Home > Meta Learning > Maintaining skills with quick brown foxes and karate kata

Maintaining skills with quick brown foxes and karate kata

It’s often overlooked, but when we quickly acquire new skills and knowledge those memories fade fast. If we don’t make a conscious effort to retain that information, we’ll lose it.

It’s rare that we spend time reinforcing what we’ve recently learned because nobody tells us to. We feel so pleased to have passed the exam, or understood the tutorials, that we just chalk it up as a success and move on.

Online learning resources don’t make reference to it, so it never crosses our minds. Even when it does, it’s not obvious how we should go about it. We don’t want to continually re-do all the tutorials that we’ve just been through — that would be like relearning the subject from scratch every week. The irony is that if we don’t maintain our knowledge, that’s exactly what we’ll have to do.

Instead we need to look for an efficient way to rehearse as much of the content as possible. In typing, this might be to type the sentence ‘the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ which contains every letter of the alphabet. A piano player might buy sheet music for a range of short but complex pieces to play, so that they can quickly refresh their skills without getting bored. The book ‘The Four Hour Chef’ purposefully includes a recipe containing all the major knife skills, to allow time-saving practise (I review the book here).

I suspect that this is actually the purpose of kata in Karate. If you’re not familiar with it, a kata looks like a hyper aggressive, tightly choreographed solo dance, but each one is actually a bunch of related self-defence moves stitched together. Karate students learn to perform katas from memory, and can use them to rehearse all the techniques from a syllabus, on their own, in just a few minutes. This is hardly a substitute for partnered practise, but it does mean that when the chance for this arises, the student isn’t starting from scratch.

I like to call these routines ‘maintenance drills’. ‘Drills’, because we need to do them from memory, to give us the best chance of remembering them in future. They’re best performed regularly. We can start by doing them daily, then increase the gap every time recall becomes effortless.

With a bit of thought we can create these drills for ourselves and, if you’re designing a syllabus, then it would really help your students to provide some ready-made ones for them to use.

Maintenance drills need to be short, otherwise you’ll skip them. With that in mind, you can’t always fit every skill into a single drill, so you might need to create a small handful of them, but that’s okay because variety is no bad thing. If you’re actually applying what you’ve learnt in real life, you only need drills for the more esoteric skills that aren’t being practised.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: