Moving the Line and Making Better Mistakes Tomorrow
You have a certain skill level and you want to advance it? Get used to making mistakes. No EMBRACE that you will make mistakes. If you are not, don't expect to get much better.
Too many students are averse to making mistakes. Some people are so much so they never become students at all. This aversion keeps people at the same level in their practices with depressing frequency. It tends to be a trend in others areas of their life, too.
Picture a line. This line marks the edge of your capacity in a particular activity. When you cross it, mistakes start to happen. This is good. This is necessary. Look over the edge. Lean into it. Even cross it a bit. You cannot pull the line further along without crossing it a bit. This is how you move the line so that you can make better mistakes tomorrow.
We all pay our idiot taxes from time to time but the goal is to make smart mistakes, little failures. Seth Godin, guru to many an entrepreneur, has said that the way he has done better in business than others is by making more mistakes than them. Every mistake was an opportunity to learn and as long as the mistake did not knock him out of the game, he got to continue racking up mistakes. Bumps and bruises (actual or metaphorical) are not a big deal but remember the line is also a cliff. You can go over too far! Mistakes that are easy to recover from leave us in the game and able to continue making better and better mistakes. Be smart in training, just not too serious!
Let's look at a few examples starting with strength training. Whether you are working lower or higher rep sets, the goal is to push to failure. Failure to complete a rep, failure of form, micro-failures of the individual muscle fibers. This is what changes ones body. Your line marks where failure starts. Achieving a new personal best comes as a result of prior failures. To get stronger (to move the line), one forces failure today (crossing the line/making "mistakes") in order fail at higher weight or reps tomorrow (making a better "mistake").
Another example. Hand speed training. I wrote about this here recently. Say you are running Pok/punch drills against an interval timer. I constantly tout quality over quantity training. Meaning here: clean, quality reps will take you further than a high volume of sloppy reps. But if you want to build speed and even improve the durability of the technique under stress, you will need to push your speed to where some sloppy executions do arise. This shows you were your line is at currently. Make more quality reps than sloppy ones but play the line. Push to failure of correct technique here and there and then dial it back. If you don't work to the limit sometime the line will never move. Work the line. Move the line. Your mistakes will then only occur at higher speeds in the future (i.e. "better mistakes tomorrow").
Finally lets look at a partner drill. 'A' feeds 'B' a straight punch at low speed but with proper range and aim to land the punch. 'B' uses Pok/punch to defend. Mistakes leave no marks and do no damage but it is evident when mistakes are made. 'B' makes some mistakes but soon is getting every attempt correctly. 'A' increases the speed slightly to raise the challenge. Mistakes are made but no one is bleeding. Skill advances (the line moves) and mistakes dissipate again. Soon safety gear is introduced so the feeder, 'A', can throw punches faster and more dynamically (train smart and safe). The cycle continues to repeat with greater speed, variation or other bits of chaos being introduced to try to trip up 'B' just enough to move his skill ahead.
The goal of training is not to stop making mistakes but to have the point where we make mistakes (the line) moved further ahead. So always show up for training prepared to make mistakes -this goes for practice in and out of the studio. Play the line to cause mistakes. At first this takes very little. As the line moves greater pressure is introduced so that some mistakes begin to arise again. When your skill line moves you are now in a position to make even better mistakes than before! Zero mistakes over too long a period translates into zero progress. Embrace mistakes, just correct them so you can even make better ones the next time. Train safe but not too serious. This is not only how you get better, it keeps things fun!
Embrace failure now so you can embrace success later.
Sifu Nick Edmonds
Red Light Wing Chun Phoenix, Arizona