Vicious circle within the Learning Cycle

Truth be told that you become what you train for. If you want to be a pilot, go to a pilot school that teaches you how to fly a plane with lots of hands on experience in flying real planes. Don’t go to a school that only have a simulator but no real plane to fly. If self defense is the goal, then make sure your training involves some realistic self defense situation with lots of sparring and testing. If push hand is the goal, then lots of body sensitivity and power work with non-compliant partners. If health is the goal, make sure the training really gives you health not just fitness.

Learning Cycle

Learning Cycle – Erroneous Zone of Training

There are four stages of learning. First stage is unconscious incompetence where no learning is possible when you don’t even know what you don’t know. Second, conscious incompetence where, for instance in martial arts, you may have been rudely awaken to the sad fact that after all the years of hard training, it was found wanting and your most vulnerable part of body is constantly exposed to attacks. Your penny suddenly dropped with the realization that you have been training in the erroneous zone! Thirdly, conscious competence is where real learning happens; the hard yard that slowly see you becoming more and more competent day by day. Finally, unconscious competence is where you are now skilled and have achieved mastery. Skills progress from rudimentary to mastery by cycling through the four stages in iterations represented by the green arrows. As you learn more and more, the more you realise there are still many things you don’t know and of course more to learn.

Training that is incorrect, inappropriate, ineffective or ignorant will unfortunately get you unstuck in conscious incompetence or worse still, self deluded conscious competence, which by definition loop you back to the vicious circle of unconscious incompetence and conscious incompetence. This is the erroneous zone of training. The more you get into incorrect training, the more delusional you get, thinking that you are getting more and more skillful. It is easy to fall prey to the assertion of such training as advanced methods and that people simply do not know or understand what’s been shown, in other words, unconscious incompetence. Whilst there maybe some truths in the statement, it’s better to be sure than to be sorry; it’s always safer to assume that it is not what it seems until proven preferably through personal validation.

To ensure we stay within the normal cycle of learning and get to mastery rather falling prey to the erroneous zone of training leading to the vicious circle of delusions, we need to do our due diligence. Here are some suggestions on the due diligence for martial art training:

  • When it’s unbelievable, it’s probably is and assume it is; same logic as ‘if it’s too good to be true, it’s normally is’;
  • Respect the teacher but don’t fall into the trap of unquestioning reverence, especially teachers/instructors who are older or have strong/magnetic personality;
  • Check the ‘pedigree’ of the lineage claimed e.g. verify with someone who is already in the lineage family if possible;
  • Verify all claims in the marketing materials or videos; check that the teacher or the senior students can ‘fight’ i.e. able to deal with non-compliant attacks with no rules, okay if controlled i.e. no injury inflicted but weakness exposed;
  • Do they spar in class? Preferably with occasional full protective gears and go all out; and,
  • Bring a friend who knows how to fight to trial the class and preferably get him or her to have a friendly spar with the senior students but make sure it’s not coming across as a challenge but a legitimate product testing ie ‘tyre kicking’ so to speak

The same due diligence process should be applied for all types of training. The less regulated the industry the more important is the personal due diligence. For more regulated industry like financial planning where trainers have to have a certificate of competency, it is probably reasonable to assume they have the right competency to practice and teach their craft as they would have been subjected to some stringent qualifying process to earn their certificate of competency.

5 comments to Vicious circle within the Learning Cycle

  • Steve

    The first time I visited this site several months ago I thought this was an interesting site with videos and other useful information. Now it seems it is moving towards MMA fighting. You have lost me. You can’t learn tai chi by going to a gym and punching it out with another student.

    • Steve: of course you can’t learn tai chi by going to just any gym and punching it out with other students. You need a qualified taijiquan instructor.

      However, if your tai chi doesn’t prepare you to go to ANY gym and competitively punch it out, grapple, and spar with their students on equal footing to those of similar size & experience, I would posit that perhaps your tai chi is not martial.

      Which is ok. Many people enjoy training tai chi for health.

      For me, taijiquan – the way I have learned it – is a martial art. I train to use it as such – whether that be in the context of grappling, wrestling, kickboxing, boxing, MMA, sparring, or self defense.

      We write about what interests us here. Nobody’s forcing you to read or comment.

      • Steve

        A fight gym version of taji is an Americanization of Tai Chi. You know like cell phones, microwaves, IM, texting, etc. Instant gratification. The problem with that is Taji is based on Taoism. It takes many years to retrain the nervous system and body not to use force and relax. If you introduce competition all of that philosophy goes down the drain especially for beginners. I don’t have a problem with anything people want to do but this is not taji. Why not just study Wing Chun or Tong Bei or another(traditional)fighting system? Both would be more effective than Americanized fighting taji.

        • @Steve :: Whoever said anything about a “fight gym version” of taiji? I’ve studied from taijiquan teachers in parks, gyms, their living rooms, even in gazebo at a zoo. I’ve had teachers that were as “traditional” as they come (raised in a kung fu temple, studied 5 animals to bagua to taijiquan), and as “non-traditional” (middle aged white American male working in corporate America).

          My point is that in any context, if learned “traditionally” taijiquan is a martial art – regardless of what setting you study it. As @Andrew mentions below, Taijiquan’s forebears made the name for the art as expert fighters first & foremost.

          Without this, we would be distinctly missing out the quán [拳] aspect (“fist” or “boxing”), and perhaps studying a Taoist non-martial art (which is ok). In this case, however, the name “tàijíquán” (太极拳) would be a misnomer.

          When it comes to taijiquan as a martial art, my experience is that those who train martially can progress just as fast in their practical fighting ability as those who are training in other styles. There is nothing “Americanized” about this, as some of the best taiji fighters I have met are Chinese who speak no English whatsoever.

          Besides, we write about our experiences & what interests us here. If you don’t like it, nobody’s forcing you to keep commenting.

  • Andrew

    Steve, Taiji practitioners have training it as a martial art for a lot longer than when it became popular in the states. Do you think that Chen Fake and Chen Zhao Pi were doing Americanized Taiji? If anything, the health only version of Taiji is the Americanization of the martial art. Why don’t you just take up yoga or pilates?

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