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!
It doesn’t work that way. The original paperdescribes 10,000 of deliberate practice.
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.