The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Maybe 10,000 Hours Isn't The Answer

Ever since Malcolm Gladwell's book, "Outliers" came out, there has been a lot of discussion about accumulating training time on the clock (or calendar). After all, "kung fu" indicates a skill acquired by hard work over a long period of time. After all, it's so simple and straight forward - just rack up 10,000 hours and voila, you're a master!

My own opinion had been that we only serve to drive ourselves crazy by trying to figure out ways to cram in more and more training time. Budo study after all, is meant to enhance our lives; not replace it. Spending all one's time training in my view, would be a pretty bleak existence.

My view is that the martial art I study is trying to teach me to move in certain specific ways, and if I make that way of moving habitual, then I am reinforcing that, training during every waking moment.

But here below is an excerpt from an article that takes an entirely different direction. It's written by George Leynard, who is a senior aikido teacher. The entire article may be read by clicking here. Please do. It's very thought provoking.

Aikido - The Theory of Limits (Part1)

One of my students a while back gave me a book on the Theory of Limits. Suffice it to say that a) it was totally and completely over my head after about four chapters or so and b) it totally changed how I thought about the process of teaching and training.

Without getting too technical, what the book said was that, in a complex system like a factory, in order to increase output it is essential to analyze the different factors that went into production and arrive at which is the "limiting factor". Resources can be devoted to all of the other factors with little or no increase in the out, hence the "limiting factor.

If one treats the acquisition of Aikido skills as just such a complex system, with increase in skill level being the "output" desired, one can see how the theory of limits would be a useful way to think about ones training or how one would teach.

If most people were asked what the limiting factor was in their training, I think that most would reply "time". Most folks simply do not have the time to train as they would like. If they only could train more, then they would really be able to take their training to a higher level... But is time REALLY the true limiting factor. Most of the time I would say not.

I believe that the limiting factors for most Aikido folks fall into one of several categories. These all have to do with very basic and fundamental factors which means that they represent true "limiting factors" which, if not corrected make any progress impossible.

A few years ago, Ushiro Kenji Sensei, the Karate teacher was asked what one single thing would he point to that would, if addressed, make Aikido better. He didn't hesitate a second before replying "the attacks". I think that he is absolutely right and I would like to talk about the various issues with our attacks that make them the "limiting factor" for most Aikido practitioners.


Avocational Singer said...

As an older (49) Kung Fu student who started three years ago with a very low fitness level and state of conditioning, I have had to proceed carefully as I make a transition to being more active and fit. I have had to develop a rhythm of doing just the right amount of training, making sure I give my body adequate recovery time. I am progressing slowly, but my gains are solid.

I have watched many people go at it from a "more is better" kind of attitude. I will come in the dressing room and I will overhear conversations like "I have been here for three hours and now I'm going to take this class too and then the kickboxing afterward!!!"

Sometimes after my class, they ask me if I'm going to stay for kickboxing, and I tell them I'm not ready yet. I don't feel that I could get through another intense class after the intense one I just took. I walk away feeling like one of the least students.

However, I have not noticed these students who do so much improving dramatically. They do seem to have more stamina, but many of them become injured and have to sit on the sidelines for a few weeks and come back.

I believe that I must listen to my body and understand the role that the rest time plays in my growth.

I completely agree that using new movement, informed by study and training, within one's daily life greatly enhances one's training.

Thanks for always great and thought-provoking posts

Rick said...

A.S., I think your approach is very wise.
Another thing to factor in is what's going on in your life. I train more and ammore focused as winter sets in. During the summer, I get in a lot of my practice doing yard work, for example.
It comes down to maintaining a view of the big picture.

Shang Lee said...

I find push hands open my eyes to this. I recently spoke to people who trained for 30 years and they still have not got it. They have not tried push hands. Push hands is not a miracle pill, but it did open my eyes to how far away I am from the real thing. It made me feel that my previous 1000 hours were totally useless!! (i just make up the number 1000... i think it's much less). Thanks as always, for sharing great posts.

Michael said...

I don't think 10,000 hours of hard-work will make you a master, a couple of hours of right study maybe more than enough.