There is probably not a martial arts teacher on the planet who has not had a thousand students complain about the difficulty of memorizing “all those moves.” It’s to be expected. Our ancestors had prodigious memories, but now we struggle to retain all our computer passwords.
Here are a few memory tricks that might help your learning process.
Tip #1. Memory is required. Incredible as it may seem, many students don’t realize the obvious: memorizing is your responsibility. CMA is an ongoing legacy, not aerobics class.
Tip #2. Practice Soon, Retain More. If you practice new lessons within 8 hours of learning you have a 90% chance of keeping the information; within 24 hours there’s about a 50% chance. After that, be happy with 10%.
Tip #3. You can ONLY practice wrong; you are a beginner. Students are typically afraid they might practice wrong and thereby seal their doom. This is plainly not true. After all, if your memory is so impressionable, a few words from the instructor and some additional reps can repair any mistake. There’s no danger from a little incorrect practice.
Tip #4. Reps are Cheap. Repetition, rather than reflection, rules. Each new move repeated 100 times a day between your weekly classes would total about twenty minutes in the space of a week. That’s 700 repetitions of a move in twenty minutes, not at all unreasonable. It takes more time to feel guilty that you aren’t practicing than it takes to go ahead and practice.
Tip #5. Levels of Correction. Your teacher will give you a lot of information, some of it instructional, some of it ‘hopeful’. Initially, your job is to listen to everything, but only memorize the big things: stance, direction, posture, etc. The ‘hopeful’ things, the fine points, such as relaxation or dropped shoulders, are on a different level for future study. In other words, dropping your hips when in a horse stance is important, but the drop only comes once you are actually in a horse; priority is everything. Pay attention and you will quickly learn the difference between what he expects and what he hopes for.
Tip #6. The 1-2-3 Approach: Bridging. Have a nasty move to contend with? Don’t practice the entire form to “get at” the critter. Just practice the movement directly before, and the one directly after. In other words, corral the non-compliant little beast and then try to break him. You don’t need to keep playing all of Beethoven’s Fourth to get that slippery little note near the end. “Excerpt” can be a verb.
Tip #7. Take a Mental Journey. Stop, just stop. Close your eyes and go through the form mentally without moving. Try to do it with as much “truth” as you would if you were moving in space. Pay particular attention to the parts you have trouble with. Do you mentally skip over these? Later, go back and try NOT to skip. See if you can imagine the movement.
Tip #8. Make a story. To paraphrase a famous writer: ‘Anything can be memorized if it is seen as part of a story.’ The most basic story is, “A” happens then “B” happens then “C” happens…this is very much like a form. Can you imagine how some sequences of moves might be strung together, each action following from the previous? The easier it is to imagine phrasing, the easier it will be to memorize. Take an active rather than passive attitude to your memory.
These methods have helped me learn, literally, hundreds of forms. They work not only because they are good memory tricks but also because they put you into the realm of experiencing the learning process as it happens.