By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.
A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.
1) Learn One Thing at a Time.
It is better to learn one thing well than to half-learn two things. For teachers, the reverse is, teach one thing at a time. I never do this – sorry students! I’m way too talkative. Pick one problem area or new skill and train it diligently before moving on to the next thing. This is what the pro athletes do. Focus and plan. Pick out one weakness or new skill and work on it. Then pick another one. Repeat.
2) Quantity Before Quality
Everyone is awkward at first. No one does a new skill perfectly right out of the gate. In fact, if you already know how to fight, when you train a new approach, you will start by becoming worse. This is because fighting is all about developing reflexes. If you start putting in new reflex actions, at first, your body will be confused how to react – the old way or the new way. Press on until the new reflex is ingrained.
You’ll continue to have revelations about movements and techniques and principles throughout your martial arts career. I’ve been training Wing Chun since 2000, and I still have new realizations about the system all the time, even about basic concepts like the stance or turning, which you learn the first day. Learning happens not all at once but by a slow process of accumulation and removal, as with sculpture. A little goes on and a little comes off and it slowly looks more and more like the ideal form (but its never completely there).
3) Watch and Visualize
This is an under-rated aspect of learning outside of professional sports. You must watch your teacher closely. Learn by watching. Then imagine yourself moving as your teacher moves. Go through the motion in your mind as you execute the move perfectly. Visualization is the secret Sports Psychology “sauce” that separates the good from the great.
4) Find a Training Partner
This is key in Wing Chun. Its a two person fighting style. No one ever became great just playing the wooden man and the pole. It sucks, if you are not that social, but you will never really advance to the higher levels of skill until you find someone to work with who can sign on to a cooperative, mutually-beneficial relationship of training. You need to help one another. If your partner always catches you with a certain technique, they should be willing to help teach you how to beat that technique. It must be a win-win relationship. If you are really lucky, you are in a school where you have multiple training partners who follow this philosophy.
This post is loosely based on a section from SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham.