View Full Version : How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

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09-22-2009, 08:09 AM
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? the guy asked his cab driver. The reply, "Practice. Practice. Practice."

This is an old joke that has been told thousands maybe tens of thousands times but its advice is foundational to mastering anything regardless of knowledge or skill.

I found this article on Greenwood Aikido webpage by Philip Greenwood, Sensei

"Ten-Thousand Hours

I just read Malcolm Gladwell's newest book "Outliers." In it he says that studies of mastery in every discipline, from playing musical instruments to chess, sports and even computer programming, point to one number over and over. Ten thousand hours. Mastery is not as much the result of inborn talent as it is practice and persistence. I saw Ray Bradbury, the famous science fiction author, speak once. He said, "If you want to be a writer, write a million words!" My friend and martial arts mentor Robert Bryner would say you've got to do each technique a thousand times.

Robert Bryner also said, "The book of excuses is thick." There are always reasons to give up. In over 30 years of training I've gone through many major life events -- high school with sports, music, AP classes and Boy Scouts, the distraction of girlfriends, undergrad, doctorate, new businesses, marriage, divorce, financial challenges, injuries, children. We all have an ongoing list of excuses we can draw from. The choice you make is not whether or not you have an excuse, but whether to indulge yourself and use the excuse. Robert Bryner is in his mid-sixties, has 8 year old twin daughters and has lost several of his toes to diabetes. He continues to train 7 days a week!

I've gone through periods of time where I have lost interest in training -- and continued to train. I've gone through periods when I had doubts about my training. I've had my feelings hurt by my teachers and other students. I've had psycho practice partners that were out to injure me. I've had injuries. I've faced my own laziness. Ultimately the path of bushido asks you to become bigger than all that -- bigger than your injury, your pain, your self-doubt, your busy-ness, your laziness or whatever would otherwise take you off the path. You take action in spite of yourself. Never ask yourself, "Do I feel like training?" If you only follow your feelings about things you are being no better than a single celled amoeba which can also follow what is comfortable. This attitude can't help but take over your whole life then.

Injury is not a reason to not train. Rather, you do mitori geiko (observation training). You put on your gi, get on the mat, do the parts you can and sit seiza during classes until you are better. If you have an injury to your knee of foot you can sit on a bench. We also have class on Wednesday evening now with total emphasis on boken and jo weapons. It is zero impact and involves nothing strenuous. Even if you're nursing a strain you can do this class.

Whatever your reasons for starting Aikido, you wanted to make something more of yourself. Never forget that. Set your expectations high. Push ahead harder than you are pushed."

Philip Greenwood, Sensei


Kevin Leavitt
09-22-2009, 02:31 PM
Overall I agree, but I also think that we tend to focus on the "ten thousand cuts" mentality a little too much.

Sure, that is a way to mastery and we must do this to a certain extent, but that in its self is not necessarily an "end to a means".

Romantic notions abound about Shugyo and "eating bitter" etc. that somehow if I train in the snow with no shoes on, or punch trees, or go to class over and over that transmission will eventually happen.

It may or may not. We may be doing the wrong things, or it just may not be in the cards for us.

I have also experienced guys that simply come to the table with no work at all or have figured out some efficiencies in train that allow this to happen much faster!

I think this is also important to realize.

What I like about Mike Sigman's approach is that he did not the "have faith, do what I say approach". We went out and critically engaged, asked why? challenged.

He also put in the hours of hard work once he found out the things that worked too.

I do think there is a distinct difference in the process though that needs to be considered past the "ten thousand cuts".

We should not be so quick to accept this as the only way to mastery as I don't believe it is the primary path.

I think that teachers who offer this up front have more to gain than you do by saying this. Either they don't have the skill to actually tell you want to do in "one thousand cuts" vice "10 thousand" so it gets them off the hook. Two, they need you to keep faith and keep coming back for more to pay the bills.

Not saying that everyone says this, but I think it happens more often than not.

The important thing we need to ask them is WHY? show me HOW, then show me the methodology, then provide constructive measurement and progression along the way....or something like that!

09-22-2009, 03:34 PM
He also put in the hours of hard work once he found out the things that worked too.

That is the point. A lot of of practice but practice correctly.


Walter Martindale
09-23-2009, 04:58 AM
10,000 h of "deliberate practice" - refining, looking for weakness, addressing the weakness, raising the challenge as skills develop. Nothing really new there.
Talent accounts for only a small part of elite performance in anything - hard work accounts for a huge proportion of elite performance, and the combination of talent and hard work gives the best performance.

Whether it's a musician, artist, sportsman, or martial artist. There are a few people who are 4 or 5 or more standard deviations away from the mean, and who achieve mastery in significantly less than 10k hours (I coached one, once, for a little more than a year - it was amazing, but she did the hard work which was backed up by talent), but they are extremely rare. The rest of us need closer to the 10k hours.

Kevin Leavitt
11-30-2009, 12:37 PM
Thought I'd bring this thread back to life.

Just finished Outliers this weekend. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it as a budoka.

It brings up some very interesting points. I look back at my post to David's post above and have a little more to add after reading the Book.

I still stand by my statement, and in fact I am happy to say, my instincts we in line with what Gladwell had to say.

10,0000 hours of practice is important in the concept of mastery. Gladwell does a good job of defining through a series of vignettes what 10,000 hours of practice means and all the other factors that goes into the formula of mastery or success.

That 10,000 hours of course, has to be the right things, and the right time too.

I found myself as I read Outliers reflecting on Hidden in Plain Site, by Ellis Amdur. Outliers is a very good capstone book to read after reading HIPS. As Gladwell paints pictures of guys Like Bill Joy and Bill Gates, you find yourself remembering Ueshiba, Kano, and Helio Gracie...how these guys happen to find success and mastery.

It is liberating for me as Outliers kinda confirms that the reciepe for success will change for each person and in that reciepe go alot of things such has work ethic, culture, up bringing, opportunities, technology, war, politics, experiences...all that stuff.

All the stuff that Ellis' book talks about in painting the picture of the past of the major players in Budo. It helps us understand the "formula" of how those guys found success.

This is fundamental, I think, in helping us define our own "formula".

We can look at the past, see what is relevant today to our own situation and then try and find those things in our own lives that we might be able to adapt or exploit, which may be entirely different from what the "old guys" experienced.

History is a good teacher.

I also think this is a healthier way (mentally) to approach our training. We can "forgive" or let ourselves off the hook on the stuff that we simply cannot do or be. Things that are not a part of our culture, or conditions that we simply can't or should not replicate. Most of us will not be a graying old, hakama wearing 80 year old bearded guy that speaks Japanese!

Then combining that with our own factors that are unique to us in the 21st Century, we can clearly and rationally develop a plan for ourselves and then drive toward reasonable goals that we can be happy with!

Anyway, some of us our well linto our "10,000 hours" some of us are just starting. Regardless of where we are in that process...it is important I think, to not only establish this mentality for the long run, but also to reflect back on our path and take credit for the fact that what we are doing or have done and give ourselves a pat on the back.

Again, a good quick read if you have not read it.