Sunday, June 27, 2010


I recently saw the newest iteration of the Karate Kid franchise (simply called “The Karate Kid”), and enjoyed it. It’s not perfect by any means, but there’s a lot to like about it. The fight scenes are choreographed very well, Jackie Chan has an awesome dramatic turn, and China is shot magnificently. I just find the some of the main characters totally unconvincing in their sometimes heavy dramatic moments because of their age and inexperience with acting. In any case, the movie is great for what it is, and you should probably check it out if you’re a fan of Jackie Chan and martial arts movies in general.

Now that I’ve got my general thoughts on the movie out of the way, I’d like to move on to the primary topic of this article: the training mechanisms. In almost any movie such as this one, we have a series of training montages of various sorts. There are two main types of training methods: Blocked Practice and Random Practice.


Blocked Practice is the more traditional form training, where the athlete repeats a single movement an endless amount of times to commit it to muscle memory. Most of the training techniques featured in the movie are like this, primarily the “jacket on, jacket off” training.

Blocked Practice has been shown to be very effective in teaching newcomers to a particular sport or discipline the ropes and basics, but has proven to be totally ineffective for use in the long run. Once the coach has seen that the athlete has learned proper form from the Blocked Practice, it would be time to move on to something more advanced, more effective, and more fun.

Blocked Practice is also useful at unlearning bad habits that athletes may have picked up playing the game during their childhood. Various set techniques should thus be utilized by the trainer to replace these bad movements with the correct ones before moving on to more advanced techniques and training methods.

Blocked Practice, however, has the disadvantage of mentally disassociating the athlete from the sport or discipline. A coach may improperly apply this technique by focusing entire training sessions to only this, thus making the athlete become quickly bored with the class.

This happened to me years ago when I trained in Taekwondo. It was endless repetitions day and night of literally just one technique, which mixed martial arts fans may recognize as a lead body kick, but what we called back then the “forty five”, since the kick was supposedly thrown a full forty five degrees towards the opponent. Or something. Months on end were dedicated to only this, with only a few training sessions actually employing sparring. And whenever I tried different techniques during those sessions, such as the spinning back kick, my instructors would scold me and say that I should use only the forty five. No kidding! It was annoying, and I, at one point, started training on my own at my house. I found it more fruitful than wasting my days away performing only one technique and I eventually quit Taekwondo altogether.


This also happens during the movie. Jaden Smith’s character, Dre, gets tired of days on end of “jacket on, jacket off” and wants to leave the training hall. Jackie Chan’s character, Mr. Han, stops him to show him the fruits of his labor. After weeks of “jacket on, jacket off”, Dre suddenly has strengthened his relevant muscle groups and almost mastered some techniques in kung fu. No, if you’re still wondering, this doesn’t occur in real life.

The movements that Dre is performing during Jackie’s “sparring session” are kind of similar to “jacket on, jacket off”, but in the end, they’re totally different. Besides, “jacket on, jacket off” doesn’t have him reacting to a moving opponent. In this respect, training only on a heavy bag is totally different from training against a live human being during an actual sparring session, because your mind has to focus on various things at different times, such as defense, and the timing of yours and your opponent’s erratic movements.

“Jacket on, jacket off” also does not condition various muscle groups very well, primarily because the movements don’t offer enough stress to any of them. Except of course, Dre’s lower back, which, after weeks of bending over like that, is actually surprising that it didn’t suffer from strains of any sort. And that’s really the only thing that “jacket on, jacket off” could have affected.

So, in conclusion, and yes, I realize that it’s painfully obvious, but I still really want to put this down, but “jacket on, jacket off” does not in any way develop any skill aside from being really great at picking a jacket off the floor and placing it on a hook. You master what you practice, after all, and that’s pretty much all there is to this movement. It also doesn’t develop any muscle groups, but actually even puts unnecessary strain on the lower back. So, not only is it a useless martial arts training method, it’s also highly risky.


1. Weights could have been added to the jacket, which would progressively become heavier every few days or so.

2. Dre should pick up the jacket with a more natural posture, as in a deadlift, so that he doesn’t out unnecessary strain on his back.

This way, Dre still doesn’t learn martial arts in any conceivable way, but he will develop some of his major muscles, including his deltoids, biceps, forearm muscles, back muscles, and leg muscles. If one thinks about it, it becomes sort of an odd variation of the sumo deadlift high pull (SDHP).

So, yes, Mr. Han not only wasted several weeks of Dre’s life, he also put his lower back at extreme risk. Get ready for some director’s cut footage showing Mr. Han applying the magic flame technique to Dre’s back at least once a week.

At least progresses later on during his training to actual conditioning techniques, such as flexibility and bodyweight exercises, so I guess some of those training sessions  were pretty productive.


Random Practice is the complete opposite of Blocked Practice, in that the athlete trains all the movements he’s learned during the allotted Blocked Practice sessions and performs them randomly, and as close to competition circumstances as possible, and under the close guidance of the instructor.

The athlete, however, should not progress to Random Practice too early, or it might shock him or her too much. The trainer may create too much stress and confusion by demanding the athlete various movements which he or she is not ready for. The trainer has to therefore be very competent in order to control the athletes’ training schedules properly.

Training should always be as close to actual competition as possible, in order to mentally prepare the athlete. Manny Pacquiao, for example, the famous Filipino boxer who is widely held as being the current pound for pound best boxers in the world, has several training several held in public in order to get him used to fighting in front of a large crowd and under bright lights. Training this way gets rid of the first time jitters of many inexperienced athletes.

Training should also be as random as possible (but still controlled by the instructor, of course), because most sports are played that way. This way, the athlete is not too shocked when “things don’t go as planned” during an actual game, and quickly adjusts to the scenario.

Random Practice also encourages what would otherwise be impossible during Blocked Practice: creativity. Michael Jordan is known as one of the best basketball players of all time because he tended to do things that people have never seen before. He does not practice these daring and camera friendly movements as Blocked Practice sessions, but, because he had become comfortable in being creative throughout his practice sessions, he reacts thusly in actual games, surprising not only the spectators, but his opponents as well. Athletes should be highly encouraged to become creative during active training sessions and actual games in order for them to reach their personal comfort zones, and be relaxed all throughout.


The tennis ball training method and, to some extent, the poking behind laundry training method are forms of Random Practice. Each time a tennis ball is thrown, or each time a jab from the pole is thrust, they target and land at very different areas. Dre also reacts very differently almost every time a ball is thrown. He can either duck under it, step to the side to avoid it, or parry it with his hands (don’t try this at home, kids). They’re still not that great overall, though, as they’re still very detached from the actual nature of the competition, and serve to only strengthen a few skills.

The best example would probably be Dre and Mr. Han’s later sparring sessions, but it’s still not a very good example because Mr. Han is nothing like the competitors that Dre will be facing. This is why, if you watch any of the UFC Countdown specials, you’ll see fighters and trainers mention repeatedly that they got the best guys from all over to move and fight like their opponents. The training has to be as close to the competition as possible. Still, considering that Mr. Han had very little resources at his disposable, this was most probably the best he could do and is thus forgivable. It’s one of those “better than nothing” sort of deals in the end.


Both. As mentioned, newcomers to a sport or discipline should always start out with Blocked Practice and steadily progress to Random Practice under the trainer’s proper supervision. Blocked Practice can not only be used to master new techniques but unlearn bad ones as well. Random Practice fully prepares the athlete for the feel of an actual competition while mastering the entire needed skill set.


Okay, since I was particularly harsh during most of this article towards this movie, I’d just like to reiterate my feelings at the very top, and that I did enjoy the movie. Again, it’s not perfect, but it was fairly entertaining, mostly just because of the Jackie Chan sequences. I wanted to analyze the film as a fitness enthusiast in some way, and what better way than to comment on the training techniques? In short, the training techniques in the movie are mostly ineffective, so don’t do some of them, especially “jacket on, jacket off”. One final thing I do appreciate about the movie is that it has the same spirit of the original karate kid, which had kids all over the world flock to martial arts school, and thus, physical fitness. If this movie achieved even a small percent of that, I’d be very happy, no matter how unrealistic the training regimens in it are.

All the great images used in this article are taken from IMDB's "The Karate Kid (2010)" page!

Like to know how various sports-specific training regimens work and how they might relate to you or a topic you’re interested in? Drop me a question in the comments section!

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Hello, I'm Noel Blanco and I write Fitness Philippines. I have been involved in physical fitness for more than 10 years now and am currently taking up graduate studies on Exercise and Sports Science at the University of the Philippines. You can contact me at
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