Have you heard of the acronym K.I.S.S?
It stands for “Keep It Simple Stupid.” (It was later made politically correct by changing it to “Keep It Short and Simple” but that never really caught on, especially me.)
Anyway, K.I.S.S. is a good rule to live by when fighting, sparring and training. You want to simplify as much as possible and not try to keep track of too many things at once.
There’s good science behind this: the more factors you have to consider the slower you make your decisions. So keeping things simple actually makes you move faster.
But lets focus on how the K.I.S.S. principle applies when it comes to learning new moves.
Here’s my opinion: if you’re a teacher then you don’t want to load a student down with every last detail all at once.
And if you’re the student then you want to just focus on the next few things that’ll give you the best results fastest.
For example, if I’m teaching a complete beginner to throw a right cross I might tell them: “start with your fist glued to your jaw, then throw your fist in a straight line towards the target while you twist your body to generate the power.”
That’s it! The subtleties of weight shifts, hand twists, foot pushes, non-telegraphic movement and so on will all come later, because first they’ve got to get in some experiental learning – learning by doing – before anything else makes sense.
Sometimes it’s more important for the student to get a quick result with a technique than it is to get it absolutely perfect on the first go.
If you have some initial success then it’ll boost your confidence in that technique and make you eager to learn the additional details to make it work even better.
Similarly if I’m teaching a triangle choke to someone for the first time I might tell them “triangle your legs around your opponent’s head and arm, then squeeze your knees, pull his head down and lift your hips.”
Now is that the most effective way of doing the triangle choke?
Are there many adjustments and tweaks that you can make to the triangle choke that make it much more effective?
For example, in the Youtube clip below Elliott Bayev does an absolutely brilliant job of breaking down some of these finer triangle choke adjustments.
So why not show everyone all the details for every techique right from the beginning?
The reason is that I don’t want to overwhelm someone with details when they’re first learning something.
Of course it’s also important that the student understands that there’s more information waiting for them.
For example, I might tell someone, “Look, here’s a really simple way to do this. It’ll work most of the time, but just keep in mind that in the near future we’re going to have to start fine tuning this technique with more details.”
Some instructors are so proud of all the little details they’ve learned that they want to share every detail, all at once.
Unfortunately while their desire to share their knowledge is admirable, but sometimes it’s actually an impediment to learning.
You can’t drink from a firehose.
Most people can only keep a certain amount of detail in their head at once. Once their cup is full anything more just pours over the edge of the cup and doesn’t help.
What if you’re not an instructor but ‘only’ a student?
The exact same thing is true. Don’t try to fix everything at once. Instead figure out what the most important details of a technique are and work on that first.
Take that low-hanging fruit and then collect that fruit higher up the tree later!
To go back to the triangle choke example: after you’ve got the basics of the choke down down you might spend an entire week working on breaking and controlling your opponent’s posture….
Then you might spend another week on pivoting so as not to be directly in front of your opponent….
And then you might work on the clamping action of your calf down across the back of his neck….
All of those are important details for the triangle choke, but they’re too complicated and rely too much on ‘feel’ to share them with most people right off the bat.
Now it’s true that there are some freaks out there who can pick up new techniques and add them to their arsenal in the blink of an eye.
In part that’s a genetic gift – some people are just naturally gifted kinesthetic freaks!
Even for the rest of us though, the ability to pick up moves quickly is an improvable skill. I promise that the more you train then the faster you’ll be able to pick stuff up.
So if you’re not a born athlete then what do you do in the meantime?
The key is to make sure that you’re only focussing on a few details for a technique at any given time. More than two or three details and you probably won’t improve as fast.
Finally, notice how I mostly used the word ‘you’ in this email, and not ‘your instructor’.
That’s because an instructor can only take you so far, but ultimately YOU are the person who is responsible for your learning.
You need to figure out what your learning style is, how you best process information, and what you need to do to retain that information.
So regardless of whether you’re learning from an instructor who prefers the firehose-of-information approach (in which case focus on the most important details first)…
…Or you have an instructor who doesn’t share enough of details (that’s what the internet and books and instructionals are for) it’s your responsibility to find the happy medium.
In addition to learning martial arts you should be learning how to learn.
Become an expert at doing you!