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10000 hours over 28000 days

Recently there has been a lot of discussion on the Judo Listserver about a concept in the new book titled Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I haven't read the book, but apparently Gladwell found in his research that one factor remains remarkably constant between experts in various domains – practice time. Apparently, it takes on the order of 10000 hours of practice to master a skill to a world-class level, regardless of the skill. This is something that is very interesting to me because of my interest in genius and how experts do the things they do.
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In an article from April 2007, I wrote that a typical life expectancy in the industrialized world is just over 28000 days (78 years plus or minus). This suggests that it takes about a third of a lifetime of practicing one hour per day every day to master a skill. Most of us practice longer than one hour at a time, but it's probably very few of us that do it day after day, so 7 hours a week is probably a good estimate of the level of commitment of a lot of us seriously addicted martial artists. Thus, about one-third of a lifetime to mastery.
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Another way to look at that is to look at your work life. If you spend 5-6 hours per day mostly doing the skills of your job, then you will achieve 10000 hours, and will have mastered the skills of your job within 5-10 years. That seems to be a pretty reasonable time frame.
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One time I asked a judo and aikido master how did he ever make the breakthroughs, leading to such remarkable skill in himself and some of his students. He responded, “Well, first you have to remember that I had about 30 years of judo experience before I got to really thinking about this aikido material.” 30 years – more than one-third of a lifetime.
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Another example of multiple-skill mastery, and perhaps a counterexample to the third-of-a-life idea, is Josh Waitzkin, who by his early 20's has mastered chess, become a national and world champion in taichi, and has now set his sights on BJJ with the goal of winning the Mundials. I say perhaps a counterexample because Waitzkin is considered a prodigy, with an un-natural proclivity for learning new things.
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And while we're talking about prodigies, you have to mention The Prodigy, BJ Penn, for achieving his BJJ black belt in something under 5 years – roughly half the expected time, and for becoming the #1 lightweight fighter in the world (per Wikipedia) – all in far less than the third of a lifetime suggested for mastery.
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In a related discussion thread on the Convocation of Combat Arts, we've been discussing shuhari – a concept in traditional Japanese arts that suggests that as you progress in an art, you first imitate your teacher closely (shu), then you begin to adapt the art to fit yourself personally (ha), and finally you leave or transcend the system and the teacher (ri). Rob Redmond brings up the point that ri is a form of the Japanese word hanareru, which can be translated as something like 'release.' So, eventually you master the system and just let it go. Nick Lowry suggested that it probably takes at least a decade per stage in the shuhari process. That's probably not far off based on the third-of-a-lifetime (10000 hours over 28000 days) ideas.
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Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading Outliers because it seems to relate to these ideas that we've been tossing around of shuhari.
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2 comments:

  1. I bought (using your link) and read Outliers... It is a great book. Very interesting stuff - one of those books that blows your mind with stuff that just makes a whole lot of sense... Highly recommended. I also bought the Complete Calvin and Hobbes and JiuJitsu University. I highly recommend these as well.

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  2. nicely written. The connection to shuhari is well made.

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