Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Obsessing over singularities

Aikido journal recently reprinted one of my articles on the subject of expertise - how the best in the world go about getting better. This got me to thinking on the subject again. Here is another way of thinking about the same idea.
Suppose you put enough effort into practicing kotegaeshi to feel a noticable difference. You have only improved kotegaeshi and you are only able to feel that improvement when kotegaeshi happens.
But if you put the same effort into something more general, like the efficiency of a single step, then that gain is magnified by the number of times you take a step. You are able to feel noticably larger gains in performance when you work on smaller, more general skills instead of more complex and specific skills. Experts spend their time polishing things that affect much of what they do. Experts rarely obsess over singularities.


  1. Hmmmm. Just the other day I told my son that the reason I spend a so much time working on my basic tsuki was that it made everything else better...

  2. right. i'd guess you spend a lot of time on tsuki because you figure to be able to use it or something like it more often than, say, the jump spinning stompy downward x-block from heian godan.

    When I was doing a lot of karate i practiced a lot of tsuki but it was because that is a reason to practice the things that happen all the time in karate, like taking a tsugiashi or ayumiashi step, transferring power from the bottom to the top, timing of power, tying the arm to the body, etc...

    Tsuki happens a lot in a fight but not as much as taking a step.

  3. What is the absolute most basic skill that we should practice, and how often?

  4. Good question. that seems to be the logical conclusion of where this articla is going.

    In aiki we practice a set of basic motions, most of them are not anything more than taking a step or two or three. We practice these motions at the beginnig of every class and they are my standing homework set for my students to do as much as they can between classes. We also practice evasions with a partner in the context of diffusing wrist grabs at the beginning of every class. So we practice stepping and evasion a lot more than any other skills.

    for a while (weeks, months) folks are mostly in learning mode in the walking exercise and the wrist releases. after a while you've mostly got what youre going to get out of them an you do them every class as a sort of calibration. so, as for how often, I'd say 3-4 times per week for months or years then 2-3 times per week as refresher/calibration.

    I guess you might be of a mind to consider breath control as more fundamental than stepping or evasion since you might breathe more than you step during a conflict. But we don't delve into that.


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