Sometimes I feel a combination of discouragement or even envy at the natural athletes that seem to learn to execute techniques quickly and who receive lots of admiration for their skill or individual style. And so I’m not surprised when I hear similar sentiments from the students I have the privilege to work with. What I try to share in those cases is something that GM Joe Manley has said many times to me:
Progress is measured by direction, not by speed
What that means to me is that if you are worried about your speed in moving forward, and not in carefully ensuring you are learning the technique as taught, you may be training a lot but not necessarily making progress. The rate of progress is determined by 1, the extent to which you can regularly train and 2, the level of feedback available to you to quickly identify any errors in training.
While we might not have a specific metric for progress, we can all look back and see whether we’ve advanced our level of skills compared to a past time. Sometimes I’ve backslid, and every time that’s happened it’s result of not practicing (or reviewing) something regularly.
Whenever we are learning something new, there’s a classic “S curve” that captures the type of progress you’ll see in yourself or others. (Credits: This image is from an essay I saw…). When you’re just learning a new technique, you’re at the bottom of the curve. Regular practice brings you up that long slope. As you internalize the skills, there are still bits of refinement that occur – at that point you know your near the top of the “S”.
Regular practice doesn’t mean having to spend hours a day. It might be attending class once or twice a week, and practicing a skill (or set of skills) 5-10 minutes 3-4 times on your own.
The really cool thing, though, is that there’s not just one “S” curve. In our Bando class, for example, students just learning a block or a strike will follow that S curve until they can execute it as taught. Once students are at the top of their “S”, though, there are opportunities for further refinement and integration of more subtle movements. Then the S curve starts again as these new refinements are integrated. Potentially, there’s a plethora of S’s before one has truly mastered a technique.
So take heart! If you can tell that you are making progress in your training, even if it’s not as fast as you’re imagining, that’s truly wonderful.