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SMART Goals

In a previous article I wrote about re-thinking your goals whenever you find techniques are not working for you. When this happens, you are likely thinking wrongly about how to approach the techniques. Specifically, you may be trying to accomplish the wrong goals. Instead of trying harder physically, re-think your goals.
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The overall goal in aikido is about self-defense. This does not mean beating someone else up, rather surviving violence intact. As Mike Denton puts it…

Aikido is not about 'winning' or finishing your opponent off, but rather about being able to disengage from a chaotic and violent situation as quickly and safely as possible.

With that overall objective in mind, it is possible to define better performance goals. An acronym that is used in business and personal coaching is SMART.
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A SMART goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.
  • Specific – what exactly would be an acceptable outcome to you? What do you not really care about? Your flexibility or slack in the way you do the techniques exists among the things that you don’t really care about. You can’t sacrifice tactically if that means you don’t accomplish the essential outcomes but you can sacrifice tactically in the areas in which you don’t really care about the outcome.
  • Measurable – how can you tell if you have achieved your goal? Is your measure objective or subjective?
  • Attainable – Your essential goals must be things that are within your power to control. Something that is possible to practice safely.
  • Realistic – Your essential goals must be things that are within the realm of normal physics and biomechanics. It is smarter to base your essential goals on the natural rather than super-natural (regardless of what you believe about the super-natural). Your goal should promote tactics that reliably generalize to most of the population of potential attackers. Your goal should be based on probabilities instead of possibilities.
  • Time-Bound – You have to be able to execute tactics to move you toward your goals within real time. This means that your goals should promote tactics that make use of natural motion and gross motor skills within the opponent’s OODA loop.
Example: Kotegaeshi as a big fall. If tori gets the idea that in order to succeed at kotegaeshi, uke has to take a big fall that looks just like the instructor’s model, this is not SMART. It is not specific because you don’t know how big a fall uke has to take for tori to be a success. It is not measurable because you never know if the fall you just saw uke take was big enough. It is not attainable because it is not within tori’s power to control how uke reacts to the throw. It is not realistic because it is totally outside our experience to think that you can throw something as heavy as a person with that type of motion, and it is not time-bound because it often requires relatively precise leverage on the wrist and you are forced to plant your feet to exert into the throw – stopping your motion and taking you out of uke’s OODA loop.
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So, kotegaeshi as a big throw is a recipe for frustration. Without a compliant, skilled uke tori will never make that throw match his ideal of it.
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So, how do you make a SMART goal for kotegaeshi…
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Specific: tori should remain safe throughout the whole motion and uke should end up in a condition of unbalance with his arm turning outward in a gaeshi motion. Uke might fall down because of this but tori doesn’t really care if or how. Measurable: did tori get hit? is uke’s balance broken (this is a tough one to measure objectively)? Is uke’s arm turning outward? Attainable: staying safe, getting kuzushi, and holding uke’s wrist twisted are within tori’s ability to a great extent. These actions are largely related to things tori does as opposed to how uke acts or reacts. Realistic: it doesn’t take supernatural thinking to expect uke to stay safe, get an offbalance, and hold uke’s arm. Timebound: now, instead of exerting hard to throw uke thru the air, tori can relax and keep moving, acting to stay within uke’s ooda loop. These goals can be accomplished with natural, gross motor tactics.
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So, defining kotegaeshi as “tori safe, uke offbalance, holding uke’s wrist turned out” is SMARTer than defining it as some subjectively large fall out of a wrist-twist.
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The moral of the story is the same as in the previous post, “The mind drives the body. The body obeys the mind. Change your mind and you will change your performance.”

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