Water Mountain: Martial Arts and Health

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Got What You Need to Git Gud?

Is your martial arts training process is causing actual improvement or if you were just good to start.
Graphic for Git Gud with martial arts or qi gong

The important difference between being found and being made.

If you’re trying to git gud or help someone else to git gud, it is helpful to know whether you’re using an approach that actually leads to you getting gud.  A very basic, very common error is mistaking systems that are designed to find or select talent versus systems that are designed to make a person skilled.

If I talk about the approach used in different martial arts, or even in general athletics, it will cause hurt feelings and defensive flaming, so instead I will examine a neutral, fake activity to illustrate the problems: competitive orange juice drinking.

For this example, let’s say I have a group of ten people and I want to train the best orange juice drinkers in the world. To meet my goals, I set out 10 one gallon jugs of the orange juice on a table.  As part of their training, I require each person to drink a gallon in under 7 minutes.

Out of 10 people, one drops out immediately, leaving 9. Another drinks a glass full, and breaks out in bright red splotches. Unfortunately, they obviously have a severe allergy and can’t continue.  Now, only 8 people remain.

Two people vomit after consuming a half gallon, leaving 6. Another simply gets too full to continue, leaving 5.

The remaining 5 complete the task of drinking a gallon. It was a hard first day of training, but I now have 5 people that are much more skilled than they were.

Or do I? Did I really teach anyone anything?

The next day of training, the task is the same, but the drinking is to be done in 3.5 minutes instead of 7.

It turns out, one of the remaining 5 decides they want out overnight, and only 4 show.  Two candidates are able to complete the task. At this point, my training method is 20% successful.

I have 2 people that are skilled and trained for the next competition.

Was Anyone Trained to Do Anything?

I think I can say I did very little to train anyone.  It could be argued that I may have motivated my team to drink the orange juice, and to make the attempts.  It is also true that some trainers are not really teachers or coaches, and that the primary thing they provide is motivation.  I agree that providing motivation is a valuable skill to have.  However, nothing that was done in the above example could be considered motivation.  In the example, I set out the materials.  In a martial arts setting, that would be like setting out the gear.

The Filter

What I did was to set up a filter that tested whether people had the genetic ability to do the task– they were not allergic, had a big stomach, could swallow quickly, and maybe even loved orange juice.  The tasks also selected people with the right psychological make up–they had strong personal motivating skills.


Filtering (or selecting to use the evolutionary term) is about finding people that are already a good fit for the task.  In martial arts, that good person then just does the task they were built for.  Is there any training occurring there?

Being Made

Many martial arts or martial art schools claim that they are for everyone. That is a nice idealism.  At its best it’s a code word way of saying, “We try to be accessible to everyone.”   By itself, this statement is a good aspiration.  The statement by itself is meaningless if the art or teacher doesn’t have the ability to teach a person to ascend skill levels and is instead only selecting people that can easily make that trip.

What Does Training Look Like?

Let’s go back to our competitive orange juice example and look at what happens if change it from finding ideal competitors to making competitors.

The first thing that will happen is that the candidate pool will shrink in size.   When looking at filtering, the bigger the pool, the better.  If you’re only successful 20% of the time w/ selection and you want more successful people, you need to increase the number of people passing through the filter.

In our example, starting w/ 20 people rather than 10 would yield 4 successes–double the number of competitors.

Training is more time and resource intensive than filtering.   In our example, OJ is the only major resource.  The time that the trainer is putting in is minimal. The trainer needs only enough time to design & implement a filter.

In contrast, in a training situation where we make competitors, the coach must assess & develop pathways for each candidate.  The degree to which a coach must respond to candidate needs can be adjusted up or down to fit the program irl but these first steps always create a necessary time sink.

In the OJ example, the coach down adjusts the candidate group to 8 to be able to meet the greater need for time for each individual.

As the first session approaches, one candidate drops out.   This drop stat can be minimized irl, but always exists.   A drop of one would be very good, because you know, people.

Seven then enter the training process.  Since I’m not an actual trainer of competitive of orange juice drinking, I don’t want to describe the process, but it would likely involve a systematic, step by step improvement of the ability to take in liquids, breath control, and a way to break down the fear of the process.

All training processes involve  some self-discovery, so let’s say there is a drop of 2 more candidates as the training goes on.  Essentially, they discover that competitive OJ is not something they want to do.  So,  you can see the filter process is still active, it just doesn’t dominate the process.

The remaining 5 complete the process and end up being competitive orange juice drinkers.  This process yields 3 more people from a smaller starting population

As a martial practitioner of 43 years with decades of teaching experience across thousands of clients, I can safely say that this example is typical of what you see between simply finding matches for a task, and training or making skills needed to meet a task.

If you are looking to git gud, your best investment is into systems designed to make you good.

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