I’ve a question for you all:
When can we say legitimately we have “done” a technique?
Mastering a technique – if that’s even possible – is not what I’m talking about. The reason I ask the question is because I recently heard a person state that they had “done” the technique that was being practised “before”. The strong inference was disappointment that they were being made to do something twice. Almost in the same way that one may not want to watch a film they had already seen. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve heard this thinking expressed, but it was the occasion that promoted this post.
With my traditional background, endless repetition is something I am comfortable with. Yes, we can vary drills to keep things fresh, but fundamentally to get good at something it needs to be repeated correctly – because being repeated incorrectly is counterproductive – thousands and thousands of times.
You can’t get strong through lifting weights once. You can’t improve your flexibility by stretching once. You can’t improve your cardiovascular fitness by running once. And you can’t develop skill having “done” a technique once either. We need consistent repetition over a significant period of time to develop anything.
I think skilled (as in truly skilled) practitioners of any physical activity get this. For example, Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson said, “A baseball swing is a very finely tuned instrument. It is repetition, and more repetition, then a little more after that.” So why do we have a subsection in the martial arts world that think “collecting techniques” is a valid alternative to endlessly drilling them?
To me, I would only regard a technique as being “learnt” when I could apply it atomatically, in a live environment, with a reasonable chance of success. “Learnt” is not the same as “mastered” though. It just means we have a workable degree of understanding. Having reached that stage, the process should continue as we seek endless improvement.
Endless improvement needs to be sought. The instant we are “satisfied” is the exact same instant we stop improving. So if that happens the second time we “do” a technique, we are forever stuck as beginners; and what is worse we are close-minded beginners who think we have nothing to learn.
The other, perhaps more subtle, side of this is skilled people forgetting that their skills were not acquired instantaneously. When such people are shown something new, they reject it via a thought process of “I can’t do it immediately as well as someone who has practised it, therefore the technique is wrong / won’t work.”
Did anyone find their cross / gyakuzuki worked immediately the first time they were shown it? Or did they feel uncoordinated and found it took a lot of practise before they could land it without thinking while under pressure?
The experienced person should know that new techniques takes time and work to effectively assimilate. We would condemn the beginner that tried reverse punch once and then concluded it didn’t work because they could not do it. So why do we sometimes accept that from more skilled people?
There are of course some differences between the experienced person and the unexperienced beginner when it comes to processing new techniques. The experienced person can legitimately reject a method they see as flawed based on their own experience. For example, if someone were to tell me that “no touch knockouts” work, but I just need more practise, then I’m going to reject that premise as my experience tell me that such stuff is unequivocal BS.
An experienced person also has a set of movement skills and a good mind-body link, so they are able to get a reasonable approximation of the technique in a much faster time. They therefore may find that the approximation is headed in the wrong direction for them and “feels wrong”.
All of that said, if others are able to make a method work effectively and consistently, it would be a mistake for the more experienced person to reject such a method out of hand just because they could not make it work immediately. In that case, they are rejecting a demonstrably effective method.
The point of all this is to raise some of the issues surrounding the myth of “instant skill”. Both beginners and experienced people can fall into the trap of “technique collection” as opposed to “technique learning”; and the related issue of “technique rejection” which is also opposed to “technique learning”.
I would suggest there are two main causes for these issues. Firstly, we humans like novelty and tend to prefer that over repetition. Secondly, the needs of real skill can be masked if there is not realistic testing. Without testing it can seem like a superficial and intellectual knowledge of a method is sufficient. Add in testing, and we quickly become absolved on that misunderstanding. Live practise is a must for all kinds of reasons, but one thing it really does bring home is the need for lots of repetition as things simply don’t work without it.
I think that sufficiently frames the issue and I’d be interested in everyone’s thoughts on the following:
1 – At what point can we say a technique has been learnt or “done” (accepting that mastery is something else)?
2 - Why do some not see repetition as the “mother of skill”? Is it just a lack of live practise? A desire to seek the entertainment of novelty over the repetition needed for true skill? Something else?
3 – Under what circumstances can experienced people reject new methods outright? Never? When people who are experienced in those methods can’t make them work consistently themselves? When it feels “wrong”? Only when they have practised it for a sufficient length of time?
All the best,