​Sen Tan Man Ren: Training the Body to Remember

During the years of studying martial arts, I’ve reached a point where I value the long repetitive sessions of technique and form. So much that it’s an ideology I believe is suitable for anyone seeking to become proficient in their chosen art. The benefits are vastly rewarding, it just takes a lot of patience, trust, and enduring what many may consider a mundane and boring period.

Traditionally, for the many styles of martial arts around the world, practitioners are expected to spend years going through the same motion, within specified contexts. Of course there will be chances of variations to better understand the philosophy of the art being studied; most would even allow “free play” (such as sparring, randori, kumite, etc) to promote growth and development of the ability to use what they are learning on a personal level. What remains constant, however, is the need to “repeat” what you are learning on a regular basis, and to embrace this as a norm.

Handwriting of the phrase “Sen Tan Man Ren”. Graciously done by Yoko A.

There is a phrase in Japanese that states “Sen Tan Man Ren¹”. What this means is to properly train techniques through repetition for a minimum of 1000 days, so to ingrain the movements into your body. Once this is accomplished can one then learn how to properly utilize the movements by drilling them for 10,000 days. The numbers shouldn’t be taken too literally², but serve to stress the point that the longer you practice in a correct format consistently, the chances of actually developing one’s skills increases. This is imperative to conditioning your body to remember the art you’re studying, as opposed to just cramming it into your mind. It’s like walking, for when we start as an infant we continue to walk until we die. This is a physical phenomenon, which our body gets better at the more we do it without putting too much thought to. Same for martial arts.

For example, the art I’ve spent the most time in is Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu. For this art a great emphasis is placed on learning the kihon (basics), which consists of Kamae (postures), Taihenjutsu (rolls), Sanshin no Kata (3 Hearts Form), and Kihon Happo (8 Fundamental Methods on Striking and Grappling). These kihon are classified as the building blocks essential in understanding this art even during advanced lessons. Below are some points on the approach in studying these kihon.

① In the beginning we are required to drill these kihon dedicatedly during and outside of class for a long time. At first we stick to the form and applications with little deviation, which is to ensure the development of a “taijutsu body”,  where we move dictated by these basics on a subconscious level.

② Later we incorporate these kihon under different conditions to learn further the numerous ways in which they can be utilized. This includes different angles, distance, and height.

③ As time goes on, we are instructed on applying these kihon during kata geiko (training in preset movements), and discovering where the kihon is in our movements and techniques.

This is a years-long process, where even as our skill set increases, the kihon are to still be applied through sessions of repetition. Even though the movements become familiar, we must continue to approach these sessions deliberately in a steady, unrushed pace for the sake of developing a good foundation. No amount of mentally trying to remember where at and how the kihon works will facilitate the results of proficiency through years long of dedicated training.

To reiterate on the concept of “Sen Tan Man Ren”, going through the motion of a technique or form for 1000 days will surely help your body remember it, but this is only possible through consistency. Having sessions where we pace ourselves in slow but steady movements, mixed with sessions that are strenuous so to learn how to endure stress, will bear fruitful results. It is recommended we study our art on a daily basis. For me, I do my best to go through the kihon and engage in kata geiko on a daily basis to better my taijutsu…of course time permitting. There are days I can dedicate 2+ hours, other days slightly shorter. Time duration is important, but keep in mind that everyday doesn’t have to be a full training session. As long as you are activily training your body frequently, you will improve.

In closing, martial arts is a physical engagement much like any activity. Just like anything else, a lot of time is required doing the same motions over and over again. There is room to embrace mental learning, but this should not take precedence over our body’s physical development. You will get better the more you repeat…it just takes time that’s worth it in the end.

1) 千鍛万錬. Can also be pronounced “Sen Tan Ban Ren”.

2) A rough estimate, 1000 days = 3 years, while 10,000 days = 30 years. Certain aspects like leap years may change the values.

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