Refining your martial arts skills takes dedication, determination, and commitment to long-term practice. Sometimes you need to shake up your training routine with something new and different. You can also learn a thing or two from a marital artist who trains in a different style or art than you. We’re all in this together.

Guest writer Nick Kovach from shares some great tips for stepping up your game. Check out Nick’s site for more martial arts training tips and guides.

If you would like to be a guest contributor for Little Black Belt, please review the guest writer guidelines here.


Have you ever felt that you are not improving in your martial art? It is common for a martial artist to eventually believe that just showing up to practice is no longer enough. This perception is especially true as you advance in rank, as the rate of improvement often slows down compared to your early days as a white belt.

So how can you get better? Here we discuss 7 practical tips beyond “more practice” to improve your skills and competency.

Take private lessons to fine tune your skills

Private lessons are an excellent opportunity for your instructor to focus on you instead of the whole class. These sessions are especially useful in helping get you out of rut when you think a technique isn’t sticking. You can home in on tiny details that can jettison your growth. There are no formal rules on how to approach a private lesson. Talk to your instructor about what you would like to work on and go from there.

Take an online course or buy an instructional

Learning online has never been easier. Type the name of a martial art’s technique into You tube and you will find someone who teaches you how to do it. While free lessons are great, consider buying a DVD instructional or an online monthly subscription course. These days, there are a plethora of online courses for Brazilian Jiujitsu, Taekwondo, Karate, etc. that you should have no trouble finding the course for your needs. The advantage to buying an instructional course is that you will get a more complete approach than a random clip on YouTube. Just remember that these courses are a substitute, not a replacement, for actual class.

Attend a seminar

News flash: your instructor does not know everything about your martial art. Seminars from respected teachers will help broaden your knowledge base. A seminar will take you out of your daily grind and can open your eyes to novel approaches and techniques. If your seminar instructor is a celebrity or high-ranking belt, you get the added bonus of bragging rights to say you’ve met the “who’s who” in your art!


One minor problem with seminars is that they can vary in quality. Will the guest teacher focus on a handful of techniques or three dozen? Admittedly, it’s difficult to take away meaningful lessons when the seminar is a superficial review of techniques. Similarly, unlike a private lesson, there is less focus on you. Do your research on the event and come prepared to maximize your seminar experience. The benefits of a seminar typically outweigh the drawbacks, as you will almost always go away with one or two nuggets to help push the needle towards your advancement.

Train at a steady pace with goals in mind

Look at your current training schedule or regime and ask what you can improve on. If you are only making it to class once a week, you likely won’t have the input necessary to see measured progress. Your hours on the mat will translate into your overall growth. Half the battle with getting better is showing up. If you are ever in doubt about going to practice, just go.

While practice is essential, make sure it’s the right type of training. Be intentional with your practice. Sometimes you need to focus on fundamentals before trying more advanced techniques. Other times, you should focus on new areas instead. Whatever the case, set up a consistent training schedule and stick to a particular objective.

Cross train in another martial art

It’s common to see instructors with multiple black belts in several styles. These instructors understand that the martial arts encompass more than their school’s one set of techniques.

Cross-training typically involves learning a related, but different martial art, often with a school or instructor other than your own. When you cross-train, you learn that there is not a singular way to approach a problem or technique. Sometimes one art might use a more developed game plan for a set of circumstances. For instance, it’s common for bhp players to cross train judo to better understand throwing techniques, as Judo has a uniquely focused approach to throws.

Don’t be afraid of cross training because of insecurity in your rank. Testing yourself is part of the learning process. Even seemingly unrelated styles like Kung-fu and BJJ can be complementary.

Note, unfortunately training in other styles can sometimes be controversial depending on your instructor/dojo/club. Make sure you are aware of any political sensitivities when training somewhere else.

Don’t be afraid of competition.

Competition is the ultimate test of your skill. There are many benefits to competing in martial arts. These include overcoming your fears, building camaraderie with your team, and connecting with your martial arts community. A competition sets a hard deadline for you to improve in a short amount of time. The preparation, both physical and mental, will push you to become better, regardless of whether you win the match.

Take notes / record your session.

Ever have trouble remembering your sensei’s lesson? Consider keeping a martial arts journal to take notes during or after class. These logs will be useful when you are reviewing for a rank examination or if you merely want to keep a log of what you are training. It will also serve as a wonderful memento for you to keep as part of your martial arts journey. With a notebook, you can share your thoughts with others and review how far you’ve come. It’s a practical way to track your progress and stay focused.


Getting better takes time. Hopefully, these tips will give you a few ideas on new ways you can improve your craft. Taken as whole, this advice might look like a lot, but ultimately remember not to get too stressed over how much we can or cannot train. Most of us are not training for the Olympics or trying to become world champions. Sometimes it’s important not to over think your training. Do your best, have fun, and keep training.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.