How to train EFFECTIVELY

Ever heard the terms….
  • Do or die. Don’t ask why
  • Pain is weakness leaving your body
I know I have. Many times throughout my life. I have even been a strong advocate for these kind of thinking for a long time. I was never easy on myself nor my peers and students. Even now, being good and easy on myself, to chill out, is a challenge that I face often… I guess, I’m hoping that it gets easier and easier each day. Hope…. But like anything else in life, hope is not enough… We have to train it! But how? What is the best way to train? There is so much clutter out there, so much information that you don’t know which to choose from. Hell! There is even more nonsense out there then real and good advise. Just look at my FB news feed and you’ll go “Gosh!” (Yours might be worse or better, I don’t know). But the point is that, there are a LOT of information out there and many of those are just NONSENSE! Mind me, there are still some ok ones, some good ones and occasionally a couple of great ones! So how do you know which is which? Especially if you are new to that circle? Let me explain that.
I have been teaching Martial Arts (specifically Muay Thai) for a good 15 years now. I have been training even longer. I have witness and come across instruction so bad, techniques shown that were so bad that I shake my head in fright and go like WTF? But the thing is, I only knew something was wrong because I know what is correct. But, if you are new to Muay Thai, new to Martial Arts as a whole even, you won’t have the experience nor the knowledge to know whether what you are listening to and what you are being taught is correct or not. Whether it is legit stuff or just smoke and B.S.
So here are some tips and tools to hopefully give you some grasp on what good and proper training should be like. Even when you are your own coach!

Tip no. 1

Understanding the TRIANGLE, SQUARE & CIRCLE
The Triangle – Courage, Discipline and Perseverance
In Martial Arts, the Triangle is often used to associate with the ‘Foundations’ of learning, skill and knowledge. Specifically, picture the BASE of the triangle or pyramid. Yes. There it is. It is a wide base. Always wider than the top. The triangle is the stage where you learn and drill on the fundamentals to gain the underlying foundation of what you are going to be training for. I like to think of the lines that make the triangle as Courage, Discipline and Perseverance. The courage to start, discipline to continue and perseverance to seek new heights.
The Square – Tempering the Body and Soul
The next stage is the Square. A good way to understand and embrace this stage is that it is all about ‘Laying the Foundation’ (much like the base of the pyramid or triangle). That base on which all other things (knowledge, skill, power, technique, etc..) is going to sit on has to be strong, solid and nearly immovable. (Even mountains can get moved by the wrath of nature so nothing is truly immovable when met with the correct persistent force. Remember this for your Martial Arts training especially. Of course, that does not mean we do not train TOWARDS being immovable though). It has to be as solid as it can be because it will be the very thing that will be bearing ALL the weight that is going to be piled upon it. So take your time when it comes to building your foundation. A strong foundation will ensure that your growth will be steady and not falter easily. Cut corners or rush the building process of this foundation, then whatever that follows and is stacked atop will be destined to fall. Now does that not sound like common sense? Yes. But is it common practice? It’s hard to say. Only you will know and be able to gauge for yourself. How much is enough though? And how much is too much? Perhaps we should NEVER stop working on our foundation. THAT, I feel, should be the way. As we grow, we should always go back and check our foundation to improve on it and keep working on strengthening it so that our growth will never be hindered. It’s like building a building. As you build higher, you constantly have to check and ensure that the foundation will be able to take the weight, pressure and stress.
The Circle – Integration and Simplicity
Next comes the Circle. Hopefully most of us get to this stage. Many fail or stop at the building of their foundation (Square). “Taking too much of my time….” “It’s too difficult….” “It’s so hard….” “I can never be good at this….” “I don’t really like doing this anyway….” So many excuses used as our own justified reasons to quit our pursuits. There is always a part or time in our lives where we succumb to surrendering to the Unfinished. The ‘Bliss’ of lifting away the stress and pressures. Our task is to keep this from becoming a part of who we are. For who are we if we are not constantly being tempered and tested. Don’t just build your body, build your soul!
Those that DO make it to the Circle should already possess the correct understanding, approach and foundation. But still, many fall short of this stage. Why is that? I think, it is because, often then not, getting to this stage requires a significant degree in the mastery of the Triangle and the Square (aka Time and Patience). This is where the fusion and flow of all techniques and the application of knowledge, whether basic or advance, are put together to look like one huge seamless masterpiece. This is the stage where we start doing that. It is the door towards the path of enlightenment in your endeavor. It is recognizing, accepting and then continue working on what you might be good in whilst throughout still tempering to build up the defense to your weaknesses. It is accepting the weaknesses in yourself and being fine with it whilst still always strengthening whatever you’re already strong in. The Circle is simplicity in the most advanced levels of training. The Circle is understanding it all as a whole element. The Circle is going back to the Basics. The Circle is making a fist tighter and harder, a spear hand more relaxed yet rigid at the same time, a running stride softer and longer……
One fluid stroke from the start to the end, like an Enso.

Tip no. 2

Pick a reliable program and shut out the noise
Ever so often, after we have started something for not too long, we get susceptible to noises. Sometimes we even LOOK for them. These noises may come from your peers, family or just people around you and even so, from your social apps. Giving their version of ‘expert’ advice and experiences. Your inner voice telling you stupid contradictory things. Your inner demons telling you that you’re going nowhere and that you’re not good enough and that you should JUST QUIT. Your mind telling you it’s boring…. Blah blah blah…. and you should JUST QUIT. The thing is, sometimes we don’t even give the program a chance to be able to see any results. Take for example if you start a stretching program and only after a week, 4 hours in and you do not see any results and you think that it is going nowhere…. Even more true when you start a Martial Art. Do not expect to see anything significant the first few months even if you train daily (you will start feeling better in terms of mood though). The thing is, most of us suck at being persistent and fare even worse in our perseverance. Why? Because in this day and age, where we get impatient even with the connection speeds of the internet and the queue for our coffee, lunch or groceries, we expect and want everything to be instantaneous. And guess what? It is even more difficult when we already have to battle with all that noise around and within us. The skill to learn and truly temper, is to silent the mind and shut out the noise and just get it going. Don’t ask yourself why you should not be training or doing this program. Do not search or dig for excuses as your reasons! Heck! Try not to even ask or tell yourself why you SHOULD be doing this. Like the famous Nike quote – JUST DO IT!

Tip no. 3

Perhaps the simplest yet most difficult tip to follow. GO SLOW!
The difficult part is being able to discern what is slow against what is just being indolent. This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the simplest part of training. Let us separate this into 3 parts for easy reference and understanding.
A) Pre-session –
How do I feel? This is THE Question.
How does the weather look like? The best and mostly used excuse (especially if the activity has to done outside).
Do I have enough time before my next whatever? Time. Yet another best excuse we use as a reason to keep us from moving.
Do not give in to your ‘reasons’! As long as you are NOT sick or injured, go out and get done whatever you need to get done. Go slow doesn’t mean NOT moving. So go out and DO IT!
B) During-Session –
Great! You managed to get yourself up and moving. Now comes the work. How much is good and how much is too little and how much is too much. The battle between PAIN Vs DISCOMFORT. PAIN IS WEAKNESS LEAVING YOUR BODY. Sounds so epic and cool to say. Especially cool when you use it as the title of that photo or video of yourself covered in sweat with a grimace on your face. But oh so dangerous if you do not understand it properly. What it should be is – “Pain in your mind, is weakness leaving your soul”. In your mind. Your mind is like the governor of a car. Push a little over and it may trick your body with pain signals. What you need to be able to do is to decipher the signals and analyze if it really is pain or just discomfort. Discomfort is fine, pain is not. This is where and why it is important to be IN-TUNE with your body. To KNOW yourself. To be able to LISTEN to what your body is telling you, NOT your mind. This takes a LOT of practice. So start listening!
C) After-Session –
Awesome job. You got the workout or session done. That is it right? Not really. What you put into your gut immediately after and what do you eat the rest of the time plays a really important part after your session in order for you to have optimal recovery and thus results. If your go to post-workout meal is mostly instant noodles or french fries then don’t expect your body to reward you.
Not forgetting sleep too. That is when your body does most of its repair and maintenance. You DO NOT need a Master’s Degree in anything to know that! When it is time to rest, REST. You did your work? Ok good. So REST! Don’t compare, don’t challenge. Give it time to build and you WILL get better and stronger. TRAIN, EAT, SLEEP and REST. That old adage “Sleep faster or lesser” only works if you are Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Tip no. 4

Time is never more wasted than not having objectives for the time invested.
Structure has to follow fun. Yes when we work out we want it to be fun (or as fun as possible – this article is about training NOT exercising). But it’s not always fun when you want to actually get good at something. Sometimes you will have to do stuff that suck. Well, suck it up! Better still, EMBRACE THE SUCK. But even if fun is your priority (I really think it should not though), you will have to make sure that you have some sort of structure going. If not to be good at something then at least so you do not get injured and actually have done something worthwhile with that time. If you hit the weights you will have to have a structure and objectives like how many reps at what weight you gonna do… If Tuesday is upper or lower body day…. things like that. Similarly, if we talk about Martial Arts then you should have objectives like , “Today I’m gonna work on my front kick…” or “today I’ll do more defense drills….” or “today I’m gonna try to tap 3 guys out…” or “today I’ll work on this Kata or that….” and if we talk about running… then your objectives should probably be like…. “Let me hit 5km without going too fast today or within 40mins….” or “today I will try to complete 8km…” or “6 miles…..” or “today I’m going to do a fast 4 mile run…….” or “this week I’m going to clock 20 miles….” Some kind of objective is always better than none. Especially if you want to improve in whatever you are doing.
So there you are. 4 quick tips to hopefully help you have more productive training sessions in whatever it is that you do. Of course, there are a LOT more nuances within and without these 4 tips. At the end of the day, we all learn through experiences. The mistake we often make is that we wait for ourselves to have that experience, when we can look around for mistakes already being made and progress already being done and learn from these and take away and implement what works for us. In the famous words of Bruce Lee “Be water my friend”.
But remember though….. that there is never a ‘One Size Fits All’ program or approach to anything. Learn to tweak things to suit you, your life and more importantly, your emotional state. And I also think more importantly than anything else is….. DON’T BE AN ASS. ESPECIALLY to yourself.

Published by

Terence Cheah

I am an avid Martial Artist who has been teaching Muay Thai for more then 20 years and have recently earned my Black belt in Shinkyokushin Karate. I run a Martial Arts gym called Transcendence Martial Arts where most of my students are everyday people who want to get better, both physically and psychologically. I also love reading, motorbikes and scuba diving quite earnestly. And not forgetting my ever supportive loving wife and 2 daughters who always make me grateful for my life and energy .

2 thoughts on “How to train EFFECTIVELY”

  1. I loved this. These ideas seem to be fundamental to learning any discipline. I’m guessing the circle represents mastery??


    1. Thank you SJ. And yes you can say that. The Circle represents mastery through the complete understanding of the discipline and the acceptance of your faults as strengths and your strengths as faults. Therefore directing you back to the Basics to continue honing your craft.
      Stay safe and have a good week ahead!


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