by Rudy Fischer
I hold a second degree black belt in Judo, so over the past 30 plus years, I have been fortunate enough to have been coached by some great Judoka’s. I have also coached many students, so I have been on both sides of the coaching fence. As a very young student (I think I was in grade 6 at the time) I once asked my Sensei; (teacher / coach) “What I would have to do to become a Black Belt?” His answer; 10,000 breakfalls. I didn’t understand what he meant at the time, but I do now. I think he under estimated that number.
In a typical 60 minute practice, you may throw and be thrown at least 25 to 30 times. Do this twice per week and over a year period and you will have thrown people about 2,500 times with an equivalent number of breakfalls. Over a 4 to 5 year period, you would do approximately 10,000 to 12,500 throws and breakfalls each. After all those years and all those practices, the techniques become well ingrained, second nature, and become just a normal reaction. Just like riding a bike, you never forget. And that can be both good and bad.
Getting the black belt is a goal and a significant achievement in Judo. It does not come easy and the bar is raised for each successive Dan, Degree or Belt. You need to qualify for black belt testing. Qualification is achieved by collecting points that you gather through tournament wins and other activities. The quickest way to the black belt is through competition. Judo is a soft art that is practiced hard. In practice we throw, hold, choke and arm bar just as you would in a tournament; other than kata, ‘striking’ is not part of the core curriculum, it is done at 110% effort. You would not want to be striking your ‘partner’ at 110% each time you practiced; you would not have any partners left to practice with.
In tournaments and in Randori (free style practice – often looks like competition without the referee), the goal is “Ippon” which is an automatic win and gains you the most points towards your black belt. An Ippon is awarded based on how your opponent lands, length of the hold down and everyone’s favorite, “tapping out”. There are no points for losing.
A decision to throw your opponent happens within fractions of a second; the millisecond you see an opening, you go for it 110%, if not you will be counter thrown and lose the match in a blink of an eye. You need lots of practice to get to be able to react in that short of time; it has to come as quick and natural as breathing. Practice, practice, and more practice; oh, and lots of breakfalls.
One of the key observations I have made over time is that the old saying of “practice makes perfect” is not correct. The reality is that “practice makes permanent”. If you practice the wrong thing over and over, you get really good at doing the wrong thing very well. Having executed throws in a particular way thousands of times over the years makes throwing become second nature. Second nature even when it is wrong. I have learned that it is hard to ‘unlearn’ a bad habit. How do you get over that? Practice the right things right, with repetition. This is where coaching come in.
In my case, I had a favorite throw. The challenge? I was not as successful in tournaments with it as I was in Randori (free practice). The throw looked good going through the motions in class and in free practice, but was less than stellar on the mat in a highly competitive situation. I had a coach watch me over time. He observed while I fought in tournaments, and he practiced with me in the club. Then he finally found the problem. It was my entry in to the throw. I had 99% of the throw correct, but the 1% that was weak, killed the execution of the technique in a tournament. I had just learned that ‘practice made permanent – not perfect’. Sometime perfection is just getting that last 1%, better.
The coach identified exactly what I was doing wrong, then showed me what I should try. When I tried, it didn’t always work out at first. We needed to fit the correction into how I approached my Judo. We tried different variations of the same theme until it connected. Once it connected I started to practice the newly improved technique. This is where I found it is hard to unlearn a bad habit. Correcting years of a bad habit, that practice made permanent, takes effort to unlearn and effort to relearn. It did not happen overnight.
I took that new learning and practiced nothing else for the next two to three months. I practiced that new methodology at least 25 times in each practice 4 times per week including twice on Saturdays. 100 times per week times 13 weeks, means I practiced the correct technique over 1,300 times. I then went into a tournament with my new found knowledge and the result was an Ippon. It felt great! I loved it when I heard my opponent’s breath escape from his lungs when he met the mat at high speed. It was over in the blink of an eye. I could not have achieved these results without a coach. When I am on the mat (not nearly enough these days) I make sure to catch myself not practicing old habits.
We as people have a pretty difficult time at looking at ourselves from a different perspective so we cannot see what a coach could see. I knew what I was doing was not working. The value of the coach describing what he saw from the outside looking in was invaluable. The coach objectively saw what I was doing and recommended different approaches with a very specific focus on the ‘lacking quality’ of the technique. Technically I was performing the throw properly; however I needed some “fine tuning” for the specific situation I was finding myself in. I needed to unlearn what I had been doing for years and relearn a new approach. The coach corrected me when I started to veer back into my old methods and acknowledged me when I did the right things right. It was not enough to catch the problem the first time, we needed to make sure the change was permanent and executed flawlessly.
What I learned was that I was less than ½ of a second off in my timing upon entry into the throw. I was signalling my intentions to my opponent. By changing the “lead in” to the technique in such a way, that by the time my opponent was finally signalled, it was too late, I was already in. The difference in timing was less than the blink of an eye, but it was all that I needed for that throw. The coaching needed to be fit to my style for it to work. This particular change would not work for everyone. The solution I adopted was not the only solution available, but it worked for me.
When I think back on the coaching I did for my students, I realize that the approach I took for each student was unique. Some students are taller, wider, longer-legged, shorter-legged, stronger, thinner, quicker, slower, and just about any other adjective you can think of. Because of these individual unique characteristics, a “one approach fits all” just does not work. Coaching needs to be tailored to each student. One approach that seems to resonate with all my students was to:
1) identify the imperfection,
2) get the move corrected,
3) practice the new move slowly so the body gets used to the motion, and then when the new move is learned well,
4) add speed to the move in order to create effortless motion and momentum.
Coaching Applied To Business
Coaching in business is not really that different. I find most clients and employees that I have coached over time are quite technically competent in the knowledge they possess. They are subject matter experts in their field. Often the ‘areas’ that require unlearning and relearning are more related to the application and approach to specific situations in which they face on a daily and weekly basis. It could be the application of a financial principle, the linkage between two business activities, additional elements to consider for a decision, how to test for relevance, or an approach to market segmentation and analysis. All of these relate to how a person perceives, thinks, imagines, reasons, and approaches their daily business lives. Over time these cognitive processes become ingrained and second nature. Unlearning these can be difficult; it often takes a significant emotional event to create an ‘oh-crap’ moment (like the bank saying “no” to a loan, or losing that big sale) to finally realize ‘the way we are working, isn’t working!’.
Sometimes the slight correction of a thought process, the additional question asked, or the incremental 1% of knowledge required, allows people to become 100% effective. A 1% change can make someone go from 0% to 100% effective in the blink of an eye – that is called leverage. It is the “aha” moment when something clicks in our heads, and then all of a sudden all those things from the past begin to make sense and become infinitely clear and well-focused.
Just like I learned in Judo, a simple ‘aha’ moment does not necessarily solve the problem. It is just the beginning to problem definition. The next step is to get to the root of the situation, gathering data and forming your hypothesis on what and why things are not working. Being caught in the middle of all this, it is impossible to be objective. A trusted advisor or outside help can provide the required perspective and guidance. Once you have identified the problem and found a way that works for you, you then can create the approach that works for the client in their particular situation. Like above, the approach is to:
1) identify the imperfection,
2) get the approach/ thinking corrected,
3) apply the new approach in a controlled way to test the thinking and to ensure the mind gets used to the thinking process, and then
4) apply to all situations to create effortless motion and momentum to that newly learned skill.
Some examples (but not limited to this list) of applied coaching are;
1) learning to periodically and regularly review and understand key elements of your financial statements to determine performance and profitability versus running your business by monitoring your daily bank account balance,
2) creating, monitoring and trusting new measures of success for your business,
3) new ways of thinking about how the activities you are working on and how they are contributing to positive cash flow, or
4) methods of spending more time reviewing your business priorities versus handling interrupts as they occur hourly.
These are just a few examples where people get caught in the turmoil of daily business and are not being successful; where through repeated business practice, we are able to make permanent not perfect. Just like I did in Judo when I realized my way was not working; I sought out a coach to objectively assess and guide me to identify potential exposures and to unlearn the past practices and adopt new practices. Doing this can help bring success to your endeavours.
RK Fischer & Associates