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. 

11 comments: said...

Nice article. I just finished "Talent is Overrated" which extols much of what you said here. I've begun using these principles along with those from "Outliers" in my training. We'll see how it turns out.

Anonymous said...

Good article, but somehow. at least to me, it seems you are misinterpreting "Train As You Fight." I firmly believe in the concept of "train as you fight" just as I believe in deliberate practice and also specificity training. I believe them to all be the same. Train as you fight means not training in prearranged methods or with compliant partners. It means train as you would fight in a real fight. Train with the ferocity,chaos,unpredictability and complete stress of the real deal. A boxer trains by fighting full contact just as his bout will be. Not by going through the motions. Techniques perfected on a bag will forever be perfect techniques on a bag. It doesn't translate to the fight until you actually "fight." Then it gets tweaked. Train as you fight means get off the bag and get in the ring. For the street get as close as possible in your training. Fight hard with full gear. Complete with the "what ifs" the emergency situations and the ever changing scenario. If you are training any less then you are not training "as you fight" (meaning training exactly how a real fight would go..."unpredictable")and you are only play acting. Training like you fight "is" deliberate practice. Practice with a real purpose. Specificity training. If, in your practice you haven't broken your nose, had your ribs cracked, been knocked out etc then you may be training to lightly and not "as a real fight." Then you will end up fighting "lightly." Which used to be my quote on my old blog. " Train as you fight or you may end up fighting as you train."

Good luck

Dan Prager said...

Interesting comment: there's a good discussion to be had here.

Combat sports like boxing ban a considerable range of techniques so that they are somewhat safe to practice at full intensity: long-term brain injuries aside.

As soon as you have rules, protective gear, and/or practice weapons -- e.g. wooden weapons instead of sharp, metal ones -- of course it changes the dynamic of training.

There's no doubt that training as you fight breeds toughness, commitment, and development of reflexive habits.

But I prefer to make the distinction between deliberate practice and intense training in order to encourage the development of skill and finesse, and to address areas of weakness.

Also: once you allow *really* dangerous techniques in your repertoire, there will need to be a sportive mode to allow for realistic practice, and a non-sportive, more cooperative mode to train the unsafe stuff. Being able to pull out the "banned techniques" -- that you have not been able to practice at full intensity -- in a real self-defence situation is a question and a challenge to different training modes.

A balance must be sought.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan,
I see your points and understand them. We may agree to disagree here and that's fine; it's what makes the world go round. I have spent my life fighting. At one time on the streets (unfortunately) and later in martial arts. Actually as a kid I started in karate (1969) to help me fight better on the street. It was many years before I absorbed the real meaning of training and stopped fighting (well in the street anyway). I spent 25 years (since 1989)teaching traditional karate and later fighting and eventually coaching MMA. I formally stopped teaching karate and coaching last year. I understand what you are saying but from someone with much experience in streetfighting, facing weapons, actually being stabbed twice, clubs, guns you name it.I can tell you there is a world of difference between drilling techniques and what happens to those techniques when you get hit in the head and your body goes into shock. You're correct you can't get "dangerous" in your training. But the closer you come the better. Under extreme pressure (and pain) you can at least see how difficult it is to pull off those dangerous techniques. There are fighting drills and methods to explore and find these openings (or better, create them) while fighting under extreme conditions. These drills must contain the psychological, physiological, physical and technical aspects of the real deal. During these training fights one can then see how difficult it is to use the so called dangerous techniques. Then and only then can someone attempt to create openings to utilize such techniques. It isn't that dissimilar to the old and dated method of practice fighting with a white tee shirt while your opponent holds a marker pen. Fight with him as if he is a street thug and for every black mark on your shirt or body it represents a slash cut or stab. But these things can't be done in a non violent fashion with a compliant training partner. Training partners for self defense have to act like they are trying to hurt you. At least from my experience.

Kevin Cyr said...


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Anonymous said...

Does the US Army also include Muay Thai in their martial arts training?

Dan Prager said...

Most military learn some sort of close quarters combatives, typically with an emphasis on grappling and weapon retention.

There's some information about the current US military training here:

Jason Navarro said...

Great article. If you are training in self-defense then "train as you fight" concept is a really useful philosophy in training. However, I believe that it can be implemented only once the practitioner is ready to further his training. I mean, if the individual hasn't fully grasp the concept of the martial art that he is training at, then chances are he will have a hard time learning the "realistic" stuff. I also believe that deliberate practice is perfect for familiarizing or honing a particular skill in a martial art.

twins-mt said...

Thank you Daniel for this post, very very interesting!!

Robot Fight Fitness said...

For me, a mix between deliberate practice, and train as you fight is the best way improve. Combining them both means you can master the moves, and practice them in a real setting.

Alivia Watson said...

A well-researched and informative article! I agree with the point ‘Focus on areas of weakness’. This is most important when you are learning martial arts. For example, if you are not sure how to aim a high flying kick or punch to save yourself from an enemy, it’s better to avoid such situations when you know where you are weak. You learn as you get trained.