Delusions of Competence

Aikido throwRecently I was training with a black belt in my Aikido class. Having trained for many years, he appears an expert. His moves appear polished. He easily recognized and replicated the techniques that we were to practice like he had done it hundreds of times before.

Yet I noticed something strange: He couldn’t do it.

He thought he could. And he elegantly went through the motions. But seemingly unbeknown to him, his techniques were ineffective – as pretty as they looked, they would work only if his partner knew to fall at the right time in the right way. They were close, but the angles, timing and rotations were clearly wrong. And, since I didn’t know “the rules”, I just stood there watching as he verbally told me to fall down!

This was very confusing to him… as if everybody else had “played along”. Unfortunately, it being only my sixth session with this school, I didn’t know how to. Perhaps I am missing something and his understanding of the techniques superseded the need for their practical application. But it got me thinking.

Top NFL players play computer simulations to improve their skills. Reading Wired this morning, I was informed that “almost everybody” plays something like Madden NFL, and that not only has this enhanced the strategic thinking skills of players, but parts of the simulation has started creeping into the real game.

Now, I’d guess that this is like getting a tennis player or a golfer to do weight training. Just by playing the game, they might get stronger, but by doing specific strength training, you can build “strengths” in ways that wouldn’t normally happen just by “playing the game”, and these strengths can offer a serious advantage… in this case, by exposing players to a much greater number of realistic situations that reward (or demand) heightened strategic awareness, you build better strategic awareness. It’s effectively Deliberate Practice for a subset of the game…

And it’s important to be able to tell the difference!

You can get away with stuff in Madden’s that you can’t do in the real game. Those are the limits of the game. You can get away with things in training if your partner knows how they “should” behave that can undermine your performance when working with someone who doesn’t share those rules.

It’s great to use simulations and training techniques to accelerate our development. And when we can focus on a neglected component of the activity, we can enjoy some amazing improvements in our performance…but you have to remember to take those skills back to the real world. And there, as the best all know, you don’t just need to get the individual techniques “right”: You need to find a way to put it together and make it work for you.

4 thoughts on “Delusions of Competence

  1. Cameron Kretschmer

    Ha! I see EXACTLY the same thing in my slam class at the gym. Almost no one there actually knows how to throw a punch or hold focus pads correctly, so they all have learnt the same terrible habits that work just fine as long as your partner compensates (i.e. throws punches at the same speed the receiver is SWINGING!!! the focus pads) but screws up against me as (a) I go MUCH faster than they swing and (b) they SLAM The pads down on your hands just as you’re about to tense on impact………. They don’t seem to understand if you’re holding a pad to represent someone’s head it shouldn’t move like an arm. ;-)

  2. Daniel Smith Post author

    Cameron, that’s exactly why I’m grateful that the guys in the gym here don’t even try to hold pads for me anymore… it’s so much safer to just find some standing bags, and get into proper padwork when I’m training with someone that knows what they’re doing.

    Funny thing is that it really isn’t that hard to hold pads. I even taught Wendy how to do it when I was teaching Muay Thai over here… took a whole 10 minutes. The trouble with the slam/ combat aerobics classes is that the instructors often (mostly?) don’t know what they’re doing, so they pass on poor technique to their participants… the get away with it because most of the class aren’t strong enough to do any serious damage to themselves.

    Looking forward to holding pads with you again!

  3. Gavin

    I totally agree. It wasn’t until i started teaching that i really learnt consciously what i was doing unconsciously. And was able to keep working on it.
    Its important to hit pads but its very important to learn movement of the legs and directing the hips to the power. And dropping your body weight for big power and staying on your toes to move quicker.

  4. Daniel Smith Post author

    Well said, Gav – hitting the pads is necessary, but far from sufficient… hitting pads the same way day after day just wears out our joints.

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