Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

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 ~

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Book Review: Principle-Driven Skill Development

How do you improve your martial arts training? As a teacher, how do you keep your students engaged and foster their development?

The “traditional” way is to tell the students to train harder, and make more repetitions to somehow internalize the hidden lessons these practices have to teach.

Is there a better way?

Russ Smith, the chief instructor at the Burinkan Dojo, where he primarily teaches Goju-ryu Karate, has examined these questions and has come up with an answer in his new book, Principle-Driven Skill Development, published by Tambuli Media.

The traditional idea of training harder resonates with the theory of 10,000 hours of practice which has been largely misinterpreted by many after being brought to public attention by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers.

When the public became aware of the 10,000-hour theory, people in all sorts of activities thought that if they simply increased the time of their practice sessions, accumulate their 10,000 hours and master their subject. Bam!

What Mr. Smith came around to is applying the ideas of deliberate practice to karate instruction.

Using his own Goju-ryu as an example, in his book he delivers a blue print for imparting instruction and conducting practice for the more rapid and satisfying progress of his students.

Smith begins with a clear, unambiguous vocabulary, where a given word or term is not used to describe many different things; or many different terms or words are used to describe one thing – a source of confusion for students.

He then very clearly breaks down what he feels are the core principles, strategies, tactics and preferences for his Goju-ryu style.

Beginning with the most basic elements upon which the others are built, Smith goes on to show how through many appropriate drills, that his students can come to truly understand that element. The drills aren’t the gold; they are only tools to be picked up, used or set aside depending on how well they work for that specific student.

Smith reaches out to the ancestor arts of Goju-ryu, such as Five Ancestors, Pak Mei and White Crane, to add depth and a greater dimension to his drills.

Learning a physical technique is pretty simple. Much more difficult is understanding. Understanding is the key. With understanding the student can see how each element fits into the whole and increasingly become self-correcting.

Smith is then able to circle back to the foci of traditional instruction, basics and kata, to demonstrate how these elements are alive in these practices. Basics and kata now become more relevant to the student and something much, much more than they physical exercise they represent. From the understanding acquired, the student is then more easily able to apply what he has learned to free practice, kumite.

Mr. Smith believes that this approach can be applied to the instruction and practice of any martial art. The original paper on deliberate practice bears him out.

Mr Smith gives us a practical case study and application of the theory of deliberate practice in martial arts. I have benefited from his book in my own practice of taijiquan. I think that you will too.


AlchemistGeorge said...

To what extent does the book apply to arts other than Karate? Is the information written in such a way as to form a tool set that one can use to approach a different art?

Rick Matz said...

I think the author did a good job identifying the principles, characteristics and preferences that he wanted to focus upon. He explained how he developed the drills he used to teach them and then tied these back to traditional practices.

I could see using this blueprint with the aikido I practiced as a young man as well as the taijiquan I practice now.

I wouldn’t expect to sit down and think up a fully formed system at once. You’d probably come up with an outline you expand, fill out and adjust as you acquire experience in deliberate practice.

Mark said...

Also included are concepts and techniques from White Crane, Five Ancestor Boxing, Pak Mei and other arts. said...

I've used a ton of the information to laying out groundwork for my own students path primarily in wuzuquan, and pak mei classes, but have found parallels in almost any art I have been exposed to. Much has to do with the shared DNA, and principles within many arts. I am not a goju practitioner at all, and have found a wealth of usable knowledge to bring to the floor of every class. Principles are also explained in English, and not technically goju only, but almost universal in the arts. Goju just used for the photos, and demonstrations.