Students often spike during slow work in their speed or strength. This 1) distracts you from finding the easier, and more effective, answer, and 2) leads to a greater potential for strain and injury. We’ll explore the tools of “soft work” to help us train smarter, not harder.
Finding the More Effective Answer
A good throw, disarm or response to a bind uses structure, position, and timing to be successful, not strength. I want to be a great swordsman when I’m 80, not just in my younger fitter days. That requires that I learn to feel situations and seek the easy road, the flowing road, not simply try to bull my way through with strength and youthful vigour. Soft work helps emphasize this approach. Instead of spiking and hardening, the goal is to feel, reposition, and respond. Through this you can develop technique that is much harder to overcome with strength.
One thing that slow and soft work gives us is the capacity to train our minds and our bodies together for an extended period of time. If you do every part of your training with maximal strength you’re going to strain your tendons very quickly and put yourself in positions where you’re receiving much harder impacts. Both of these things will at best tire you out faster and at worst put you on the injured list. Save your hard and fast work for specific times in your week or month, don’t burn your body out trying to misapply them on a daily basis.
There are many tools that can be employed in the pursuit of effective martial arts practice. Make sure you understand the ones you are using and that you are applying them appropriately. Slow Work and Soft Work, with an aim toward receptive and flowing movement, should be a central part of your long-term practice. Enjoy!