The beginner thinks, “I will attempt a technique”, and while thinking misses the opportunity. In a similar fashion the intermediate practitioner thinks, “I am doing a technique”, and being oriented in the present is sometimes successful. The expert, however, after felling an opponent thinks, “I have just completed a technique”.
The above example illustrates the principle of muscle memory. As we rehearse a skill less conscious attention is required to attend to stimuli or experiences of a similar nature. Muscle memory is acquired through repetition of particular movement patterns and is essential to develop proficiency in a dynamic environment where rapidly changing stimuli can quickly become overwhelming. Beginners are often frustrated by this phenomenon. They are able to conceptualize the how of a technique, but are unable to execute the technique in a live environment. Compounding the issue is the fact that many beginners lack an understanding and appreciation of the process-oriented-mindset – of doing things for the sake of doing them. The problem with the alternative (outcome-oriented-mindset), particularly in the beginning, is the tendency to reach the erroneous conclusion that more knowledge, a greater number of techniques, or perhaps worst of all, that greater intensity will bring about success. The humdrum of drills, repetition, and simplicity are intolerable to the ambitious outcome-driven types. They want, as the wonderful Taoist proverb illustrates so beautifully, to help the seedling grow by pulling it.
Motivation is important, but the body and neuromuscular system need sufficient time and training to assimilate the complex movement patterns needed to execute higher-order-skills. In addition, the body requires time to develop and adapt to the rigors of training in a dynamic environment. This is accomplished to a large extent through the repeated rehearsal of fundamental techniques. The fundamentals lie below the surface like a great iceberg. The beginner observes the submission or the throw, but fails to appreciate the fundamentals of posture and position on which they rest. You will notice that the advanced ranks seldom tire of fundamentals. Whether it’s fitting-in for a throw or a basic arm-bar drill, the higher ranks practice with enthusiasm, precision, and attentiveness. The advanced ranks have learned from experience that, by repeated rehearsal of fundamental movements, they are able to keep their minds free to attend to higher-order-processes such as strategy. This is the key to success in any dynamic situation.
To summarize: In the beginning it is best to nurture a process-oriented-mindset and not worry so much about getting better. Spend time improving fundamental skills which not only lay the foundation for more advanced techniques but also condition the body. With a well conditioned and coordinated body it will then become possible to progress technically, and most importantly, will to a great extent prevent injury on the mat.
Robert Burge, MA
Contributor Bio – Robert is a judo nidan, Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, and has a master’s in mental health counseling. He is the head instructor of the University of Kentucky judo club and an assistant instructor at Valhalla Grappling Academy.