Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Super-Efficient Learning: Part II

As discussed in Part I super-efficient learning is all about training in exercises that have multiple benefits, i.e. killing two -- or more -- birds with one stone.

The foundational exercises of many traditional martial arts are -- as I will demonstrate -- super-efficient, even if they have not been described in that way previously. (The term "super-efficient" is my own invention, so remember: you read it first here.)

Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, selected his techniques from various Jiu-Jitsu schools that lived up to his dictum of "minimum effort, maximum effect". That's about efficiency at the level of the individual technique, so super-efficient learning can be thought of as extending the same principle into the realm of learning strategy. To summarise: "Learn the most efficient techniques, using the most efficient methods."

In this article I will describe the core break-falling exercises of Judo and Jiu-Jitsu, and discuss some of the many benefits of these outstanding exercises.

Throwing and Break-Falling in Judo and Jiu-Jitsu
Here is a very quick 30 second video showing several Judo throws.
In any martial art training that features regular training of throwing techniques, the participants will need to be able to fall confidently, reliably and -- above all -- safely. Safe throwing and falling is best achieved:
  1. Under the supervision and tutelage of an experienced instructor
  2. In a controlled environment where participants do not perform unpredictably, or beyond their level of competence
  3. Using appropriate equipment, such as a padded mat, which enables repetitive and comfortable practice.
In the method of teaching that I follow, which goes back to Minosuke Kawaishi, we skip conventional calisthenic warm-ups such as push-ups and sit-ups, in favour of a superior super-efficient option: Break-falling.
In our system, almost every class warms up with the standard break-falling exercises, and cools down with a fairly standard sequence of rolls. In this way, both warm ups and cool downs provide an opportunity to practice falling (and more falling), so that over time everyone's falling techniques become second-nature.
The Break-falling Exercises
The core set of break-falling exercises consists of two sets of 3 exercises performed on the back, plus 3 distinct exercises performed from a squatting position, repeated from a standing position.
The 1st exercise commences lying on your back with knees bent; head raised off the mat; hands crossed at the wrists above your chest. You slap the mat with your palms and forearms striking the mat (hard!), and then return the starting position. This is usually repeated about 40 times, with -- ideally -- the entire class synchronised. The two variations add alternating left- and right- kicks, and double kicks.

The second set of exercises consists of asymmetric variations on the first set, in which one hand slaps the mat while the other hand protects the face.

In the subsequent variations leg, hip, and body-movements are coordinated with the slaps. Here is the first variation:

The following exercises further develop falling to the ground and getting up safely, with and without break-falls, starting from squatting (example below) and standing (not shown).

As usual for this blog, the preceding descriptions and photos are intended to convey the flavour of this system of instruction, but not the detail. Please do not try to learn break-falling without qualified hands-on instruction.

Benefits of Break-Falling
Now, to qualify as super-efficient, the benefits of these exercises must be multiple. What are they? Without further ado, here is my off-the-top-of-my-head list, broken down into a few categories.

Preparation for the rest of the class
  • Warming up the entire body
  • Gentle stretching
  • Starting to follow the instructor and participate as part of the training group
Foundational Skills of Judo and Jiu-Jitsu
  • Learning techniques of safe falling
  • Learning how to get up smoothly from the ground
  • Developing the conditioning to be able to survive the impact of striking techniques, and falls on hard terrain
  • Learning to protect the face in combat
  • Basic distancing
  • Basic kicking and punching
More Advanced Aspects of Judo and Jiu-Jitsu
  • Practicing important movements for ground-fighting
  • Preparation for “sacrifice throws”
  • Developing whole-body movement
  • Developing “soft” strength
General Physical Benefits
  • Strengthening the whole body; especially the neck, triceps, abdominal “core” and legs
  • Improving overall coordination
  • Improving posture and balance
  • Improving body awareness and sensitivity
  • Improving bi-lateral symmetry of musculature and movement
General Health Benefits
  • Learning to blend effort with relaxation
  • Practicing basic meditation
  • Practicing the coordination of breathing with effort
  • Improving auditory awareness and rhythm
  • Developing the ability to rapidly recover from sustained and significant effort
Note: I am happy to clarify the individual points in response to posted comments.

The Challenge: Exploring Super-Efficient Learning

  1. For martial artists who practice break-falling: "What's your perspective? Does the list help? Can you find other benefits?"
  2. For non-break-falling martial artists: "Can you find the super-efficient exercises in your martial art?"
  3. For everyone: "Can you find a good example of super-efficiency outside of the martial arts?"
Further instalments
In Super-Efficient Learning: Part III, I intend -- plan is too strong a word -- to look into super-efficiency in the Chinese Martial Arts, Yoga, and possibly Software Development!