Kyoshi's Technique of the Week


Technique of the Week (December 18th, 2006)

From Sensei Michael Mackay, Shihan,
Ueshiro Midtown Dojo at St. Barts

Onegai shimasu, and holiday greetings to all.

The referenced article from Fortune Magazine, "What it takes to be
great,"* contains a fascinating discussion of training methods needed to
excel. Dispelling the myth that natural talent contributes more to
success than hard work, the author, Geoffrey Colvin, provides a
compelling description of something called "deliberate practice."

To cite one of Hanshi's examples, Tiger Woods' success as a golfer has
nothing to do with hitting thousands of buckets of balls. Rather, it's
"hitting an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leaving the ball within
20 feet of the pin 80 percent of the time, continually observing results
and making appropriate adjustments, and doing that for hours every day"
that makes Tiger the top competitor in his field.

To practice deliberately:

1. Reach for objectives just beyond your grasp. If you can comfortably
belt out 20 pushups, force yourself to do 25.

2. Continually monitor results and make precise adjustments. Outside
of class: use the mirror, scrutinize your kata on videotape once a
month, count the seconds you can stand on one foot after a front snap
kick or during universal block. In class: constantly check if your
punching arm is straight, your fist is high in the chamber, your stance
is correct. Deliberate practice means nit-picking each detail ad

3. Spend less time practicing mushin ("no mind") and more time
consciously implementing specific corrections.

4. Practice high levels of repetition consistently over time. Few of
us can train as a full-time career, but training has to become a habit
if we expect to maintain, let alone improve, our skills.

5. Set specific, incremental goals, e.g., "This week I'll hit makiwara
30 times at half speed and power; by next month I'll build up to 40
repetitions at 80 percent speed and power." Before you know it you will
reach enough full power repetitions to switch to maintenance mode. Then
shift the focus to improving some other skill.

6. Approach class with a different attitude. Instead of coming to the
dojo for "fun" or to socialize or simply relieve stress, adopt the
mindset of a professional athlete or, better still, a trained warrior
where the outcome of a lethal encounter hinges on your martial skill.

7. Get feedback: from your instructors, your training partner, the
mirror, the makiwara. As cited in the attached article, if you don't
know how successful you are, (1) you won't get any better and (2) you'll
stop caring.

Note that burning calories, sweating profusely, breathing loudly or
training recklessly to the point of injury are not examples of
deliberate practice.

In our style the instructor is responsible for managing "deliberate
practice" by assessing each student's limitations and pushing him just a
little beyond. But at the higher ranks progress is more elusive and
deliberate practice becomes the student's responsibility as the
instructor's role evolves into offering advanced technical corrections.

Vince Lombardi is famous for his quote, "Only perfect practice makes
perfect." The challenge to all of us this week is to find out how.

Domo arigato gozaimasu, Hanshi.
Michael Mackay, Shihan,
Ueshiro Midtown Dojo at St. Barts


* Fortune, Oct. 30, 2006, p. 88-96. Domo arigato to Mr. Daniel Lax for