Deliberate practice

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This blog is simply about Hardwork.

Every now and again, its great to get a reminder and perspective to redefine hardwork, whether its in our jobs or in our training. Lets take a look at hardwork from the perspective of training martial arts.

Recently, I have been re-reading a book called ‘Talent is overrated: What really separates world class performers from everybody else’ by Geoff Colvin. This is a great book, very detailed and very well researched.

This book has plenty of facts, studies, examples of how hard work really beats talent and how hard work is practiced and developed. Something which we all do need reminders of every now and again to beat that self defeating attitude of ‘they are just better at ‘it’ than I am’ or ‘I will do it tomorrow’, etc.

Im going to discuss something in terms of Martial Arts training as a Coach and Competitor..


By hard work I mean not the hardwork of getting a sweat up, not just being told what to do and then doing, not having someone hold pads for you, and not by free rolling or sparring. These are exercises that can be autonomous. Yes they are all part of the process to improvement, they are not however individually the hard-work that will really push you to the next level in your training. Hard work comes in the form of practicing things that you aren’t good at or don’t enjoy. Physically and mentally hard work!

However, Deliberate practice* will push you to that next level! (see bottom of page). Pushing you out of that zone of comfort into a learning zone.

I want to use an example, Pad/Mitt work in Boxing or Kickboxing and why you see many people just wanting to do pad work rather than the classes, sparring, bag work, cardio/strength work or any other less exciting training methods. Pad work is great and has its purposes which are clear.. targeting, fitness, structured combinations, etc. However, this method has its flaws like all methods, a pad holder or trainers visual view of your technique is limited from the position of a pad holder (inability to see footwork, and certain body movements), you aren’t working specifics in most cases, you are just ‘doing’ rather than reaching ‘Deliberate practice’.

I have seen many times and i’m sure many people in Martial Arts has seen this..a person who does plenty of pad work but lacks technique, basics, or understanding into what they are doing. How many boxers or champion strikers have become great or achieved a good level by ONLY doing pad work? Not many, that’s for sure!

The overwhelming evidence shows that becoming good at something is done through adopting the mental model of ‘deliberate practice’.

In a Martial Arts context, Some people would say ‘But hey, its the trainers fault this happens’. No it is not. The trainer has many methods at his/her disposal to create great performance and push you towards achievements in your goals. Pad/Mitt work in the gym is just one. It is also your choice in what you choose to do as practitioner and how you mentally adopt a training and learning work ethic! (Fighters however should not have this choice under the guidance of a good coach).

Colvin points out, “Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands. Instead of doing what we’re good at, we insistently seek out what we’re not good at. Then we identify the painful, difficult activities that will make us better and do those things over and over. After each repetition, we force ourselves to see – or get others to tell us – exactly what still isn’t right so we can repeat the most painful and difficult parts of what we’ve just done. We continue that process until we’re mentally exhausted.” This type of practice is what we need to achieve growth in our sport, work or life.

Now those painful repetitive exercises usually come in the form of Drills. Drills in class, drills before or after your designated times in classes or with a coach. The aim is to push yourself just beyond what you currently can do.

Some of us are just happy doing what we have always done and maintaining that performance, that is fine if you are happy with that. I’m sure that most people reading this are not happy with that concept.

Being good at something is one of the most fulfilling things we will ever know. So maybe think about this..’What do i want to be good at?’ , ‘How am i going to achieve this?’ and how can I use deliberate practice to achieve this? You don’t need to be a champion of any sort or become the greatest in history, but enjoying the process and results will be one of the most fulfilling journeys you will undertake.

Coach David


*“Deliberate practice is characterized by several elements, each worth examining. It is activity designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help; it can be repeated a lot; feedback on results is continuously available; it’s highly demanding mentally, whether the activity is purely intellectual such as chess or business related activities, or heavily physical, such as sports; and it isn’t much fun.” (66)-Geoff Colvin

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