Learn, Practice, Train

Another powerful concept from my capoeira experience is “Learning – Practicing – Training” cycle, which is useful for day-to-day life too. This is something that my students for sure heard about, but the importance of this is worth another repetition.

When we talk about “mastering” – achieving a high level of proficiency, or skill in a particular field, or activity, like “mastering the movement”, “mastering the musical instruments” – we usually go through three stages.

Learning is the process of acquiring new knowledge. Usually it takes about 5 minutes: you see what the teacher shows you; you understand the steps you have to do. That’s it. That what Chinese people would call “脑子学会了” (my brain learned [but my body didn’t yet]).

Did you master the skill? No. But you have reached the first stage – conscious incompetence, i.e. awareness of the skill or knowledge gap, recognizing what you don’t know.

Then you have to practice. Practicing involves the repeated application of skills or knowledge with the goal of improvement. Important addition to this, is that this stage requires no outside pressure. You practice deliberately on your own time, rhythm, with comfortable speed, without any stress.

With enough practice you might reach conscious competence – you can apply the new skill, but doing so requires conscious effort and attention.

Finally, after you’ve learned something new and practiced enough, it’s time for training. What is the difference between practicing and training? Training is practicing under pressure. Training has outside stimulus, which forces you to go just a bit higher than usual.

Maybe it’s a partner, who kicks you back or holds a kicking pad. Maybe you work against the timer and need to finish your reps in a limited time. You get the idea.

Only after going through all three stages of learning, practicing, and training, you can reach mastery. Which is unconscious competence: reaching the point where skill becomes automatic, and one can perform it without conscious thought.

And then you learn something new about that skill or technique, and the cycle repeats itself.

How to make this useful

Always ask yourself and be aware of which stage you are at now? Is it learning? Practicing? Or training?

If you suck under pressure, maybe you didn’t have enough practice? If you can’t figure out what to practice, go and learn more about the subject.

If you are a teacher, then try to teach a new skill in this particular order. Always ask yourself: by doing this exercise, which of the stages of mastery do my students reinforce?

This is probably an oversimplification of some complex processes in the human brain. But when simplification leads to action and good results – I take it.

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius—and a lot of courage—to move in the opposite direction.”

E.F. Schumacher