Slow Down to Speed up

Many years ago, I studied percussion under a world-renowned teacher. One of the most important things I learned was to practise slowly – as slowly as I could possibly go. In his words, “If you can’t play it right when you play slowly, how can you expect to play anything other than rubbish when you play fast?” 

He proved to me that it was much harder to do proper technique slowly, and when I finally mastered a technique, I was amazed to learn I could play it fast. In fact, he believed the quality of your musical technique was inversely proportional to the speed at which you practised.

I came to see that his philosophy can be applied to anything we try to learn, including karate. Good and slow is better than sloppy and fast. And once you understand this, you will realize that good and slow naturally leads to good and fast.

The advantage of going slowly is that it allows you to concentrate on how all the little details – breathing, balance, rooting of stances, rotation of hips, posture and relaxation, etc. – all work together as part of a technique. It gives you time to focus on each part of a move, bringing them all together at just the right moment.

If you slow yourself down (and this requires a conscious effort), you will find that technique will improve and you will relax. And then you will start to speed up naturally. In fact, the more relaxed you are, the faster you will be; but forcing yourself to go quickly too soon can be counterproductive.

Speed comes from having a relaxed mind and body. You are less likely to be relaxed if you are thinking, “I need to go faster.” As you try to go faster, you will likely tense up and fight against yourself through the movement, slowing yourself down.

Think instead, “How can I be more relaxed?”

Slowing down is the best way to learn to eliminate everything that can hinder speed, to relax and use only the muscle and body movement necessary for a specific technique. Constant repetition in this manner will eventually lead to flowing, supple technique. It will become internalized, part of your muscle memory. In other words, you will begin to do the technique correctly, without having to think about it.

Practising slowly is also a very good way to improve your mental focus. When you start training this way, you will become aware of all the nuances of the technique, which will demand your deepest concentration. By focusing and correcting all the details, at the same time as you are aware of the overall flow, your technique will improve by leaps and bounds. 

So try practicing as slowly as you can when you have the opportunity. You will be surprised how fast you can improve by going slow.

—Chris Moran is a member of the Jennings School of Karate, in Bradford, Ont. This article originally appeared in the March/April 2009 issue of the JSK Journal