The following extended quote is from Think Like a Commander, the US Army’s guide to Adaptive Thinking. It’s a nice exploration of a big aspect of what Forms in martial arts can be — deliberate practice — arguably the most effective tool (although not the only one!) in the development of technical expertise.
Deliberate Practice vs Train As You Fight
The maxim “train as you fight” has risen to such a level of familiarity in the U.S. Army that the value of the notion goes almost unquestioned. Yet studies of the development of expertise clearly indicate that “as you fight” meaning performing in fully realistic simulated battles is neither the most effective nor efficient method of developing expertise. Such “performances” can help a novice become acquainted with applying military knowledge, and can reinforce existing knowledge in an experienced person, but will not in and of themselves lead to the development of expertise. In many fields where expertise has been systematically studied, including chess, music and sports, development beyond advanced novice level requires large amounts of deliberate practice (Ericsson, Krampe & Tesch-Roemer, 1993) and good coaching (Ericsson, 1996; Chamess, Krampe & Mayr, 1996). The combination of long periods of study, relatively few chances to practice, and little or no deliberate practice with quality coaching has led to a situation in the army where most officers can talk an excellent battle command game, but reveal only an amateurish effort in actual performance. How does deliberate practice differ from performance or from casual exercise? Here are some characteristics that distinguish deliberate practice.
- Repetition. Task performance occurs repetitively rather than at its naturally occurring frequency. A goal of deliberate practice is to develop habits that operate expertly and automatically. If appropriate situations occur relatively infrequently or widely spaced apart while performing “as you fight” they will not become habitual as readily.
- Focused feedback. Task performance is evaluated by the coach or learner during performance. There is a focus on elements of form, critical parts of how one does the task. During an “as you fight” performance these elements appear in a more holistic fashion.
- Immediacy of performance. After corrective feedback on task performance there is an immediate repetition so that the task can be performed more in accordance with expert norms. When there is feedback during “train as you fight” performance, it is often presented during an after-action review (AAR) and there is usually not an opportunity to perform in accordance with the feedback for some time.
- Stop and start. Because of the repetition and feedback, deliberate practice is typically seen as a series of short performances rather than a continuous flow.
- Emphasis on difficult aspects. Deliberate practice will focus on more difficult aspects. For example, when flying an airplane normally only a small percentage of one’s flight time is consumed by takeoffs and landings. In deliberate practice simulators, however, a large portion of the time will be involved in landings and takeoffs and relatively little in steady level flight. Similarly, rarely occurring emergencies can be exercised very frequently in deliberate practice.
- Focus on areas of weakness. Deliberate practice can be tailored to the individual and focused on areas of weakness. During “train as you fight” performances the individual will avoid situations in which he knows he is weak, and rightly so as there is a desire to do one’s best.
- Conscious focus. Expert behavior is characterized by many aspects being performed with little conscious effort. Such automatic elements have been built from past performances and constitute skilled behavior. In fact, normally, when the expert consciously attends to the elements, performance is degraded. In deliberate practice the learner may consciously attend to the element because improving performance at the task is more important in this situation than performing one’s best. After a number of repetitions attending to the element to assure that it is performed as desired, the learner resumes performing without consciously attending to the element.
- Work vs. play. Characteristically, deliberate practice feels more like work and is more effortful than casual performance. The motivation to engage in deliberate practice generally comes from a sense that one is improving in skill.
- Active coaching. Typically a coach must be very active during deliberate practice, monitoring performance, assessing adequacy, and controlling the structure of training. Typically in “train as you fight” performances there are no coaches, instead there are observers/controllers who attempt to interfere as little as possible in the performance.
At the Ontario Self Defence Centre and Whitby Martial Arts Academy, we value deliberate practice. Our training techniques require deliberate practice to perfect. I can say with all martial arts, practice makes perfect.
If you or your child are interested in enrolling in martial arts classes, the Whitby Martial Arts Academy has the classes and teachers to help your child succeed. We will do our best to help you achieve your martial arts goals. Come on down to the Ontario Self Defence Centre. Whether it’s Safety. Self-protection. Confidence. Martial Arts Training. Kung Fu. Fitness. Health. Speed or Strength we got you covered. We offer classes for Men, Women and Children.
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