How to Remember What You Learn in a Martial Arts Class

In the end, your goal will be to have developed a natural reaction in combat. But in order for

us to reach this level of response, we must first train repetitively in the skills we learn early

on – to go from short term, to long term memory. For the sake of this exercise, please do the following:

Imagine your shoe being stretched into two pieces and then these pieces are thrown at a martial artist who drops into the splits to avoid the shoes.

In the duration of one class, an instructor may teach as many as 10 new techniques,

some even more. If we are to practice these newly learned skills (outside of class) and

return so we can grow – we must remember the techniques taught in the first place.

The process we use for learning a technique works as follows:

1. Learn the technique

2. Mentally review the technique

3. Practice the technique

The first step is usually in class under the instructor’s guidance, while the other two are

usually performed within the period AFTER training until the time you are back in class. In

order to properly review up to 10 techniques, we need to remember what it was that we

learned. The average student remembers about only 2-5 out of 10 techniques by the next

day or often only about 20% (80% of new information is usually lost within 24-48 hours).

After a few more days you may only remember 1-3. Using a simple memory technique you will be able to remember exactly what techniques were taught.

However, the goal here is not just to memorize techniques – but to also get them into our heads so that we can mentally review them wherever we are. This will aid in getting the information to sink in and truly put us on the fast track for developing a new skill.

Since our goal is to master the martial arts, we want to take time to apply all of our best strategies for getting information from the short term memory into the long term memory. In this example we want to apply Mnemonics. A mnemonic (pronounced (NEW – Monic) is a memory aid.

Let’s say that we need to remember 10 techniques. Just as you would take traditional notes and make a list of ten items, you will need to do the same in your mind. Only instead of writing things down on paper you will be writing them down (or storing them) on what I call the Mental Notebook. In a notebook, you have lines reserved for placing information. The Mental Notebook offers the same thing – only in your head. It offers a place to put each of the 10 techniques and or bits of information that you learn. We call these places or areas reserved for information MENTAL PEGS or HANGERS. They are the lines on your mental notebook.

There are many metaphors to explain how the mind works – I will skip the how and why’s and

get straight to the techniques. If you need to know why this works or more on how, then

refer to my other articles on Memory.

So, what will be our Mental Notebook, what will be the peg, hanger or hooks that we can LINK

each technique to? Well, any 10 items that are in your long term memory will work as a good peg or hanger. Remember, the Mental Notepad is a place to store information – each place needs to have a specific hanger, peg, or hook. This peg, hook or hanger can be anything that you can PICTURE and have stored in your long term memory. We will use the Rhyme List for the purpose of learning how to memorize.

Okay – so we need a list of 10 mental images (pegs) from our long term memory (something we already know) for our mental notebook. Unless you have an image for number one, you won’t really have a good association. You would be left with rote memory and boring repetitions that “this is technique number one.” So we will use the Rhyme List to create our numbers and give the images to associate with. Okay, take a minute to memorize the list below:

Rhyme List:

  1. One is Gun
  2. Two is Shoe
  3. Three is Tree
  4. Four is Door
  5. Five is Hive
  6. Six is Sticks
  7. Seven is Heaven
  8. Eight is Skate
  9. Nine is Wine
  10. Ten is Hen

Since we are focusing on learning 10 techniques, we also want to know what technique was associated to what number. For example what was the first, second, and third technique or lesson taught. To do this, we also need to make sure our peg is associated with a number. This may all sound a little confusing at first, but hang in there and follow through – before you know it, you will catch on to what is happening.

We use the rhyme list because it is pretty easy to remember what number goes with what image. If you think of 1 – you only need to think of what rhymes with one and you will think of gun. Then we associate gun to our technique and before you know it, 1 = technique.

Review the list above a few times until you memorize the image associated with each number. Once you do, review the list and get a very CLEAR image of each item. For example, what type of gun is it – handgun, shotgun, lasergun, squirtgun etc. Then try to make this gun unique by asking what color your gun is, how does it feel, taste, or smell (the more unique, the more memorable) and ask yourself what the gun is made out of. A gun made out of cheese is more memorable than an actual image of a real gun.

The normal is easily forgotten, this is the same in life as it is in memory – remember that.

Maybe you want to memorize (in order) the structure of a good martial arts class. So for example: look at the following list:

  1. Warm Up
  2. Stretch
  3. Stances
  4. Rolls
  5. Falls
  6. Strikes
  7. Kicks
  8. Body Movement
  9. Self-Defense
  10. Burn Out

This is how it works. Your instructor asks you (or your mental coach) “What is the technique

for number 2?” Your immediate mental response would be to think “2 is shoe.” Once you have

Shoe in your mind, you need to remember the associations you made with Shoe and the Technique – in this case it would be Stretch. To remember that 2=Stretch you use a key-image (much like a key-word that triggers a piece of knowledge) which would be the image of something stretching. So, you simply associate an image of something stretching with a shoe.

You can imagine your shoe being stretched into two pieces and then these pieces are thrown at a martial artist who drops into the splits to avoid the shoes. Now go through the steps:

1. You think of 2 and what rhymes with two

2. You should think of Shoe and then you say to yourself “What happened to the Shoe?”

3. Oh yes, it was stretched into 2 pieces and then thrown at a person who used the splits…

In order to make this work, you need to use your imagination. Memorizing your techniques in this fashion will help you to enhance your overall mental abilities and drastically decrease the learning process.

Let’s try another one. Think of 3 which should give you tree. Now imagine your unique tree doing stances. Imagine the tree as a person doing horse stance, power stance, cat stance etc.

Now ask yourself what was the technique for number 3? Your mind should follow this patter:

3 = Tree = Stance or Stances

If you forget what is associated to a number or to an image that is associated to a number – it means you do not have enough mental glue to make the memory stick. So, simply go back to your visualization and add more glue by being more specific about your images. Really hear the tree crackle as it drops into the horse stance, see bark falling off as it moves from stance to stance. Picture images that are exaggerated, include senses, and action.

With practice, you will begin to pick up a new skill that can be very useful for memorizing new information. And YES, this mental notebook can be used over and over again. Your brain is powerful enough to simply wipe away the old information and place new information onto your pegs.

This information on memory is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more advanced

skills and if you find this information interesting, then you might be interested in learning more about what you can do.

When I teach memory courses some of the participants state that it seems to use up energy and time to do or use a memory system. This the natural course of learning. At first, it might seem more challenging. It only becomes easy once you learn the skills and start applying them.

Good luck in Training.