There’s something to be said for the adage, “Practice makes perfect.”
Last Sunday on my next to last shot in my last game of eight ball for the day, I made a perfect mirror kick shot.
My billiards partner and I learned this shot months ago from a cool old guy in a white fedora, because it was a pool hall and of course he had to be cool old guy in a fedora. We go when it’s quiet, when the only people on the tables are the regulars: very good players practicing alone or with a friendly competitor, crusty old guys who migrate back and forth from the bar to the tables, and the plucky young(ish) beginners: me with my one Coors Light and my billiards partner with classic rock playing quietly on his phone.
Once in a while one of the old fellas approaches to give us a tip. Cool Guy in Fedora taught us a visualization trick to kick the cue ball off the wall and knock a ball into the pocket. I won’t begin to explain how to do a mirror kick shot. There’s a good tutorial on YouTube. It seems simple in theory, but it’s taken us months and many many attempts to get it right. I have tried and given up many times, but Sunday on that next to last shot I made myself get serious about it, took a moment to visually measure the way I was taught, and hoped for the best.
Crack! In went the ball.
I turned to my billiards partner and squealed in both disbelief and joy, “I did it!!” (And then I shot in the eight ball and won the game).
I had just about given up on that mirror shot. Even though I’m good at visualizing things and have decent spatial awareness, I kept telling myself that it was too hard and I couldn’t do it. Now that I’ve succeeded (once anyway) with this fairly simple trick, I have some confidence to keep building my overall pool skills.
If I could make a mirror kick shot, then why not apply it to martial arts?
For the hell of it, my coaches and I decided that I would do a jump spin kick as part of my breaking routine at the Texas state tournament next month. I’m not very good at this particular kick, but if I never practice it and don’t give myself a challenge like doing it in a tournament or at a test, it’ll never improve from where it is today. So, why not?
Like the mirror shot, I’m approaching jump spin kick as small, mechanical parts to a whole. If I do the whole kick without mental preparation, I fall all over the place, and it’s an ineffective kick. I haven’t built up the mental or muscle capacity to execute it as well and as “mindlessly” as I do other jump kicks. Right now I have to work on little tricks and pieces of techniques to improve the whole.
So that’s what I’m doing before class at the dojang: being a good black belt mechanic. I don’t start off with jump spin kick right away. I practice regular spin kick a few times to gauge where my weight goes, when and how I hook and whip my leg, timing, etc. Then I work on just the jump and spin without the kick so I can get over the scariness of jumping and spinning in the air. I also do a few jump back kicks to remind my body of what it feels like to turn, jump, and chamber my leg while jumping even though the technique is different. Then I start playing with how I turn my hips and where most of my balance goes right before I jump–does it feel better on the left foot or right foot? I play with when I draw my kicking foot in to try to get some semblance of a hook so it’s not a completely straight-legged kick. I’m figuring out little ways to “trick” my body into pulling together all the pieces it needs to to execute an acceptable jump spin kick.
Like my mirror shot, I think the jump spin kick will happen. Maybe not tomorrow, but eventually, with persistent practice, it will.
So, my martial artist friends, if you’re struggling with a complicated technique or just want to make some tweaks, start small. Break it down into pieces. Figure out little ways you can trick your body into feeling comfortable with how you want to move in space…and then you’ll be pleasantly surprised with that winning shot.
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Stay tuned for my upcoming book – “Kicking and Screaming: a Memoir of Madness and Martial Arts” published by She Writes Press. Coming to a bookseller near you April 20, 2021!
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