In and out, expanding the abdomen during in-breaths and contracting it during out-breaths. That’s only a starting place! Training in martial arts takes the taste of focus that comes with this exercise and extends it out dramatically.
Martial arts are often demanding disciplines, and it’s only through proper focus that progress is possible. That focus can come easily, or it can be a battle in itself. Either way, it’s a skill that is honed through the practice of martial arts, a skill that extends to all aspects of life and offers a wide range of benefits inside and outside of the training hall.
Through martial arts training you will learn coordination and focus… Powerful tools for all areas of your life.