"There's nothing wrong with your kicks that ten thousand repetitions won't fix."
Catchy little rhyme, right? I have used the oft-repeated axiom that a technique needs 10,000 repetitions to work towards mastery. I doubt that this nice, round number is the exact number for every person and every technique, but it gives one a sense of scale as to the lifetime pursuit of martial arts mastery.
I joke with my newest students not to worry about whether they are "doing it right" yet. I gently tell them that the first 100 attempts are just roughing out the track in your brain for this movement. Once they get to that 100th - or so -- rep, I see a look of accomplishment on their face, and I watch the disappointment settle in as I tell them that I think it takes at least 1000 repetitions to develop proficiency with the technique.
For most of us, one thousand starts to become difficult to visualize. If you think about it, you might be able to visualize 1000 people in a gymnasium, maybe 1000 pennies or 1000 pieces of paper. For most things, 1000 officially counts as "a lot." Since Tang Soo Do classes often revolve around repetition, it often surprises students to learn that they've done 1000 repetitions faster than they may think. In fact, by green belt, most of us have done 1000 center punches, or 1000 front kicks.
Ok, so if I'm "proficient" by green belt, what's the point of going any further? What will I gain? (Ever notice how green belts seem to know everything? I know I did...)
At this point, we can consider the fine art of ryun ma. Polishing, in other words. 1000 repetitions is a mere 10 percent of the numbers needed for "mastery" of a given technique. Even if we have mastered a single technique, each technique has varations that must also be mastered. Take our front kick example: we may have 10,000 center-level kicks under our belt, but only a few hundred (if that!) low front kicks. If you think those skills transfer over perfectly, I challenge you to try it as I did and feel the humility spill over you.
Working towards 10,000 isn't necessarily a race, nor is it a pursuit where we can check off each repetition like a prisoner marking his wall for each day in his cell. Instead, strive for improvement with each repetition. Each time you practice, focus on one aspect and attempt to improve it. After your practice, reflect on what you have practiced and what you have learned.
Before you know it, even 10,000 will seem a distant memory.