As a karate instructor one of the things that you hear all too often is what do we do now Sensei?

Now I will admit now, just between you and me, that this is partly my fault in the way I give instructions at our Upper Coomera Dojo. For example, do such and such exercise 10 times with your partner and then swap.

You might say that sounds like a perfectly reasonable instruction. The critical element that I have left unsaid, but should really be implied if nothing else, is keep swapping until I say stop. So particularly when dealing with our younger students, that critical elements means once I have done exactly what I have been told I will stop and await further input.

Part of my personal goals for 2021 as an instructor is to teach all my students the benefits and the mentality of continual improvement.

Doing an exercise is more than repeating a skill 10 times, the repetition of the exercise helps consolidate the skill, helps us build on our previous work, and leads to mastery. You may or may not have heard of the 10,000 hours principle explained in Malcom Gladwell’s book – Outliers, or the work of Anders Ericsson in his book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, on which Gladwell bases his principle.

It is the continual improvement of skills that leads to mastery. Not the 10 times and move on principle.

I have spent a bit of time recently reading up on the history of karate and its instructors from Japan to Okinawa. I have read several interviews with older instructors and the memories of their training with the founders of karate in Japan, and their instructors in Okinawa. There was always lots of training and very often little instruction, but rather students learnt by the repetition of the skills that were taught and demonstrated. Karate students were expected to learn and discover the techniques by repeating them over and over, not tens of times, but thousands of times.

Now in the modern day of SnapFace and ticking your toks this can be quite a challenge to get a students to have that level of focus and persistence, but if we want to improve we need to commit to achieving that continual improvement.

Maybe not doing exercises 1000 times in a class, that is probably not realistic for most classes in the modern age but coming back time and again to each exercise and trying to push yourself a little bit more each time.

It’s not enough to learn all the techniques the repetition and practice is needed to improve. But repeating, day after day, each class you train looking at how to improve, focusing on the exercise in front of you and asking how can I do this better?

And good news, there is always something you can improve. Always more to learn. Getting that technique a little but sharper, crisper, stronger.

Continual improvement is not always about big gains. Sure, they are great, and you get a lot of big gains early on, but continual improvement is about incremental gains slowly and steadily. That is the difference between and State Title holder, a National Champion and a World Champion.

The difference between a good teacher, a great teacher, and an expert.

The difference between a good student and great student and an award winner.

That is the difference between a karate student, a black belt and a 2nd Dan Black Belt, a 4th Dan Black Belt and a Hanshi.

Not sure what a Hanshi is? Better get back to the dojo and find out.