Jenn Reese Writer, Artist, Geek

Muscle Memory


I made it to kung fu tonight after having missed five of the last seven classes. I’d been practicing in stolen moments at work, but I hadn’t had enough time or space to fully go at it… especially since I find it impossible to do a form without working up a sweat, and I do like to exhibit a modicum of professionalism on the job. (Don’t worry, just a modicum. I promise.)

So, because the universe likes to laugh at me, tonight was the night we broke into groups and watched each other’s forms.

Muscle memory is a dangerous thing. After you’ve practiced a form enough times, your body remembers how to move without requiring much conscious thought on your part. On one hand, this is a good thing, since it frees up your mind to work on other things. On the other hand, sometimes your body only generally knows what it needs to do. It gets the basics correct, but forgets all the details.

Which is how I found myself listening to critiques tonight and realizing that I was doing everything wrong. Sure, I had the gist of each form, and I even did some parts well, but my muscle memory tricked me. I thought I was doing much better than was actually the case. I would have been better off slowing down and forcing myself to think of every aspect of every move. Yeah, I would have been slow as hell, but I’ll take slow over sloppy any day.

There’s nothing like hearing a classmate say “I couldn’t tell if some of the moves were tiger claws or palm strikes.” Ouch.  I don’t know if that comment applied to me specifically, but here’s the rub: it certainly could have. I don’t even remember thinking about my hand position. My muscle memory said, “Hey, I’ve got this covered,” and I believed it.

Some of the problem is that I get horribly nervous performing in front of other people, as you may remember from many previous entries. But still. I expect better from myself. Hell, I demand it. Muscle memory is essential, but it’s also a trap. Staying mindful even when there’s an easier path is what makes good martial artists into great ones.

All in all, it was great to be back in class. I look at the mountain of work ahead of me, all the hours of sweat and strain it’s going to take to improve my forms, and I can honestly say it makes me euphoric.

About the author

Jenn Reese


  • Oh yes, I’ve been there! Each time I master some new level of something as simple as a round kick, I am introduced to a whole new subtlety that I’ve completely failed to see or incorporate! It’s hard trying to retrain when you’ve been doing it ‘wrong’ for 5 years :-)

    • My kung fu teacher says the hardest students to train are the ones that have years of experience. Luckily, she's only referring to me some of the time when she says that!

  • Yeah, the whole full cup metaphor. It clicked last night that I actually hadn't been reading your journal, even as I've begun devouring 1/2 the internet on a daily basis in search of connections to … something. I'm back.

By Jenn Reese
Jenn Reese Writer, Artist, Geek

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