Malcolm Gladwell, the author of “Outliers,” proposed years ago after studying experts in many different fields that on average it takes a person 10,000 hours to achieve excellence at his job or hobby.
This concept is so important for us to remember as martial artists. It helps to prevent frustration along the journey when we are not improving as fast as we think we should be. It’s a long process, and it takes a ton of practice, but time is going to pass anyway so why not be a talented black belt in a martial art ten years from now?
It helps to remember the five steps to learning martial arts (or anything!):
3. Master (Mushin)
If we have adopted the martial arts way of life, and plan on continuing to train martial arts after receiving our Black Belts (maintain), then what is the rush?
Every practice will be focused on improving your skill and technique, regardless of the color belt that is around your waist. So take your time, enjoy the process, and keep chugging along towards your 10,000 hours.
Now, this past week I’ve been talking about a concept from this video I recently watched about learning anything in 20 hours. The concept is that the 10,000-hour rule came from looking at the elite performers in a given area, but if you are a white belt walking into your first martial arts class the situation is entirely different.
While it may take you 10,000 hours to become an Olympic Gold Medalist like Helen Maroulis, within 20 hours, you could learn to wrestle really well compared to where you are right now. I have seen it happen so many times with new students.
Without a doubt, a new Jiu Jitsu student after 20 classes would demolish their former selves in a grappling match. After just 20 lessons! But they won’t often see it that way because they are too busy comparing themselves to the other people around them who are also improving every class, and many of whom are farther along the journey then they are.
So I propose that you keep both the 10,000-hour rule and the 20-hour rule in mind, and use them to your advantage. Remember that it will take 10,000 hours to reach excellence, but 20 hours of solid practice can make a huge impact on your skill level.
Since you are likely already 20 hours into your martial arts training, you should use this rule for more specific skill-sets within the martial arts.
Want to get better at kicking? Spend 20 solid hours working on your kicks this month, and I bet there will be a huge improvement.
How about guard passing? Spend 20 hours this month practicing your guard passing with a partner, and starting every roll inside your partner’s guard. There will be a massive improvement.
Want to improve your forms? I think you get the idea…
It is normal to get frustrated with your progress, but when was the last time you spent 20 committed hours to developing or improving one skill? Next time you see an area in your life that could use some improvement, don’t whine about it. Fix it!
You don’t need the perfect workout plan or a magic diet. There usually aren’t any secrets behind the curtain, just many hours of hard work and discipline. Sometimes 20, and sometimes 10,000.
And if you haven't started your martial arts journey yet? What are you waiting for!?