Is there a way to learn something faster? Like a Short-cut to learn something new a lot faster than anyone else?
Throughout my years of training as an athlete and coach, I began to understand and see a pattern that separated the people that were able to accelerate their learning curve. At first, I didn’t realize it, however there were some people in my muay thai gym that just seemed to get it while others struggled for months and months. I started thinking about what separated people with the ability to accelerate their learning from others who experienced very little progress within a reasonable amount of time. I began to study the different fighters I taught on my team and found a few common characteristics among the quickest learners.
My observations have been broken down into five key elements. I have personally used these strategies to not only accelerate my development in the ring, but also to improve other areas of my life such as obtaining my masters degree in engineering, transitioning into a management role and successfully investing into one of the most competitive industries with no experience.
All of these strategies can be applied to any type of activity, however they are referred to here in the context of fighting based on my personal experience.
1 - Compartmentalize the Technique
Each technique in muay thai, boxing, jiu jitsu or any other sport can be broken down into tiny, seemingly insignificant steps. However small each step appears, when you first learn something, the correct way to learn it is to understand each step of the technique. During this early stage of learning, you are using mental practice paired with light physical development. At this point the physical development is merely to understand and be aware of the motions and steps your brain is processing.
For example, when a student comes to me and says “I want to learn how to throw a straight right” the first thing I do is explain that the power doesn’t come from a huge wind up, but rather from the legs, and the torsion and pivoting of the foot and the hips and extending the arm 3/4 of the way out, and then flipping the wrist/elbow at the very end for a snap. I break down the technique to them verbally and explain how important it is to use your body. I will throw a right slowly to emphasize and break down the steps involved. For example, I’ll start by pivoting the foot and say "watch do you see? Now, do you see how my hips move? Now do you see my shoulder, then my wrist?". I break down the technique and compartmentalize each step so the student understands it.
During this step, I tell them to never throw anything at 100% or even 50%. At this stage everything is done at around 5%, but each compartment must be reached and understood.
I have them go over the technique slowly, to ensure that each step or what I call stage-gate is taken. I explain that the student cannot go to the next gate without crossing the one prior to it. This step is very frustrating because many people see high performing fighters throw a punch so fast and strong and think from day 1 they are going to be punching as hard as they can...no..they are wrong!
That path is the exact opposite; it is the de-accelerated learning curve, and that is because of rule number 2...
2 - Only Learn It Once
When you learn a new technique, it takes approximately 500-750 repetitions for you to start mastering the technique. At this point it begins to start developing into your mind, and body, so it becomes more natural. However, if you need to unlearn a wrong technique, and re-learn something it is more difficult to do so and can take up to 5 times longer. Sometimes, your bad habits will never go away.
When you learn bad habits, it may work when you are just starting to compete, but the issue is when you start getting to higher levels of competition. The smallest missed detail may reduce your technique by a split second, or expose some type of vulnerability, and this tiny slight edge will get you knocked out.
The key to the learning hack is to only learn it once, but learn it right. After you start developing the habit, and the proper technique you can move on to step 3.
3 - Physical and Mental Modelling
When you understand the technique and start to work to refine it physically, it is time to start adjusting your mind game. Find someone at your gym, or a high caliber fighter who has a beautiful punch (or kick, or knee) and watch them. You need to understand why their technique (for example the knee) is so beautiful because you now know that the power comes from driving the hips forward, tucking your leg in and pointing your knee. Now you can see with your eye what they are doing right.
When you train, imagine that you are that person. Close your eyes and feel what they feel, how they carry themselves, mimic their walk around the ring, how their mannerisms are. Then, pretend you are them. Tell yourself that you are this fighter who has a beautiful kick, and imagine what it feels like when they are kicking. Focus on how the technique comes out beautifully.
The next step is a general rule for learning something.
4 - Focus on One Technique at a time
If you try to learn four new moves all in a week, you probably will have a hard time improving. The time and commitment required to refining a technique does not allow you to learn multiple projects a week. If you want to sharpen one tool spend at least 3 - 4 weeks on it, maybe even more, practicing your stage gates from lesson 1.
Lastly, the most important rule:
5 - 10,000 hour rule aka “Put in the Work”
So after you learn the right technique, and the right mindset, the final step is work.
There is no way around work. Steps 1 - 3 will not work if you don't do step 4, however, you can’t do step 4 unless you do step 1- 3 first. Step 5 is work. In order for anyone to become successful in anything in life, you need to put the work in. Work, Work, Work!
The problem, with doing step 5, at the beginning, is you learn the wrong technique, and you end up doing it wrong which will never get you to your destination.
It takes 10,000 hours of training approximately to achieve mastery, which is approximately 10 years. So, if you want to become the best, understand the technique, refine your strategy, then train your ass off.
Michael Rao is a key contributor at Driven Fighters. He is passionate about the fighters mentality and motivating other people. He has associated walking into the boxing gym as the day his life changed. His story shows that with hard work anything is possible. Having taken himself from being labeled by his high school teachers as a failure and almost dropping out to opening numerous businesses and graduating with his Master Degree in Engineering (University of Toronto). At just 18 years old, he was featured on CH News, and awarded the Young Entrepreneur Award. His passion and desire to help others made him a perfect example of what a driven fighter is. He has 20+ fights including a national amateur tournament belt.