I have been in a number of discussions about how to teach/couch people to develop a range of skills.
I have been doing some reading around various sport and martial arts pedagogy and there has been one very important thing that stands out. The key to advancing in any activity is ‘simple practice’ or practice that focuses on gradually building higher level skills through constant practice and refinement of the fundaments.
One of the biggest challenges I face as a trainer of the tournament arts is how do I get a student to develop a range of necessary skills to succeed in armoured combat. It is one thing to get someone to be able to strike the pell correctly or to run through a pad drill but get them to be able to move and cut to an opening in an opponent’s defence while moving the shield into a good position is another.
What should be obvious at this point is that any time you run into a problem teaching a high level skill to someone there is a problem with one of the fundamental skills that supports it.
If all of the fundamental movement skills are there it shouldn’t take much coaching from me to get someone doing a pretty good version of what I want them to do. If it takes me more than five minutes to get someone to start grasping what I’m asking them to do then I start to think there may be something more than “bad technique” at play.
Here are a couple of examples to illustrate my point. On the right are High Level Skills we all want to do and on the left are Fundamental Level Skills that are often lacking when someone runs into problems with them…
|High Level Skill||Fundamental Level Skill|
|Throwing a pendulum||Warm up motion|
|Striking with power||Body movement and position|
|Flourishes (combination attacks)||Body Position and foot work|
|Thrusts||Returns and grip|
So this list is just by way of an example but you should get the idea. You could even have another column to the right of the fundamental level skills of Foundation or Body Movement Skills such as body weight squats, lunges and Kettle Bell swings, but that is another post.
Now the problem many people run into is that we all want to focus on the left hand column but it is right hand column that holds the keys to real progress.
This means that often when we want to improve a high level skill you don’t want to look to a higher level skill or technique, you want to look back at the fundamental skills and techniques and improve on them.
Again, this gets tough when the Ego tells us that we’re too advanced to go back and work on the basics or, worse yet, that we’ve gotten this far without mastering them so they can’t hold the key to going even further.
This mindset comes from protecting the image we have of ourselves as a “good” combatant and not from a sincere desire to master our art at a higher level.
The funny thing is that by focusing on your fundamental level skills you’ll improve your high level skills without really trying.
“If you continue in this simple practice every day you can attain something wonderful.” – Shunryu Suzuki
The key is a “simple practice”, one that focuses on gently nudging our high level skills up through a constant study and refinement of the fundamentals.