Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Super-Efficient Learning: Part I

Efficiency, in general terms is usually taken to mean using the minimum of effort to achieve the desired effect. In quantitative terms: 100% efficient means without any waste.

So what is efficient learning? Is it picking up a new concept without wasting any time making mistakes? Perhaps, but there’s truth in the old saying that you learn more from your mistakes. How can that be reconciled with the notion of efficiency?

To better define efficiency in learning let’s take a step back and consider what the desired effect is in learning. Presumably it is to acquire or refine a skill, attribute, ability, or understanding.

To oversimplify: In conventional teaching I might set out to teach a new skill – say teaching young children to tie their shoelaces – and ¾ of my class might “get it”, giving my teaching of that skill an efficiency of 75%. No matter how brilliant my teaching is, the best that I can aspire to is 100% efficiency, and mostly I’ll fall a bit short.

Super-Efficency Defined
But what if instead of teaching an exercise with one benefit, I was able to find a set with multiple definable benefits? In simple numerical terms we could say that the efficiency can now exceed 100%. This type of teaching and learning could be justifiably termed super-efficient. The more benefits that are encoded in the exercise the better!

Do super-efficient exercises exist? You bet. The foundational training of several martial arts consist of super-efficient exercises, and I suspect that they may be found in other disciplines too.

In this day and age I believe we need to recognise super-efficient exercises as a time-effective way to develop and maintain high levels of health and skill. The more benefits an exercise has, the greater its:

  • repeat value
  • suitability for use with a non-homogenous training group
  • potential for training with different emphases
Super-Efficient Learning is not the same as ...
Perfect performance: Super-efficient exercises have many aspects to master, so they are more about learning and developing lots of things over time, rather than perfect execution and the absence of mistakes along way.

: Juggling while riding a unicycle and singing opera is impressive, but it is about doing lots of things at once, rather than using one thing to develop many capabilities.

Moving with awareness can transform any exercise -- from running to cleaning the dishes -- into a form of meditation. While undoubtedly a valuable mind-body practice, but moving with awareness is about making the most of any exercise, while super-efficiency involves making a particularly smart choice of exercise. The two practices are complementary.

Super-efficient learning is all about using learning exercises that develop many purposes at once. They are highly beneficial, flexible, and time-efficient.

In Super-Efficient Exercise: Part II I show how the break-falling exercises of Judo & Jiu-Jitsu constitute a wonderful (and super-efficient) set of exercises.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Jiu-Jitsu in Pictures: Your Questions Answered

Q: What is it?
A: It's an arresting technique from Jiu-Jitsu, a Japanese martial art.

Q: Who's performing the technique?
A: That's me, Sensei Dan, in the black belt, applying the technique. David, one of my students, is receiving the technique.

Q: Does it have a name?
A: It's called the Nurse's Grip Gooseneck. The Gooseneck refers to the bend in David's wrist. The Nurse's Grip refers to the means of entering the technique (not shown).

Q: Does it hurt?
A: Yes. In the picture I have stretched the wrist to the threshold of pain. If I were to continue further I would begin to damage the soft tissues, and eventually dislocate the joint.

Q [Nervously]: Is it safe?
A: Yes, under the supervision of a qualified instructor.

Q: But how do you practice it safely?
A: The technique is applied slowly (and smoothly), and when the receiver starts to feels the stretch he (or she) taps twice to indicate submission, and the applier releases the grip.

Q: If I were to use this technique in self-defence, would I have to cause serious damage for it to be effective?
A: Not necessarily. Self-defence is situation dependant. Once you are skilful enough you will be able to feel your attacker's body start to crumple from the pain and -- for example -- choose to escort him to a police station. Techniques such as this have built-in flexibility, allowing the practitioner discretion in level of escalation.

Q: Will it work in a fight?
A: Maybe. First, you need to know the technique inside-out. Second, an appropriate situation needs to arise in combat, and needs to be recognised and seized. Third, your assailant must fail to counter it. Fourth, if your assailant succeeds in countering, you need to flow into another technique.

Q: That sounds complicated.
A: Well, you build up to it over time. It's why a high standard of instruction and regular training are needed to learn sophisticated martial arts. You start by learning isolated techniques, in a standard format, and later practice them against specific attacks. Free-form practice comes later still.

Q: Are there many techniques like this?
A: In our syllabus there are around 80 standard restraint and control techniques, not counting variations. The Nurse's Grip Gooseneck is the second taught in the standard sequence.

Q: Can I see more?
A: Sure. Here's another arresting technique, the Come-along armbar.

Q: So you allow your students to apply these techniques to you?
A: Yes.

Q: Why?
A: It allows me to feel for imperfections in their technique, and for them to feel how to receive a technique. Mainly I teach in a small group setting and students practice in pairs.

Q: Sounds great, but how do I find out more?
A: Check out the links down the side of this web-page and read some of the other posts. If you have a specific question, please leave a comment, and I'll get back to you.