Want to learn how to master a technique? Of course you do!
There’s a really cool concept called “The Four Stages of Learning” that’ll help you understand how people learn skills, concepts and techniques.
Let’s go through these four stages one-by-one.
Stage One is Unconscious Incompetence. In this stage you don’t even know that there’s a problem, and even less of an idea what the solution might be.
Let’s say that ‘Fred’ is a newbie grappler. He has absolutely no idea how to position his hands, arms, head and body when he’s in someone’s guard. As a result he’s getting choked out, armlocked and swept all the time.
The solution is, of course, for Fred to maintain good posture in the guard, but in stage one he’s never even heard about the concept of posture.
He has no idea that posture would make his life so much easier, allowing him to nullify the guard and get to work on passing it. He is both incompetent at maintaining posture, and unconscious that it’s even something he should be doing.
Stage two is Conscious Incompetence. Here you recognize that there’s something you should be better at, but you still have difficulty implementing it.
Let’s go back to our friend Fred in the guard for a sec.
Maybe he’s now been training for a month or two, and is finally beginning to figure out that there’s a reason his coach is always yelling “posture, posture, posture!!!”
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He now recognizes that posture is important, but is still pretty hazy about exactly what posture is and how to achieve it. He knows he should be doing ‘stuff’ to maintain good posture, but what that stuff is he’s not exactly sure.
He’s conscious of the problem, but incompetent at solving it.
Stage three is Conscious Competence. Here you know how to do something, but it’s not instinctive yet. You still need to concentrate on the skill in order to do it properly.
Let’s say that Fred has now been training a couple of years and is getting MUCH better at making posture in the guard.
If someone tries to pull him down then he knows all sorts of tricks to prevent that from happening, including gripfighting and pummeling his way back to good position.
He still has to think about it, but he he’s finally become competent at making posture. This is a big step, but it’s not the final goal…
Stage four is Unconscious Competence. In this stage the skill in question has become ‘second nature’ and you no longer have to think about it.
By this stage, if Fred ends up in the guard he automatically starts making good posture, and reacts without thought to any attempt by his opponent to break his posture down.
Unconscious competence is a good thing because it allows you to react faster. It also frees up your mind to think about the overall strategy of the match, rather than having to use up most of your bandwidth handling the minutiae the moves themselves.
Of course, the four stages of learning apply to every skill you learn, not just making posture in the guard!
It applies to learning how to level change and hit a perfect double leg takedown in wrestling… It applies to defending the neck when rear mounted… And it applies to riding a bike, driving a car, and cooking the perfect omelette.
The four stages of learning is a very useful model! The mere act of identifying a deficiency in your arsenal – i.e. becoming aware that the problem even exists – moves you from stage one to stage two in the four stages.
Then ‘all’ that you need to do is learn the details of the technique, do thousands of repetitions to ingrain it in your mind, and spend tons of time using that technique in sparring and you’ll be at level four – Unconscious Competance – in the blink of an eye…