One of the most rewarding aspects of self development through any activity, and one that is clearly seen in martial arts training, are the significant breakthroughs that occur in both mental acuity and physical performance over time. These are milestone events and are best described as getting yourself to the next level of ability or performance. I say “milestone events” because the changes, while not immediately noticeable to you, are very tangible based on how you view them.
Most performance development breakthroughs don’t happen quickly and it is not uncommon (really it is more the norm) that you actually won’t realize you have made a breakthrough at any one point in time. This is also true for some types of personal or mental improvement. There is usually no “Aha moment” for breakthroughs in performance development in the Oprah sense. The changes are subtle. It’s a bit like a tsunami (more on this below). I want to point out I am not taking about suddenly recognizing something about yourself and deciding you want to change whatever that is. That’s another type of breakthrough outside the scope of my training and teaching ability.
An easy way to describe the breakthrough concept I am referring to is to think about the development of a specific skill, like writing, public speaking or a sports activity and get a baseline of where you are at that point in time. For example, in karate training a simplistic way to view this is looking at differences in belt levels. A yellow belt can kick with minimal power, poor targeting focus and rudimentary balance. That yellow belt works hard, gets pushed by senior students and over time improves. A year later at testing, the person is now a blue belt who can generate substantial focused power to a specific target and not fall over when making contact. I am sure you can think of similar examples to activities you are familiar with but you get the idea.
It’s important to look at performance both in the short and long term.
The Value of Short Term Results
Our society values short term results. There is nothing wrong with this but most personal and performance development really occurs over long periods of time. The short term results are valuable to us however because:
- We see where we are currently and visualize where we want to get to next;
- We can try new techniques or approaches and potentially see small changes of improvement;
- We get frustrated because we are not making the change as quickly as we’d like
The final point of all three of these – frustration – is key. It’s the most important one. Often times we dismiss too quickly whether or not we are achieving something because we are not getting the “immediate results” we are looking for. I am not saying immediate results are wrong, just don’t make an “end all be all” judgment on whether or not you are making progress towards something just because you are not getting the desired change quickly enough. Most of the time you can’t so don’t stop what you are doing without serious reflection. All of the points above are great markers both for the actual activity you are undertaking and from a character building perspective, especially (but not exclusively) when a physical activity is being pursued.
The Tsunami Approach – Long Term Improvement
As I said above, breakthroughs occur over long periods of time but they are only successful if you intensely pursue whatever the activity is. In any physical activity it’s associated with doing the physical elements regularly. In public speaking it may be simply taking more opportunities to address groups, speak in public, do a presentation with peers, etc…For a software developer it may be focusing on a specific technology and applying AGILE practices regularly for a period of time to create new software. I point this out because whether or not you realize it you may be half way towards breakthrough training. The intensity matters. Just doing something over a long period of time will eventually lead to some form of breakthrough. But to get them more quickly you have to sustained periods of intensity to move yourself up the achievement ladder.
Tsunami waves are defined as large bursts of intense amount of energy. They travel large distances (typically but not always) and reflecting their result only right at the end. It’s at that end point, and especially if you take the metaphor and look back at yourself, that you see the change. Interestingly on a scientific level you can be in the middle of an ocean with a tsunami passing underneath you and you won’t necessarily notice it. Its intense power is lurking below and only raises its devastation up as it approaches the shore line. Personal development breakthroughs are a very similar to this same concept.
(I’ll add that I have been thinking about this post for some time and the recent events of the earthquake in Chile that caused massive devastation and the resulting tsunamis that struck different parts of the area are both tragic and a reminder of the power of nature. I have been to South America many times and my heart is with the Chilean people right now.)
I like the generic picture of the term tsunami as it serves as a visual cue for me in different periods of training for improvement regardless of the activity. In essence, if I choose to work on something specific for a breakthrough (like the kicking example or public speaking). I like thinking of the wave and associating it with the activity. It’s an easy way to remind myself of the focus I am placing on it versus “just doing kicks better” or “improving my public speaking”. I grew up on the shore of Pacific Ocean so it works for me. Nature is also such a relevant part of martial arts training as so many concepts are culled from it. If the nature aspect doesn’t work for you, find something relevant to help you as a visual cue to associate what you are focusing on. It really does work.
A Training Framework to Achieve Breakthrough
This is purposefully generic. I am outlining the general steps I see when teaching others in terms of how to achieve long term breakthroughs.
- Set a baseline for yourself in regards to where are you now
- Identify a specific area for improvement and focus on it intensely
- Define what the improvement should look like to you
- Establish a preliminary time period to focus or train towards
- Periodically review progress through feedback from outside sources
The intensity doesn’t have to be done every time you perform an activity; you just need to seek periods where you heavily focus your effort so you can speed up the process of improvement.
You also need to take periods of time to reflect back on where you where and how you got to where you are to see the break through. This is done regularly in martial arts training as the express principle is to “shine a light” on your successes because getting good at the activity is not a quick process. It’s perfectly fine if you don’t see improvement right away, you will do that over time.
Make a Breakthrough (Look Right)
You’ll notice on the right side of this blog is an area labeled “Make a Breakthrough”. This shows the 6 Elements I have defined that black belts train to achieve. Each is a category of personal development where breakthroughs are relevant and evaluated over time. They are the martial arts principles I talk about in this blog but are applied to any type of personal or performance based development. If you select one of the elements it will automatically pull up all the posts relevant to a particular topic. Each topic is categorized to only one major element for simplicity.
In my next post, I’ll dig more deeply into each of these points and how to push yourself to the edge and to failure so that you can get to a breakthrough. It is commonly done in martial arts training but the principle can be applied to any personal improvement process.
Tell me about your breakthroughs. Do you recognize them? If so, when and how do they occur for you?
Thanks for training with me.