I stumbled upon an interesting quote today, one I think has a lot of merit for martial artists and self defense enthusiasts. Actually it’s two quotes but I’ll start with one:
When we look at any kind of cognitively complex field — for example, playing chess, writing fiction or being a neurosurgeon — we find that you are unlikely to master it unless you have practiced for 10,000 hours.
I truly believe this 10.000 hour rule applies in spades if you want to become a martial arts expert.
One of the reasons Loren and I got along well when we got to know each other was because we both like to do loads of solo training. Many practitioners only do their reps when they go to class. Then they go home and don’t practice until next class. I never understood that. As a teenager, I’d come home after class and repeat the things I’d just learned. The next day, I trained those again. Partly out of fear of forgetting them (I’m a slow learner) but mainly to just get better. Some of my classmates didn’t understand this was the primary reason why I progressed faster than them: I trained more.
I often tell my beginning students to do this too: practice every day. If only for 5 minutes, but do practice. When they take my advice, it shows: sometimes in as little as a week, they make huge progress. Five minutes a day doesn’t seem like much but it adds up. For some reason, us Western folks often think we’re wasting our time if we don’t train for at least an hour. That’s just not true. Repetition is the key. You need to get your reps in, regardless of how you do so.
Loren always emphasized this in his writing and videos, get your reps in. I think he’s spot on. I still try to sneak in as many reps as I can. My girlfriend is used to me practicing at all possible moments, regardless of where we are (though I have become more discreet over the years and don’t embarrass her in public too often anymore…)
Side-note: if you want to throw out the “perfect practice makes perfect” cliché, don’t. I’ll just tell you to go stand in a corner and count to 10.000…
I want to become a martial arts expert!
Cool, start training more! It’s that simple; But at the same time, it’s a lot more complex. Here’s the second quote:
Those 10,000 hours have to be invested in the right things, and as the disjointed nature of Hamming’s talk underscores, the question of what are the right things is slippery and near impossible to nail down with confidence.
This is where the plot thickens…
10.000 hours of training is a lot. You can boil it down to about three hours a day, seven days a week, for ten years straight. That’s a lot of training. Let’s assume you’re up for it but then you run into a problem right away:
How precisely do you fill those ten years of training?
- What exactly should you train?
- In what order?
- Which parts should you emphasize at which stage?
- When do you know you’ve been training the wrong things?
- Which training methodology should you use?
There are tons more questions in this list, too many to sum up here, but they bring forward the main problem the second quote illustrates: you have no way of knowing you’re going about it the right way. There’s just no way you can say 100% sure which are the right things to do in your training. IMO and IME, anybody who claims otherwise is trying to sell you something.
Sure, there are general blueprints you can follow and there’s a huge body of work available to draw ideas from. You also have easy access to tons of experienced teachers, people who’ve been there and done that. So if there ever was a time when you could find information on how to train martial arts or self defense systems, today is it.
But these experts aren’t you. They can’t be you. So they can never make the best decision for you specifically. Nobody knows better what you need than you. Of course, this implies you’re honest to yourself and aren’t delusional. But I believe the reasoning is valid enough: don’t count on those experts to do your thinking for you.
I still want to be a martial arts expert!
Good for you! My only advice would be to ask yourself: do you want it bad enough? Because 10.000 hours is a lot of time and effort. Without guarantees that you make the right choices as far as what you should be training. So it might take a whole lot longer still before you reach the point where you can consider yourself an expert. So I repeat: how much do you want it?
Me? I’m well past those 10.000 hours, so I think I’m entitled to speak. Do I consider myself an expert? Nope. I’m just a guy who’s been training longer than many people. I learned some things along the way (I better have…), made tons of mistake, have some skills but I still have a long way to go when I look at my teachers and others in the same field. Some of my friends have twice the amount of training that I’ve done and I’m nowhere near their level. Others have only a fraction of my amount of training but tons more live experience. In certain things, this makes them more skilled than me.
Frankly, I think labels like “expert” or “master” are highly overrated these days. There are very few people I personally think deserve those titles. Invariably, all of them refuse to use them. They prefer you call them by their first name. Those are the people I look up to. Them and my teachers are the people who’s opinion I care about. If they say I’m going down the wrong path, I listen up. If some anonymous Internet troll talks smack about me, I couldn’t care less. Life’s too short for wasting my time on that crap.
The best advice I can give is what my teacher wrote in one of his books:
The word “student” comes form the Latin verb “studere” which means “to be eager” or “diligent”. If you want to be an expert, you’ll have to become a lifelong student. He gives a couple of guidelines for this, writing that a good student:
- Looks and listens.
- Thinks, then asks.
- Is neither too harsh nor too soft with his training partners.
- Constantly seeks to learn, both inside and outside the class.
- Trains and competes honestly.
These guidelines are not hard to understand. But I’ve found them sometimes very hard to follow. It’s easy to be too hard on a training partner or to be dishonest with yourself when you train. These things don’t necessarily happen out of malice, they’re just part of being human. When they happen to you, correct your mistakes and move on.
All I can add is that when you try to follow these guidelines, chances are good you’ll not waste too many of those 10.000 hours on the wrong things.
That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?
Nope, just one more word of advice: Above all, have fun training. If it isn’t fun, you won’t ever make it to those 10.000 hours.