Friday, June 19, 2009

5 Ways to Learn Faster

You might find it surprising to know that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a naturally gifted martial artist. In fact, the opposite is probably true. Woe was the poor teacher who gave me my "introductory" lessons. A solid hour of working on a single stance and a single step can drive even the most patient of people to the brink - particularly when the student is still confused at the end.

To this day, in classes with my peers, I am among the most bewildered. I rarely seem to "get it" right away, and consequently spend the first class on a new subject frustrating my poor teacher. (Some things never change.) However, I can say with confidence that I am usually at the front of the pack by the end of two or three classes - and as evidenced by various medals, degrees and well performed techniques, I eventually "get it" better than most.

What's my secret?

I practice more. Or, better said, I leverage small bits of time to create big improvements in my practice. Here are some ideas:

1) Visualize. I'm always thinking about my techniques. In the shower, before I go to sleep, driving in my car, spacing out at my desk... I use what I like to call "focused daydreaming." What do I visualize?

a. My teacher doing the technique.
b. Me doing the technique piece by piece, at first incorrectly and then getting better until I'm doing it perfectly.
c. Me using the technique while sparring.
d. Me using the technique while defending myself.
e. Someone else correctly performing the technique on me.

2) Practice in class. I'm always surprised to see students standing around during a class. If you are waiting in line for your turn at the target, don't talk to the person next to you, practice the technique.

3) If the teacher is talking, I'm listening. I do this two ways - one, if the teacher is explaining something I never interrupt to ask a question, or add my own understanding. I just keep my trap shut, and look for any new little gem of information that might improve me. Two, I eavesdrop when other students are asking questions and the teacher is explaining things to them. Many times I learn something about my problem, by listening to someone else solve their problem.

4) I practice my weakest techniques first.

5) Mindful practice. I never perform an action without thought. I am always trying to think about every little detail of what I'm doing - to put each toe in right place, to be careful where I'm looking, where is my balance etc. I am hunting for anything that might need improvement, and once weakness is found I attack it.