Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called “Outliers: The story of Success“, and in it he suggests that people require roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in anything.
I wonder if that applies to martial arts as well?
Check out Gladwell’s short, 4 minute explanation on his theory:
Basically Gladwell suggests that in society there are certain outliers, or those people/places/things that exist on the fringes of the norm. One notable outlier concept is that of the ‘true expert’, or a person that has achieved supernormal success in a particular field. To become an outlier Gladwell’s study shows that you need 10,000 hours of practice.
10,000 hours sounds like a lot, and it is. Let’s put it into perspective with an example.
If you train on average 8 hours a week for 52 weeks, you’ll achieve 416 hours a year.
If you keep up that pace consistently you’ll reach the 10,000 hour mark after about 25 years.
That’s a lot of years. Gladwell calculates that most dedicated musicians and artists practice their craft for about 3 hours a day. At that pace it would take about 10 years to hit the mark of mastery.
To calculate your own pace, figure out how many hours a week you train. Think ‘on average’ to balance out your heavy weeks with the weeks you go on vacation, etc (and remember you’re only lying to yourself ; ). Multiply that number by 52. Now divide 10,000 by your number and you’ll get your rough yearly estimate.
Implications for Martial Artists
For the sake of study, let’s accept the 10,000 hour rule and analyze how it effects our training. We all have to weigh our growth and expectations in contrast to our week-to-week training. 2-3 nights a week at 2 hours at a pop is going to lead us toward the 25 year long haul as opposed to the (seemingly) short 10 year stint.
But, I also think we should feel encouraged. There are very few activities that inspire as much dedication and long-term commitment as martial arts. If you play in a slow pitch softball league no one really cares about how often you practice. If you want to pwn noobs in World of Warcraft you are on your own (with perhaps a little harassment from your guild). In martial arts you have an entire support network to encourage and help you.
Another more internal factor is illustrated by Gladwell during one of his speeches. He states that in a recent study scientists tried to figure out why Asian students generally do better in mathematics then western students. They checked genetics and biology but nothing significant could be found. What was truly telling was the result of one particular experiment.
In the experiment, students from both backgrounds were given very difficult mathematic equations, very much beyond what they were accustomed to. The western students gave up and moved on after 1-2 minutes. The Asian students had to be stopped after the 15 minute mark and told to move on.
Patience, persistence, perseverance – these are the qualities the Asian students had instilled in them, and are also the most important factors in determining a person’s success in the martial arts.
I’m sure you can see where I’m going here – traditional martial art training builds the human qualities that are paramount to success.
Wait A Minute! I See Holes In Your Plot!
Am I suggesting that if a person trapses into the dojo for 10,000 hours they are guaranteed success in both martial arts and life??
No. In fact, I think that would be far far from the truth.
Consider this – people generally work 8 hours a day at their job 5 days a week. That would make them masters within 5 years.How many people do you know that are masters at their job? How many people do you know that are even competent at their job after 5 years? Conversely, how many total idiots do you know who don’t belong anywhere near their job?
There’s a lot more to it than hours.
Smart Practice is as Paramount as Lots of Practice
If a musician plays “Smoke on the Water” all day every day, he’s never going to become Jimmy Page. If a martial artist spars everyday, he’ll never become Funakoshi Gichin. The reason why is because there is such a thing as smart practice.
What we become is a direct result of what we aspire to be. The 10,000 hours in question isn’t just about rote repetition. It also encompasses the research we do and the constant effort to improve our learning.
Let me put it another way. In real life or via youtube – have you ever watched a martial artist who has claimed 40+ years of experience, but turns out to be terribly unimpressive and unnatural? The reason why is because most of that person’s 40 years has probably been spent in TALKING about how great he/she is rather than practicing. They also very likely trained themselves into a box during their first 5 years and just sold that same package over and over again without any substantial branching out, diving inward, and improving.
This concept of smart training also differentiates what I consider expertise over mastery. I’ve met many expert martial artists, but very few masters. I personally think the 10,000 hours can deliver expertise, but it takes something more to achieve mastery.
One Bottom Line – Effort over Genius
Some martial artists are naturals who can make things look frustratingly easy. However, according to Gladwell, more often than not outliers combine modest innate talent with luck and extreme amounts of work.
If you aren’t Bruce Lee by nature, don’t panic. You can be an expert too if you really want it.
Former boxing champion Vernon Forrest was shot and killed in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday July 25th. The incident occured at a local gas station where Forrest was robbed at gun point and killed a few minutes later when in pursuit of the robber.
This is an extremely unfortunate event; one that every martial artist and fighter should take note of.
Forrest, 38, is best known as the first man to defeat Shane Mosley (an extremely dominant force in the boxing world). Forrest was also a member of the 1992 Olympic boxing team alongside Oscar De La Hoya. Achieving a professional record of 41-3, Forrest was able to attain the ranks of welterweight and junior-middleweight champion.
On Saturday the 25th Forrest stopped at an Atlanta gas station to refill the air in his tires. His 11-year-old son was in tow, whom Forrest allowed to enter the gas station itself. While refilling, Forrest was approached by a gun-wielding assailant and was robbed of his Rolex and championship ring.
As the robber made his escape, Forrest retrieved a firearm from his vehicle and began pursuit. The chase went on for roughly 3 blocks where the assailant was able to slip away. Forrest, still in close pursuit, encountered another individual, according to police lieutenant Keith Meadows:
“Forrest comes around the corner and he encounters another individual who we believe has a gun in his hand,” Meadows said, adding that Forrest and the second person “exchange words” before Forrest “realizes that this is not the individual who actually robbed him.
“So he turns to walk away and it was at that point the subject shot Mr. Forrest a number of times in the back,” Meadows said. – Yahoo Sports
Here we have a sports fighting phenom – strong, fast, confident, and effective. On top of that, he was reportedly a great father and humanitarian outside the ring. Yet despite all that he still fell victim to a classic case of street violence.
No matter how much ground-n-pound, kyusho, or sparring we do, we can never be sure how things will unfold on the street. Furthermore, if we let our anger and self-confidence take ahold of us, we might exacerbate an escapable situation.
No one can be blamed for Forrest’s death besides the assailants. However, it is becoming more evident that Forrest made questionable decisions in dealing with his situation. The first of which was making the choice to stop. Trainer Emanuel Steward had this to say:
“I always preach to my boxers to never stop for gas late at night when you don’t know your surroundings,” Steward said. “Vernon did, and his natural instinct as an athlete was to go after his assailant. He’s going to fight back. The problem is everyone, it seems, has a gun.” – Freep.com
Awareness and proper planning are very underrated tools for self defense. No matter how skilled or well armed you are, Steward is right – it seems like everyone has a gun.
The second issue was Forrest’s decision to chase after his possessions. I can only imagine what kind of sentimental value the championship ring must have had, but it was replaceable. As that robber ran off so did the immediate danger to Forrest and his son. Unfortunately, street justice wouldn’t have been served, and Forrest seemed like the kind of man who wanted to punish wrong doing.
Who can say they haven’t felt the same way at some point?
We need to take stock in our training and realize the importance of the mental side of body, mind, spirit. We need to be able to quickly choose when fighting is necessary and utterly required to protect ourselves and others. This is extremely difficult, especially when combined with the quick chaotic nature of true violence.
The third issue was Forrest’s disengagement from his eventual killer. When Forrest lost site of his robber, he encountered another individual who was allegedly wielding a firearm. The two exchanged words, and Forrest realized that this wasn’t the guy who robbed him. After that, he turned his back to walk away, and was shot repeatedly.
I don’t know what was said, but there is absolutely no reason to trust this random, armed individual enough to turn your back or drop your guard even for a moment.
When it comes to violent events, hindsight is easy. We can do shoulda-woulda all day, but the fact is those split second decisions determine the final outcome of the event. Perhaps we can store Forrest’s untimely death in the back our minds so that we might learn from it.
Have you ever seen Labyrinth, starring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly? It’s a 1986 movie that features the combined talents of Jim Henson and George Lucas. The film is weird, remarkable, and freaky…in a good way.
In the movie, a young Jennifer Connelly (Sarah) is aggravated with her life and role as perpetual babysitter to her younger brother (Toby). She wishes the Goblin King, a character from her favorite fairytale, would come take him away forever. Unfortunately for her, the Goblin King (Bowie) hears the request and obliges.
In order to save Toby, Sarah embarks on a long adventure through the Goblin King’s Labyrinth to save him.
Very early on in the labyrinth Sarah becomes befuddled. No matter how far or fast she runs, she can’t find any turns in the maze. It just seems endless and straight. She resolves to solve this puzzle by running even harder and faster down the corridor.
After what seems like an eternity of running, Sarah becomes flustered and stops. While agonizing over her fate, she hears a strange voice…
At first Sarah’s journey seemed pretty simple – all she had to do was run as hard and fast as possible and she would eventually find the solution. However, she quickly realized the limited scope of her progress as she simply ran the preset path without thinking.
Eventually she paused…and met someone who was able to change her perspective. It turns out the improvement she was looking for miles down her current path existed right where she was standing.
In fact, had she been a little more patient, she could have learned even more.
In your training you can bang full steam ahead as long as you want, but there’s no guarantee it will get you where you want to go. The walls will dictate you if you let them.
Always listen to a humble worm when it’s trying to show you other perspectives. Talk to as many worms as possible. Listen for as long as possible. Become a worm yourself.