This week I tried something I’ve never done before. Prompted by a friend I registered for a Krav Maga class in Itaewon. In case you haven’t heard about Krav Maga, it’s a self-defense technique originally developed by the Israeli army to be used in combat. It’s now gaining traction worldwide and is being praised for its simple and intuitive approach.

We started with a light cardio warm-up followed by pairing up and taking turns at dealing blows and blocking them. For a beginner, this was actually quite challenging. It’s been two days and I’m still hurting in my shoulders, to say nothing of my underarms that seem quite bruised from repeatedly practicing how to block an attacker by blocking his wrist with mine.

The instructor told us that as newbies, we would naturally miss some of the hits, and we would probably experience slight bruising afterward. “But we’re building muscle memory”, he added. This expression instantly had me thinking about language learning. For the three years that I’ve been studying Korean, I’ve also dedicated a substantial amount of time to learn how to learn. I usually follow a set of simple rules:

  • Study regularly (to me that means every day)
  • Practice speaking (even to yourself)
  • Build vocabulary

In Krav Maga, we were advised to do something quite similar:

  • Train regularly
  • Develop muscle memory
  • Build stamina

I instantly noticed the connection. Whether you’re learning martial arts or a language, you need to commit yourself to regular practice. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself constantly starting from scratch.

It also goes for both disciplines that muscle memory is crucial. If you’re attacked, you have no time to think about how to block the attack. Your defense should be a reflex, and reflexes are only developed through practice. The same goes for speaking a foreign language. You have to practice the pronunciation and tell yourself that your muscles in your face need to adjust to the new words and sounds. With time, it will become just as natural as speaking your native language.

Finally, you need to build stamina. In combat, this means being able to fight to the point where you’re the last man standing. In language learning, you’re only able to keep talking for a long time if you build your vocabulary. Building stamina in both situations may seem repetitive and tedious, but this is truly the discipline that will make you stronger.

So no matter if you’re practicing Krav Maga or learning Korean, you’ll eventually make mistakes and you will get bruised. Just dust it off, move on and continue to grow in body and mind! – Fighting!! 화이팅!


  1. I can’t even explain how much I relate to this. I find that in my language learning I’m constantly holding myself back with fear of doing something ‘too’ wrong. I mean I make mistakes all the time and I easily brush them off, but I still have this nagging fear of making a mistake that is too big – and I don’t even know what too big means! The same goes for my Taekwondo training. I know that I have a lot to learn and I make a lot of mistakes that doesn’t bother me (I mean I’m a white belt – what else could you possibly expect?) and while I work hard to improve, I instantly freeze when blocking or making counter attacks. I freeze with the exact same fear as mentioned before and therefore end up making really weak movements that by now should be stronger – or at least I feel they should. I have to become better at dealing with both types of bruises.
    Also, I feel like the goal with language learning and martial arts are the same in many aspects. I want my words to flow freely just as I want my movements to flow automatically. Always adapting to the current situation.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Being from the martial arts world myself I can safely say that practice, practice, practice is essential. Some people make the mistake of just practicing while they are on the mats. However, you stated while learning to speak a language you should talk to even yourself in that language. When at home, practicing techniques through shadow boxing and visualization is equally important to build muscle memory. Nice article.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s