Monday, July 16, 2012


     In the process of human learning there is a phenomenon known as the plateau which can have seriously adverse effects upon a student's progress.  In my experience, this is especially true of learning which involves physical movements.  The plateau is an anomaly of which many, perhaps even most, long-time martial arts practitioners are aware and yet, we still tend to forget about it.  The danger of forgetting about it (or not knowing about it at all) is that it can cause a student (or even a teacher) to throw up his or her hands and quit in a kind of "what's the use?" gesture.

     I don't know how this strange phenomenon works physiologically but it can be a real pain in the tail.  I'll describe it and you can determine whether or not it's happened (or currently IS happening) to you...

     You're doing fine in your training and then one day, everything you touch turns to junk!  Nothing you do is right.  Your teacher tries to teach you a very basic movement or two and you just CAN'T get it!  You forget.  You're suddenly as uncoordinated as a baby goony bird.

     And no matter how hard you try, you can't shake it.

     It's like having Alzeimer's all over your body and mind.  You keep trying to go over what you should already know and you only seem to be getting worse.  And it's as this point that you have to be REALLY careful because you'll be tempted to shrug your shoulders and think to yourself, "I just can't get this stuff.  It's too complicated for me.  Maybe I'd just better give it up..."


     You've probably "plateaued" (I know it's not a verb but it should it damned well should be).  And although I have virtually no formal education in psychology, it seems to me that what's happening is this:

     Your body-mind (especially the mind part of it) is overloaded.  It's taken in all the (new) data it can handle for now, and it refuses to take in any more.  It's sort of "digesting" what you've already "fed" it.  To make matters worse, while it's digesting what you've already given it, the stuff that it's "digesting" gets pretty much confused for a while.

     I mean, this is basic stuff that you know that you know!  You've done it a hundred or a thousand times and now, all of a sudden, it's as if you've never done it before and you're stumbling all over yourself.  You can't remember what movement comes next when you try to practice your forms...

      So, what to do?  Well, one thing's for sure...DON'T GIVE UP!  You've hit a plateau.  And this can happen to senior students as easily as it does to beginners.  Yes, it still happens to me (of course, it may really be old age in my case-).  You just need to keep on keeping on. Don't stop training.  Don't give up on your daily practice.  Just tell your instructor that you think you've plateaued and you need to work on polishing the things you DO know.... but don't try to take it anything new.

     How long does it last?  In the case of beginners, it doesn't last long.  It varies from person to person but a beginner's plateau may last for only a couple of weeks or so.  Maybe a month.  As you keep training and become more advanced, they last longer.  I remember a plateau that I experienced that lasted for well over a year.

     But when you come out of it - and you will come out of it - it's as though it never happened!  And the new material that you were trying to learn is suddenly THERE and you can do it as if you've been doing it all your life!  It comes so easily!  And you begin to wonder if you should call your nearest mental health professional...

     What's particularly wierd is that it doesn't usually happen gradually.  The onset and the termination of this affliction seem to occur literally overnight.  One day it's there and then one day, it's gone, as if it never happened. 
I guess it's one of the things that separates those who really want to learn; those who have a "never say die" spirit from those who don't.  Trust me, anyone who's practiced martial arts for very long has been through this experience.  But like I said earlier, we tend to forget about it and then we're surprised when it happens (again) to us or when it happens to someone else.

      So keep it in mind.  If it hasn't already happened to you, it will.

      And one more thing...another secret to learning which can be applied to any form of learning, whether it's schoolwork or martial arts...

     Once the class is over, you have sixty minutes to review any new material you learned in class.  SIXTY MINUTES.  Period.  If you review it within that time limit, you'll remember most, if not all, of it the next day.  If you don't, well...within 8 hours you'll have lost up to 50% of it.  By the next day, you'll have forgotten up to 80%.

     This forgetting new material can be avoided if you'll simply review the stuff within sixty minutes of leaving class.  You don't have to study it in depth; just REVIEW it quickly.  If you learn some new movements or whatever during class, then review them right away as soon as you get home.  Walk into your house, grab an empty spot, and quickly go over the new material a half-dozen times or so.  And that's it.  Come morning, you'll remember it.

     Great secret, but very few people pay attention to this wonderful bit of advice...I hope you won't be one of them. 

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