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My Martial Art Training Notebook

When I started training I was still in high school. The concept of keeping a notebook for my martial arts class was not going to happen. As the years went by I found myself starting to keep small notes, images, or clippings from books and magazines.

Several years ago I finally started developing a formal notebook for my training and teaching needs. I wish I had learned this lesson in my twenties and not my thirties. The notebook has made me a better student and teacher. I am able to keep my thoughts around style differences for similar techniques and attribute those differences with where I was first exposed to them. My notebook has a ledged that list out my major teachers and lets me place footnotes alongside techniques.

All this seems so complicated and overly involved to an outsider or someone who has never built their notebook, and yes it can be. When I started I kept things written on paper and just kept adding pages. No real order existed and this kept me unorganized in both written skill and understanding of concepts. What changed for me was I started to keep my notes on the computer. I started by just doing simple journaling of what happened in a class. As time passed I found that as I wrote, it became necessary to keep referring to the same techniques many times over. To solve the excessive writing in trying to explain every technique multiple times I just started to list all my techniques and how to do them.

This master list was a great move forward. I would have a page dedicated to hand strikes, grab counters, takedowns, and so. And when I found the need to modify the technique based upon different teacher or school location, I simply modified the description of the technique to include the changes and attached a footnote.

I use to do simple line drawings on the pages but have found that is less so now that I keep the documents in digital form. What I tend to do now is shoot short videos with my phone and save them in specific directories based upon function. This lets me see the full technique in context. I make certain to name the video file to support the technique I have written about. E.g. “Round Kick defense against straight punch” If I do need to make line drawings I can always scan them into an image file and save with the similar file name as I do videos.

Today my training notebook and teaching curriculum are closely intertwined. I do keep a formal document ready to print that I can distribute to students but what they don’t see on their printout is that the techniques are traceable back to my master training notebook. And it is this connection between teaching and my education that really makes the system work. I still keep a printed copy of my curriculum in a three ring binder and bring it to every class. Sometimes I have to refer to it to keep my mind straight for certain belt techniques and sometimes I still make notes on the techniques. When I do make a note I go back to the master computer file and record it. What is funny is that I will usually have already made that note or observation several years earlier and but had forgotten the concept.

To start keeping a notebook takes work. Not a lot but you do have to be diligent in its development. The way to start as explained to my students is to take the white belt curriculum I gave them and put it in a three ring binder along with a few sheets of blank paper. As we talk about and practice these techniques make notes on the blank paper. If you do this throughout your learning the notebook will build itself. And when you go workout with your buddies or at a seminar keep notes from that in the same notebook. All teachers have strengths and weaknesses and being able to keep the notebook as a single resource helps you build a better understanding for how the arts relate your needs.

My students are encouraged to bring their notebooks to every class and keep it open during class. I actually like to see them make a quick note between techniques. It lets me know they are learning and that I was able to teach them something new. I have never been asked to see my notebook besides a quick glance. A quick look to see how it is setup is OK but I find I don’t want to just turn it over to someone. I am not hesitant to teach the concepts, I just see it as such a personal item that it feels like I am breaking someone’s confidence if I do so. I imagine in ten more years my opinion might change.