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Home > Columns > > February, 2006 - Apples and Oranges: State Specific Learning
by Lynn Seiser

Apples and Oranges: State Specific Learning by Lynn Seiser


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Which is the toughest, most effective, and most realistic fruit, the apple or the orange? Yes, apples and oranges both grow on trees, both are round, both are good for you, and I personally like them both. But, apples and oranges are not the same thing. Why am I talking about apples and oranges? It's about comparing the two or thinking that by picking apples you will somehow get better orange juice.

While there may be some similarities between a golf swing and the swing of a baseball bat, there are more differences. You are swinging with something that is made of wood or some type of metal at some type of ball. Will studying one necessarily make you better at the other? Let's not even talk about the tennis or other sports swings. To get better at golf, get competent instruction and practice playing golf, especially specifically on the course you want to win on. To get better at baseball, get competent instruction and practice baseball, specifically in the park and on the diamond you will be playing on.

When I trained in more reality-based scenario fighting systems and martial arts, we would pair up, go out to the parking lot, and let it fly. The rest of the class would stand around, egg us on, and occasionally jump into the mix. The purpose was to prepare us for a scenario as close as possible to what we might someday face in the streets or in a bar. The focus and angles of striking attacks I learned in the streets, the military, karate, boxing, FMA/kali/escrima, JKD, and Aikido were all different. All useful, but different. In fact, I sometimes think that's how different martial arts evolve. One art's strength is developed due to another's weakness or vulnerability. Training is different from sparring, which is different from fighting, which is different from combat. The military was the same. The closer to reality and the harder we trained, the better. We had a saying that the more we sweated in training the less we'd bleed in combat. While I didn't appreciate this sentiment in training at the time, I sure appreciated the value of it later.

In sports psychology and motor development there is a concept called state specific learning. It is the idea that those specific conditions, contexts, or states in which a specific skill is learned is the same specific condition, context, or state in which it is best remembered or executed. The context in which you take any information in is specifically and directly related to the state in which you can best retrieve and remember that same specific information.

To learn better Aikido, study and practice Aikido. To get better at boxing, box. To get a better ground game, grapple. Besides the techniques being different, the training methods, the intent, and intensity are also different.

I am a huge fan, supporter, and participant in cross training with various fighting systems and martial arts. I do believe that there are some crossover benefits, especially in conditioning, coordination, and mental toughness. I was taught to keep the different systems and arts separate, at least initially. Trying to translate one into another is only confusing. Trying to learn a new art by keeping it in reference and context to an old art, means limiting learning anything new.

On one level, we can compare different fighting systems and martial arts. Yet, this is mostly intellectual and personal preference. Just because I like apples doesn't mean it's the toughest, most effective, most realistic fruit on the tree. It's just the one I am choosing right now. It's not right or wrong, good or bad, it's an apple. Bite in and enjoy it.

Thanks for listening, for the opportunity to be of service, and for sharing the journey. Now get back to training. KWATZ!


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