Are You “training” Or Just “working Out”?

By Dennis Lawson
Published on Feb 20th, 2017

Recently I read “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance” by Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Romer (American Psychological Association, 1993). This research paper enhanced my work on the second edition of Talking Kenpo and relates to a previous article “Mastery = 10,000 hours”. More specific terminology is essential to clarify our work in the Martial Arts. The original definition in the Encyclopedia of Kenpo states:

Practice vs. Training – Practice is a rehearsed workout that instills routine habit. Training is a disciplined workout that is performed more vigorously.

This is a vague definition. To clarify, these questions can be asked:

What habits are being instilled during the workout? What is the discipline performed more vigorously in the workout during training? How is training different from a workout?

So let’s consider the following to help us answer these questions:

Workout --- A workout is any structured activity one might use to create a desired effect.

Common uses include burning calories, increasing cardiovascular fitness, building strength or flexibility, or instilling basic memorization of a particular exercise.

TRAIN (v) --- To mindfully focus on one lesson at a time. One trains a lesson. To integrate or internalize a lesson through disciplined effort.

Training, then, requires concentrated attention in an effort to improve performance, ideally, in a single and specific area. As the psychologist and motivational speaker, Denis Waitley, PhD states, “The human mind can only focus on its currently dominant thought.” Hence, the importance of training is focusing on a single lesson until that lesson has been internalized (becomes habitual)

.Let’s take a simple blocking drill as an example. The act of blocking inward and outward defending against two punches changes from a simple workout to training, by the student’s mindfully focusing attention on keeping the elbow of her blocking arm anchored. Training in this manner allows other lessons (increasing speed, upper and lower case movement, greater accuracy in targeting, etc.) to be added once the first principle (anchoring) becomes habit. The research paper (noted at the beginning of this article) refers to this more mindful approach as Deliberate Practice. This idea of mindfulness seems to be the latest magic potion to cure our harried, 21st century lifestyles. Mindfulness is everywhere now; including on the cover of Time magazine. As Martial Artists, we have always understood the significance of the mind-body-spirit connection. It is a principle common to all Martial Arts instruction. Yet, how often do we challenge our students to focus attention on specific principles while training? Are we training ourselves and our students or just working out?

The researchers admitted the need for more accurate terms in the section “Preparation Time Required for Attainment of Exceptional Performance”. They state, “We propose that the reason for this comparatively weak relation (between acquired performance and the amount of practice and experience) is that the current definition of practice is vague.” I suggest that practice, or even deliberate practice (their word), as terms, are less accurate in describing movement with intensity and focused attention. The above definition – Training – is more precise. I contend that practice is something altogether different.

Practice defined for the book, Talking Kenpo.

PRACTICE (v) --- To engage in frequent consciously directed activities. The Martial Artist practices the Art every day. Just as an engineer, lawyer, or teacher “practices” a profession. Whether medical practitioner, legal practitioner, or Martial Arts practitioner a profession entails constant learning and stages of refinement. To practice is to be in the process of continuous improvement.

It is through the process of regular training (consciously directed activities), that we, as Martial Artists, practice our Art. It’s easy to confuse the various meaning of common words (training, practice, workout, drill, etc.) when we begin to use them to explain what we do. We require accuracy in our movements as Martial Artists, let’s demand accuracy in the way we describe motion for ourselves and our students.

Filed under Philosophy and Opinion

Author Bio :: Dennis Lawson

Dennis Lawson has trained for 4 decades in Ed Parker's Kenpo. During his varied career, Mr. Lawson has been an IKKA Regional Director for Region #3, has acted as Master of Ceremonies for the International Karate Championships, and has published numerous articles in publications for the International Kenpo Karate Association, The Martial Arts Learning Community (TheMALC), and Kenpo 2000.

Mr. Lawson has had the opportunity to study other Martial Arts and holds advanced rank in Aikido and Takemusu Aiki Budo. Dennis taught, competed in, and promoted events in the New Orleans area for 20 years. Among his list of favorite achievements is choreographing and performing Kenpo for the Dance Council of New Orleans. His academic background in psychology and love of music allow Dennis to offer a unique and entertaining approach to tailoring "the Art" to the individual. Dennis has taught seminars in Ireland, Jersey Channel Islands, The Netherlands, Portugal, and throughout the United States.

Dennis holds a Sixth Degree Black Belt in Ed Parker's Kenpo and was awarded the title “Professor” under the auspices of The Martial Arts Learning Community (TheMALC). Mr. Lawson was inducted into the International Black Belt Hall of Fame as Master Instructor of the Year for 2006.

Other Articles by Dennis Lawson

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