Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Train as you fight vs deliberate practice

The following extended quote is from Think Like a Commander, the US Army's guide to Adaptive Thinking.  It's a nice exploration of a big aspect of what kata can be -- deliberate practice -- arguably the most effective tool (although not the only one!) in the development of technical expertise.
Train As You Fight versus Deliberate Practice

The maxim "train as you fight" has risen to such a level of familiarity in the U.S. Army that the value of the notion goes almost unquestioned. Yet studies of the development of expertise clearly indicate that "as you fight" meaning performing in fully realistic simulated battles is neither the most effective nor efficient method of developing expertise. Such "performances" can help a novice become acquainted with applying military knowledge, and can reinforce existing knowledge in an experienced person, but will not in and of themselves lead to the development of expertise. In many fields where expertise has been systematically studied, including chess, music and sports, development beyond advanced novice level requires large amounts of deliberate practice (Ericsson, Krampe & Tesch-Roemer, 1993) and good coaching (Ericsson, 1996; Chamess, Krampe & Mayr, 1996). The combination of long periods of study, relatively few chances to practice, and little or no deliberate practice with quality coaching has led to a situation in the army where most officers can talk an excellent battle command game, but reveal only an amateurish effort in actual performance. How does deliberate practice differ Irom performance or from casual exercise? Here are some characteristics that distinguish deliberate practice.

1. Repetition. Task performance occurs repetitively rather than at its naturally occurring frequency. A goal of deliberate practice is to develop habits that operate expertly and automatically. If appropriate situations occur relatively infrequently or widely spaced apart while performing "as you fight" they will not become habitual as readily.

2. Focused feedback. Task performance is evaluated by the coach or learner during performance. There is a focus on elements of form, critical parts of how one does the task. During an "as you fight" performance these elements appear in a more holistic fashion.

3. Immediacy of performance. After corrective feedback on task performance there is an immediate repetition so that the task can be performed more in accordance with expert norms. When there is feedback during "train as you fight" performance, it is often presented during an after-action review (AAR) and there is usually not an opportunity to perform in accordance with the feedback for some time.

4. Stop and start. Because of the repetition and feedback, deliberate practice is typically seen as a series of short performances rather than a continuous flow.

5. Emphasis on difficult aspects. Deliberate practice will focus on more difficult aspects. For example, when flying an airplane normally only a small percentage of one's flight time is consumed by takeoffs and landings. In deliberate practice simulators, however, a large portion ofthe time will be involved in landings and takeoffs and relatively little in steady level flight. Similarly, rarely occurring emergencies can be exercised very frequently in deliberate practice.

6. Focus on areas of weakness. Deliberate practice can be tailored to the individual and focused on areas of weakness. During "train as you fight" performances the individual will avoid situations in which he knows he is weak, and rightly so as there is a desire to do one's best.

7. Conscious focus. Expert behavior is characterized by many aspects being performed with little conscious effort. Such automatic elements have been built from past performances and constitute skilled behavior. In fact, normally, when the expert consciously attends to the elements, performance is degraded. In deliberate practice the learner may consciously attend to the element because improving performance at the task is more important in this situation than performing one's best. After a number of repetitions attending to the element to assure that it is performed as desired, the learner resumes performing without consciously attending to the element.

8. Work vs. play. Characteristically, deliberate practice feels more like work and is more effortful than casual performance. The motivation to engage in deliberate practice generally comes from a sense that one is improving in skill.

9. Active coaching. Typically a coach must be very active during deliberate practice, monitoring performance, assessing adequacy, and controlling the structure of training. Typically in "train as you fight" performances there are no coaches, instead there are observers/controllers who attempt to interfere as little as possible in the performance. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

New Delux Mat Trolley

Last night we assembled our new, industrial strength mat trolley, purchase from Bremco Metal Products:, to help us shuttle our mats between storage and the Aerobics room that we transform into our dojo:
Newly assembled: Shiny!
Loaded with mats
The key advantage of the new trolley is that multi-directional castors let us steer round corners:

For many years we made do with a couple of old hand-me-down trolleys that we had to lug around corners:

Thanks to everyone for helping get it assembled, Carla at Bremco for answering all my questions, and Monash University for subsidy.

Next step, more mats!

Monday, December 31, 2012

Ideas for visualisations

Lori O'Connell recently blogged on the value of visualization in martial arts training:
In one of the most well-known studies on creative visualization in sports, Russian scientists compared four groups of Olympic athletes in terms of their training schedules (as described in Karate Of Okinawa: Building Warrior Spirit by Robert Scaglione):
Group 1 = 100% physical training;
Group 2 - 75% physical training with 25% mental training;
Group 3 - 50% physical training with 50% mental training;
Group 4 - 25% physical training with 75% mental training.
Group 4, with 75% of their time devoted to mental training, performed the best.
Personally, I find mental practice more challenging than physical training: the mind wanders ... So here are my top suggestions for mental training:
  1. Go to class!  Training in the martial arts develops the mind and body from the get-go.   Once a technique is familiar, don't go on auto-pilot:
    1. Observe: Notice fine details.
    2. Experiment: Explore variations.
    3. Reflect: Make notes, start a journal or a blog.
  2. Practice with an imaginary partner.  [Your movement is real; your partner is visualised.]
    1. Practice individual techniques.  Visualise fine details, but also practice the flow of the technique.
    2. Alternate between regular (migi) and opposite-side (hidari) versions of a technique.  I quite like to do one rep migi, two reps hidari, three reps migi, etc. rather than one for one repetition.
    3. Practice combinations of techniques: you attack, visualise your imaginary partner evading, you do a suitable follow-up.
    4. Practice counters to techniques: your imaginary partner attacks, you evade and counter-attack.
  3. Pure visualisation: exercises as per the imaginary partner.
At first the aim is to reinforce what you learn in class and achieve basic competency.  With regular imaginary practice deeper observations will arise: these can and should be validated in class.  Increased fluency is another benefit, again testable with real partners.

There's a saying that "perfect practice makes perfect".   Conversely there is a danger that poor practice can lock in bad habits.  For this reason it's important not to eschew regular training for pure visualisation: rather start slowly and go gently.

I should also mention that for the more advanced practitioners teaching, judging contests and assessing candidates are all great forms of mental training that have the bonus of helping out others.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Promotions - December 2012

Congratulations to everyone on your hard work for the year, and for those who graded, well-deserved promotions:
Combined Monash Caulfield and Clayton recipients at Presentation Day
Well done to everyone at both Monash clubs, and at the Honbu.

Personally, I plan to enjoy the Summer holidays (including some training at the Honbu), and really looking forward to training in 2013.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Evolutionary movement

Here's the first of an elegant three-part series in which the presenter, Simon Thakur, starts with small perturbations of the spine and expands into a swathe of whole-body movements:

Well worth a look, especially if you are interested in improving your overall body awareness and quality of movement.