Monday, March 26, 2007

The way you do the thing you do

One subject that interests me greatly is how experts in any field go about their daily practice. How do the best in the world go about getting better?
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A teacher told me one time that there is no such thing as a quantum leap in the martial arts. The best way to practice is to take some small, almost microscopic thing and work on that. But you have to pick some microscopic thing that applies to everything that you do.
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For instance, it doesn't necessarily do as much good to get 100 repetitions of shihonage as it does to get 100 slow, careful, thoughtful repetitions of the hipswitch motion that is used in shihonage. If you do 100 reps of shihonage than you have pretty much only gotten better at shihonage, but if you do 100 reps of hipswitch then the improvements apply to shihonage as well as maeotoshi, tenkai kote gaeshi, and a lot of other techniques. For this reason, if you ask the highest-ranking aikido shihans in our organization what they are working on in their own practice they will more than likely tell you Tegatana no kata (the first thing we learn as white belts).
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I was talking recently to a professional pool player and I asked him what he practiced the most. He talked about repeatedly working a certain type of spin or a certain type of bank shot. He even mentioned details about how he went about chalking his cue. Sure he plays games nearly every day just like we do randori, but the improvement comes from working these microscopic skills that apply to frequent situations in the game.
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I also spoke to a personal trainer who has been doing weightlifting for probably 20-25 years. He mentioned that at the top of the game there is virtually no difference between competitors except genetics. Top weightlifters, after 15-20 years have (according to this trainer) developed their technical skills pretty much as good as they will get but what they do work on is making microscopic changes in their training routines - changing periodization, sets, reps, etc... one variable at a time in an everlasting attempt to get a 1% edge on the competition.
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So, one great way to improve your martial arts skills is to identify a set of a few techniques that are lacking in some way and then try to identify the motions that are common to all those techniques. Then, instead of working that set of techniques to death, work slowly, carefully, and thoughtfully on making that common motion just a little more efficient. Do that for a while (weeks, maybe months) and see doesn't that change your performance of that set of techniques.

1 comment:

  1. In your comment to my recent post, linked to this, you asked why I liked it. Here's my reply (I quote myself, LOL): "Hah! If I had time, I would've posted on it. It's a great piece, because it reveals a lot of how you think about things, not just martial arts. One thing I'm probably lacking in the content of my blog is exactly that, my thoughts and views of other matters. I try to stay on subject - martial arts and training for them. I should do it more. I just enjoyed it because it reveals why you're probably a very good instructor, at least for people like me - you relate the attributes and skills in MA to what others can understand, and break down the processes. Hence, your post is about how to get better at anything, including your MA. Nice. Mutual admiration."

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