Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Benefits of Keeping a Training Diary

Most Shotokan practitioners would probably agree that one of the hardest things to do in karate is to get to class consistently and to train regularly.  Despite all of the trials and tribulations of learning the mechanics and execution of basic techniques, despite the mental and physical challenges of kata practice, and despite the rigours of kumite training, getting to class seems to be one of the primary obstacles to success and consistent growth in our karate training.  This obstacle is confirmed by the many masters of our art who say again and again that the only secret to karate is “to keep training”.
            With this being said, many readers of this article will probably also have a negative reaction to my case for keeping a training diary or a karate journal as an important and necessary method for improving your overall ability, knowledge and understanding of your chosen art.  But please give the idea a chance and hopefully you will see the full benefits of such an undertaking.
            Let’s look first of all at why writing a training diary might be something of value to any martial arts practitioner.  A diary is an invaluable memory aid that will help you to keep a tangible record of your training experiences that you can look back through at anytime and know that what you see in your journal is what you actually did in class.  Sometimes the amount of new information that we learn can be overwhelming and in order to organize this weekly information into a meaningful structure that makes sense to you it is necessary to take notes.  Students at colleges and universities take lecture notes; business leaders take seminar notes; why shouldn’t karate students take lesson notes?  Our art is deep by nature and the more you learn, it sometimes seems like the less you know, but through consistent and committed practice inside the dojo, and integration of the concepts that are taught by means of notes and a journal, you can organize information in a way that makes sense to you.  Integrating concepts means obtaining a fundamental knowledge of how each concept relates to other concepts. Without this understanding, each concept exists alone as a sole jigsaw piece; if you are able to see the wider picture, the pieces of each evening’s lesson should mesh together nicely, expediting your move to the next level of training.  Through your efforts in writing a diary you are able to live each lesson a minimum of two times, once physically and once mentally.  If you reread your notes periodically you can actually live each lesson many more times and will often gain deeper insight into what you learned previously due to your increased experience.
            So now that I have described the reasons for writing a training diary or karate journal let’s now look at the task of how to write a training diary.
            Well the good news is that you don’t need much in the way of equipment, a pen and a piece of paper or notebook (either paper version or laptop version) will suffice.  Next you don’t need to devote too much time per day to your journal writing (usually 20 – 30 minutes is enough to write down what you did and what you learned during the lesson).  But here is where most note-takers or journal writers fail – you MUST be consistent and you MUST write an entry for every lesson that you attend (or that you teach) for you to truly gain value from your efforts!  When compared to your training, instant gratification from one diary entry is but a fleeting glimpse into the world of future possibilities that are not yet achieved realities.  To make those glimpses of insight windows of learning you MUST be consistent.  You will have those days when you think you have solved all of the mysteries of your art and your place within the art, and then come the days when you realize how little you know, how much you still need to learn and how hard your chosen pursuit, hobby, or career path really is.  It is in these times that you will want to turn to your diary to RE-appreciate your journey up to this point and to see how your future path will not always be rosy but will ultimately still lead you to your goals.
            OK, back to your training diary.  If you are a student or instructor, no matter what level, the basic entries for your journal should include the following:
·         Date,
·         Name of the instructor (only if the class instructor changes regularly, if not then maybe title your diary Lessons with Sensei [Instructor’s Name]),
·         Content of the class (this can be broken down into the classic kihon, kata and kumite segments, or could be organized chronologically according to the flow of the class, or could include warm-up drills, conditioning drills, essential drills, creative drills, etc.  Basically this content structure should match both your sensei’s lesson content and flow and your own way of assimilating information),
·         Important points of the lesson (i.e. sensei’s explanations, key ideas and concepts, historical notes, cultural notes, language and terminology, rank-specific information, etc.),
·         Personal Notes (i.e., need to work on my execution of knife-hand block, need to improve on my rhythm in Heian Godan, need to focus on my weight distribution in kokutsu-dachi, need to make sure my punches are on target all of the time instead of just some of the time, etc.)

Once you have done all of the above you have the basis of a training diary.  So now all you have to do is to get started!  Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  Unfortunately it isn’t, because just in the same way that getting to class consistently is sometimes an obstacle, writing a diary will prove to be a bigger obstacle because it is one more thing on your weekly to-do list.  I personally wrote a training diary for three solid years including 279 lessons during my time in Japan training at Master Hirokazu Kanazawa’s Honbu-dojo in Tokyo.  I will be completely honest and say that it was a difficult thing to do but the way that I got around my tendency to procrastinate on my karate journal was to make the actual diary notes a part of the lesson.  I made a decision that writing my notes when I got home from class was non-negotiable and that the physical training and my mental review were not mutually exclusive; they were in fact one and the same!
            In hindsight my efforts with my karate journal have turned out to be one of the most productive and valuable parts of my almost 30 years of training because the process of writing down what I did in each class I attended, what I needed to work on, my observations and understanding of key ideas and concepts and all of my other notes have made sure that I won’t ever forget what I learned.  I may not still get everything that I learned right and I know there will be many more obstacles ahead in my training but I am confident that I have given myself the best chance to be successful in my personal quest to reach my full potential in my training.
            In conclusion, a karate diary or journal serves primarily as a blow-by-blow account of your training.  It includes what you studied, what you learned, what you need to work on and other personal insights and observations that you gained from your lessons.  It should be done consistently in order to gain the greatest benefit and it should be reread many times over at different stages of your study to keep track of your progress.  Finally what you will realize after some time is that your diary notes are not only an invaluable training aid to you personally but that they are also valuable to other practitioners.  You could share them with your friends and training partners in your dojo, with your instructor, or as many people have done, with fellow practitioners by means of articles in different magazines.  I have read many such reports on seminars and have often found them to be very useful and informative.
            So I challenge everyone to write a journal and to assimilate all of the teachings of the great masters and instructors out there into something that makes sense not just to you but also to others.  You have nothing to lose and potentially everything to gain.  Happy training – and happy writing!


  1. Howdy Paul,
    First of all thanks for all your help and encouragement, you make a class worth coming to.
    I have started a log book for the instructors training course and for classes that I help assist. I just jot down the events of the class from warm ups to the final bow, how I assisted, my weaknesses, my strengths and how I can improve for the next class. I have lots of things happening in my life from work to the kids, their sports and homework, to more work. I have a hard time remembering events I did yesterday. These notes will help me to remember what I did. I don't have many pages, but I will.
    Thanks again Paul.

  2. Thanks for your comment Robert. I always appreciate your contribution to our dojo because I know how busy you are. Let me know how that log book goes.
    See you in class.

  3. Hi paul,
    Thats a nice idea i will try it but i think it will be to difficult for me to persist ,but i'll give it a try...

    Martial Art Training

  4. Hi Paul,

    As a new Karateka (8 weeks and counting!)stumbling upon your fantastic website has been a HUGE bonus! I started a training diary 3 weeks ago, whilst not sure what to put in it, I figured it would help me track progress and set goals. The blog above is great, I have a few more ideas of what to concentrate on, and a few additions I need to make to my last entry (You reminded me of a few lessons my sensai imparted!) Keep going, this site is a fabulous resource. Thanks, Lucy

  5. As an experienced karateka who takes training incredibly seriously, im still relatively young 20 infact but have trained hard for the past 14 years, just opened a dojo at my university aswell where I teach for free. I am always looking for ways in hone my skills in karate, surprisingly i cant believe iv never thought about starting a training dairy what a fantastic idea, this will be my new years resolution and to make notes about technique and training because my mind is flooding with knowledge
    Honestly couldn't thank you enough for your efforts into sharing your ideas and concepts.

    Best wishes, Elliott