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Emerson Combatives: Learning Versus Training

Ernest Emerson Contributor
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Learning versus Training – There is a big difference.

I remember early on in my martial arts career being asked by fellow students how I was able to progress so quickly in my acquisition of skills and promotions into the “higher” classes. And, mind you, I’m not talking about belt promotions. Where I was training, they did not give out any belts. Since it was a full contact fighting school, you moved up strictly based on your ability to fight. Both the ability to give a beating and also to take a beating. It wasn’t like any other “martial arts” training in the world at that time. And as a result there were plenty of broken bones, black eyes, broken noses, and loose teeth. It was the precursor for what 30 years later would become MMA training.

I also remember back even further while as a freshman in high school earning the starting position at shortstop on the high school baseball team. And the jealousy I felt from some of the other, older ball players who were candidates for that position. Why did I make the position and not them?

As I look back on things, like the two I have just mentioned, I now understand why those things happened for me. In regard to baseball, the reason was just this: I loved baseball, I couldn’t get enough of it. There wasn’t enough time in the day for me to play. So when practice was over I would spend the next two hours by myself, every day, even on Saturdays and Sundays practicing. I would pitch against a chalked in strike zone against a brick wall, I would practice my swing with a weighted bat, or I would practice hitting quarter sized rocks with a broom stick. I would practice fielding grounders by throwing balls against that same brick wall from 10 feet away to sharpen my quickness and reaction time. I spent hours – days doing stuff like that, just because I loved it. Oh and I read every book that existed about baseball and ball players. And it eventually got me to a level where I played semi-pro ball.

Later in my life, when I became involved in martial arts I threw myself head long into that pursuit as well. I actually uprooted myself from my home and family in Norther Wisconsin to move to California just to train at what was the best fighting school in the world. Having gone to college, I was perhaps a little wiser and had come to a profound conclusion that I would carry with me the rest of my life. Simply put it was this: Classroom time was not training time. In other words, going to class was not all that was needed to get a good grade. Heck, you could get a “C” just by going to class and handing in the minimum assignments. The real learning came after class – the homework. And the amount of homework and research I did directly reflected the grade I got in each class. Plus, and this was also big, I learned to take notes – good notes – and lots of them.

So when I was asked the question why did I advance so quickly? I now know the difference. When it comes to many things, especially the martial arts, most people make the decision that their class time is their training time. And I also see this is shooting courses and handgun classes. Most people assume that their class time is their training time. That is why there are so many “C” students out there and so few “A” students. I realized that my one hour, two times a week, in class was not my training time, it was my learning time. I eventually ended up going five nights a week and on Saturdays as I moved up in my skill set. But as opposed to almost all the other students who regarded their sum total of training as their time spent in class, I trained every morning starting at 04:30 hours for at least an hour and a half before I went to work. And at least two hours after work and on both Saturdays and Sundays. I set up a training area in my garage with heavy bags, speed bags, top and bottom bags, weights, pull up bars, and all the rest so I could “train” as much as I wanted. This was the time and place where I practiced and perfected the things I was “taught” in class. My learning took place in class. My homework, in this case training, took place on my own. So when I was asked how did you advance so quickly? I realized it was a difference between two hours a week and the three-and-a-half to four hours a day I spent in pursuit of my goal. There was a huge difference between two hours a week and 20 hours a week. That was the real answer. Nothing comes without effort. Attainment of your goals in any endeavor are directly measured against your efforts and your sacrifice. How bad do you want it? And let me say there’s nothing wrong with being a “C” student, or doing something just for fun. It just isn’t me.

There was something else that was very important. Remember I mentioned the fact that I learned how to take good notes and how important that was? I did the same thing for my training. Most people think taking notes only works for lectures or in an academic setting, not in athletic setting. That too is a false assumption. What I did was this: Every night when I would get home from class I would get out my notebook and write down everything we went over in class. And I mean everything, right from where I walked through the door. This was very difficult at first, and I can tell from my early notes how minimal they were. But I found out that the ability to “play back” the class just like a movie was a learned and practicable skill. After a few weeks I was able to write down, diagram, and describe everything that took place in class, even the conversations I had. I found as a result that by diagramming and describing the physical moves and techniques, I was able to practice them in my mind (creative visualization) which made it possible to practice them even when I did not have a training partner to train with. By putting everything down in these notes, I was reinforcing the learning and I could refer back to them at any time to refresh on them, and reinforce something I might have neglected. This note taking discipline became another valuable tool in my learning process. So to finally answer the question why did I progress so quickly? First off, I loved what I was doing. Without that passion I may not have been willing to apply myself with such dedication.

And I realized early on that in life you get back what you put in. You can’t put in just a little and expect to get back a lot.

When it came to the skill set I was seeking, there was absolutely no substitute for the time spent on the range – on the mat, or in the ring. But in addition to that, you need to be able to separate learning time from training time. They are not the same. And although neither can exist without the other, they have to be approached separately. I learned to learn when I was being taught. And I learned to reinforce that learning when I was training. This ability to separate, yet compliment these two aspects of growth was the real answer as to why I progressed so quickly. I’ve never wanted to be a “C” student, do you?

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Ernest Emerson is the owner of Emerson Knives, Inc. He is a tier one Combatives instructor, Master at Arms, noted author and lecturer, Black Belt Hall of Fame member and a connoisseur of fine whiskey.

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