How To Learn Karate in 10 Seconds?

Everything is supposed to go so fast these days.

“Modern Kung-Fu Karate: Iron Poison Hand Training, Book 1 – Break Bricks in 100 Days”

“Become a Lethal Weapon in Only 14 Days – The “Unfair” Fighting Secrets of the Most Dangerous, Most Feared, and Most Respected Street Fighters in the World”

“Learn The Martial Arts in 8 Weeks”

“How To Become A Lethal Weapon In 2 Weeks – Self Defense Guide”

“Master The Iron Palm in 100 Days”

“Teach Yourself Karate in 1 Week”

“The Shaolin Workout: 28 Days to Transforming Your Body and Soul…”

All of these are titles of actual books I just found on Amazon.com.

I didn’t make them up. Really. People actually sit down with a pen and paper and plan these kinds of books, proceeding to then even writing them!

Search for “martial arts”, or “Karate”, or any other skill you can come to think of in general among the thousands of book and DVDs out there, and you’ll quickly notice that anyone can “easily” become a master in practically anything by studying a book or such for as little as one week.

In fact, you can even be a total “Dummy”, and still become an expert in X days!

Yeah.

And then came Santa Claus.

I mean, apparently there is no need for this website anymore.

Here I am, thinking you need to know all sort of “hard” stuff – ranging from the physical to the psychological, to the tactical to the technical – to become an all-encompassing Karate expert of some degree, when you can obviously just get a holy book and become an expert master in a couple of days!

Why the hell didn’t somebody tell me that before I wrote 200+ frickin’ free articles on this stuff?

Geez…

But hold on. Wait a minute.

There’s something fishy going on here.

Let’s take a fictional book title and break it down for a few seconds, to see if there is possibly some truth hiding behind the promising titles. That’ll be fun. We might even discover something along the way.

Let’s take “Learn Karate in 10 Days”.

Can you really?

  • “Learn”

What is learning? Is it… the act of merely accumulating a bunch of facts that relate to your specific subject at hand? If so, then yes, you can surely learn (and even “master”) something from a book, provided it has all the facts you will need straight.

However, if you, like me, believe learning is more than just remembering stupid things, then it becomes more difficult. If you believe learning is not so much about reflecting stuff as it is absorbing stuff, then we have a problem right now.

Because that’s a big challenge for a book.

This quote in particular (from Humberto Maturana’s Biology of Cognition and Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living) really nails down the definition of learning, I believe:

“Learning is not a process of accumulation of representations of the environment; it is a continuous process of transformation of behavior through continuous change in the capacity of the nervous system to synthesize it. Recall does not depend on the indefinite retention of a structural invariant that represents an entity (an idea, image or symbol), but on the functional ability of the system to create, when certain recurrent demands are given, a behavior that satisfies the recurrent demands or that the observer would class as a reenacting of a previous one.”

So, no, you can’t really learn from a book.

You can, however, learn by steadily applying concepts, ideas and theories found in some books, and then putting those into your own situation – creating your own learning experience day by day, according to your circumstances.

But the book isn’t teaching you.

You are.

  • “Karate”

Karate. What is it?

Well, that question in itself needs a whole book to answer.

Luckily, there is one.

Yet the popular definition seems to be (prepare for the longest sentence in the history of KbJ): “The physical act of kicking, screaming and punching wearing a white pajamas, divided into set forms (kata), basic movements (kihon) and sparring (kumite), utilizing a plethora of pseudo-Japanese terms and phrases in a safe learning environment with the main goal of exotic socializing approximately three times a week, occasionally interrupted by commonly considered highly related social events such as competing and/or grading.

Put the above definition down in book form, and that is what you’ll “learn” from a book like this.

Maximum.

Well, needless to say, that’s not really our definition of Karate, is it?

  • “In 10 Days”

That’s just wrong.

Some people can barely remember their own address in ten days, let alone a geometrical pattern of defensive/offensive templates strung together into a physical form known as kata.

Me? I don’t even remember which one of the words “youka” and “yokka” are “the fourth” and “the eight” day of a month in Japanese. And I was supposedly “taught” that in 2007. I mean, it’s even written in every Japanese language learning book I own, and believe me I’ve got plenty of those.

Learning takes time. It is an accumulative process indeed.

Nuff’ said.

So that was the quick breakdown.

It seems a book that promises to “teach” you “Karate” or any other “martial art” in “10 Days”, “2 Weeks” or “24 Hours” is pretty much bull. At the very best, it will give you a brief overview of what the author at hand considers most important in the specific area of learning (based on his/her definition of the skill or art, and his/her understanding of the said definition).

So scratch that.

Books like those provide very little actual knowledge.

And as we all know, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

So, how the heck do you become an expert in this stuff anyways? I want to become a master, you want to become a master, we all want to become a masters. Chuck Norris only needs a kick, Van Damme only needs a split, Arnold only needs a shotgun. What do we need?

Do we need… the T-word?

[dare I say it?]

TALENT?!

Well, if it’s up to most regular people, it’s all about talent. Either you seem to have it, or you don’t, and that’s what apparently determines if you will go from rags to riches or not.

To give you guys a personal example, when I first jumped onto the “intense training required for sporting excellence = a risky investment of time and resources, with a brief payback window, an ever-present threat of injury and overdependence on factors outside one’s control… plus after all that work everyone is just gonna say you have magical fast-twitch muscles anyway” -bandwagon a couple of years ago, I had no talent. I lost first round all the time. Every goddamn tournament. Over and over.

Now, when I start getting trophies at big tournaments, I have suddenly acquired “talent.”

I guess the magic Karate fairy decided to finally sprinkle some pixie dust on me…

Well, what people don’t realize is that I’ve been “untalented” in this stuff (due to my commitment to more practially oriented Karate) for my whole life. With one win came twenty losses. Standard.

Up until this year.

So why is that?

I’d like to think it’s because I’ve trained. And learned. And then some.

Of course.

It all boils down to training. And believe me, no matter what preference you currently have in Karate, whether it be the sporting aspect, self-defense, kata, standing grappling, kumite, street fighting, kihon, grading stuff – no matter what – it will take more than a couple of days or weeks of training.

More than a couple of years, even.

And that’s the problem to why so few people become great.

You see, when you start out practising something (in this case Karate) you will inevitably belong to one of two universal groups:

  1. People who “get it”.
  2. People who don’t “get it”.

The first group is generally called talented, and the second is generally called average (or losers, depending on how bad your case is).

So, both groups of people start out practising something, and naturally the people who “get it” have a head start. They learn a kata ten movements faster than you, they pick up kumite combinations thrice as fast as you and they complete the whole kihon before you’ve even rememberd the second move.

Why?

They are talented.

And you are not.

Which is great for them. The sad part is that it often makes people like you, untalented people, quit in the beginning. Because naturally you think that they are the norm, and that you suck ass. Which isn’t true. But we don’t see it that way. It’s in our DNA to compare us with everyone else. We get discouraged.

So what’s the solution?

Read the previous paragraph again, and notice that I use the word beginning (in the sentence “… quit in the beginning”). Because understanding that is where the answer to mastery lies.

The beginning.

If you ask me, it appears to be some kind of cosmic freaky Newtonian law that the longer two people do something, the less their pre-journey starting condition matters when you finally compare their end results.

And the deeper implications of that sentence explains two things:

  • Why talented people tend to quit early.
  • Why the world’s greatest were surprisingly sucky in the beginning.

Let me explain:

  • Why talented people tend to quit early:

Talent is a great kickstarter. No doubt. You own everybody without ever having practised before. People look at you like you’re from another planet (a good one, and not one of those creepy sci-fi ones), and you get overwhelmed by compliments everytime you show up for practise – soccer, ice hockey, piano lessons, Duke Nukem, chess… or Karate. 

And you thrive.

And you keep practising.

Until you one day find yourself close to that that edge where your talent is about as good as it gets. That horrible spot where the only thing that is going to take you even further, and higher, on the learning curve is to actually start deliberately practising with the goal of becoming better.

Instead of just doing what you’ve always done.

Talent took you this far, and you need to keep building by yourself from here. And this is, obviously, very hard to do for somebody who starts out talented. Because putting in effort has never been an issue. I mean, c’mon man, you’re used to having stuff come easily, right?! Training is supposed to be fun, right?!

Effort isn’t fun.

Unless you were taught that is was… but you never were.

In short, talented people quite because they inevitably lose an essential ingredient to their overnight success:

MOTIVATION.

Motivation which was, mind you, only fueled by their innate talent and peoples’ subsequent praise for this natural talent.

Which takes us to the next group of people:

  • Why the world’s greatest were surprisingly sucky in the beginning.

And not just sucky, but unimaginably sucky.

Like, even more sucky than the end of that movie No Country For Old Men.

Here. Let me give you a list of some of the most successfull people in their respective fields, and you tell me if you recognize their names:

Tiger Woods, Mozart, Beethoven, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs, Michelangelo, Michael Jordan, Einstein, Usain Bolt, Picasso, The Beatles.

The truth is, all of these people worked incredibly hard to get where they are (or were, in case of dead people), but we never learn about that because their huge success outshines everything else.

They worked that hard because they had no talent.

At all.

Looking at the early work of these people shows you that. The greatness of the Beatles, for instance, was forged by the early experience of playing 7-8 hours a day for months at a time in Hamburg. They just copied, mimiced and imitated other famous bands, right down to Buddy Holly’s hiccup vocals. It’s called “fake it till you make it” and it works pretty well.

They had no magic talent.

The same goes for everyone else. And precisely for that reason, they worked ten times harder and longer than their peers (especially their talented peers), eventually becoming the greatest even though that might never have been the goal to begin with.

They just wanted to become “good”.

However, during that quest for good, they ended up becoming so obsessed with constant improvement that they didn’t really care in the end. They just kept doing it. And doing it. And doing it some more.

To use a popular word, they were underdogs. And contrary to popular belief, being an underdog isn’t about merely getting lucky — rather, it’s about tapping into the psychological and social advantages that are built into the actual underdog story. Aggression. Purpose. Innovation. Social ties.

Being an underdog is the equivalent of getting a daily dose high-octane fuel.

Which, in the end, makes you fly past people with short-lived dreams of success based on a spark of talent, fueled by people’s praise for that.

So what is the conclusion of it all?

Talented people quit because they don’t have more than talent, and regular people quit because they think they need more talent. That’s why so few people become the best in the world. Not because it’s especially hard, and not because they can’t, but because they told themselves many years ago that they probably can’t. So in reality, very few actually try.

That’s why there’s so little competition for becoming the best.

The secret to succes, then, is easier than you realize.

Do something. And keep doing it.

To me, it seems that the further you get, the more true these two mantras get for every day that passes:

  • Practise is the key.
  • Talent is meaningless.

And until somebody comes along and writes a book entitled “How To Learn Karate in 10 Years (Minimum) & Become A Deadly Killing Machine of Enlightenment Through Hard Practise and Relentless Belief In Yourself, Coupled With a Big Dose Of Patience & Spirit”, I will keep doing my thing, and writing this blog.

Not because I’m the best, but because there’s people out there who need it.

People like you and me.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.”

– Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC)

I hope you agree.

30 Comments

  • Te'o
    Jesse, really good post. One of the things that we do as teachers, talking about my job as a high school teacher, is assessing and identifying the students who are 'getting it' and the ones who are 'not getting it.' We then start the process of teaching, assessing, reteaching, and so forth. The key concept that is out of my control is how much or often do my students practice the content area outside of class. Sound familiar? The same thing goes for my students at the dojo. I teach them and then they practice; I assess and then reteach if needed; I assess and then identify the students who need more help. I can tell who is putting in extra time outside of class. A joyful example of this is a student who came to me and asked if he could share with me an experience about his personal kata practice. He told me how he practiced on that day by doing several different kata in a classical, practical, tactical, and close quarter combat manner (his words). He then shared his feelings on how it felt and how it changed his perceptions of not only the kata, but on real-life encounters. After we talked, I thought to myself, "Now here is learning."
  • Michael
    Completely agree...!! And very well said. After 35 years of training, competing and teaching all I have left is my practice...
    • Mario
      A repeated action becomes a habit. A repeated habit becomes a lifestyle. Karate is not so much of a product but a process of transformation.
  • Alex
    Just one error in that: Mozart wasn't good at writing music because he worked for it. There's no way you can work for it and be the best in the world by the age of 5 at which point you're already writing concertos at that age (Andante in C). He definitely worked for it in later life, but there is absolutely no way that you can work to become a musical genius before you've left nursery (kindergarten for those of you in the US).Karate is of course nothing like that as you have very rightly said. Hard work is the only companion which will take you down the path to success.
    • Mozart started learning music at age 3 from a allegedly pushy father (who was also a composer) who loved to teach (and most likely helped write many of Mozarts early works). In other words, Mozart had been working at music for over 10 years by the time he wrote anything that was widely acknowledged to be of special quality. The music he wrote at age 5 wasn't really considered revolutionary in that sense.
      • Luca
        Jesse-san, I get what you mean. MOZART may have not worked hard of his own accord, his FATHER made him work hard.
  • Boban Alempijevic
    Effort IS fun! With no effort you will not get anywhere. Train and train over again, everything, from beginning til end, day after day, and someday you will notice that you are faster, stronger and better. Does it mean you should stop? No, why should I?Being an underdog... being fed high-octane fuel every day, aggression.... Sensei, you got me crying of happiness again! With this article, you once again told me I am not weird for having so much aggression inside me, using it whenever I train, pushing my self until I almost faint and smiling doing it, not backing down. I don't care about becoming famous, I only want to become the best I already am. Yes the best I already am, not what I can become, since there is dreams and then there is dreams.Thank you for a great article, there is no fast way to become good, you simple Have to grind it the old fashioned way, train and train like there is no tomorrow.
    • Boban: Thank you - your comments always make me smile :)
      • Boban Alempijevic
        Det är jag som skall tacka för underbar blog Sensei - it is I who should thank you for a wonderful blog sensei.
  • herrle 58
    You hit the point! Constant dripping wears away the stone... 10 years of hard practise can make you a good fighter, but to master the art, will take your whole lifetime...at least. (so i was told). I will never stopp practise, although i know perfection cannot be reached, because i love the martial arts and enjoy getting closer ;-). Thats my reward.
  • Manuel
    agree
  • portuguesegojuryu
    As usual a great article... and i must stay that im one of those who started as talented. well... not quite. i was sucky for a year. then i became talented for 4 years. now i train to keep my status as the best of the dojo. but sometimes i really feel like it isnt worth the effort and i think about quiting. of course after that i slap myself, get back to my real me and go train a bit more cause i just cant help it XD
  • Szilard
    Great article, I was always wondering why the most talented guys I started to train with quit just when things started to be fun.
  • Boban Alempijevic
    have to say that it would be very interesting to pop buy your Dojo Sensei and to get to train with you at least one evening. I might be a Shotokan, but I also know that to truly learn and develop your self you have to taste all the tastes ( maybe that is why I have a problem loosing to few excess kilos... :D )
    • Boban Alempijevic
      Hmm, that sounded almost like I look down on Shotokan, I DON'T, except that I have a problem with today's huge amounts of Martial Sports fanatics. I just want to train Martial Arts, haven't figured out why someone would want to do Martial sports yet....
  • Hi Jesse. This is a great way of stating that success is not so much a destination but a journey. I also read zenhabits dot net and Leo writes a post that has a similar sentiment at http://zenhabits.net/anti-success/. Do something. And keep doing it. So simple and true but missed by so many. I teach Tang Soo Do (aka Korean Karate) and there are obvious parallels to your chosen art. My instructor says "many paths, one peak" with respect to studying martial arts; so I'm always looking for inspiration where ever I can find it. I appreciate your blog and thank you for sharing with all of us other "karate nerds".
  • Lecé
    Dear Jesse, very nice post, but please, that list of names doesn't represent what the post is about. It isn't true what you say about Mozart, or others there. I agree they practiced a lot, but they really born with that talent. You have to see Picasso's sketches from when he was like 14...really, I have never seen a 14 year teen draw that way, his technique was amazing. Some on the list are natural born geniuses despite of doing it all the time. I think some people born with the talent and the motivation to just keep doing that in which they excel...that's why they where the best between the best and their names are in history.
    • My friend, here's some summer reading for you: "The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How." by Daniel Coyle, "Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else" by Geoff Colvin, and lastly "Outliers: The Story of Success" by Malcolm Gladwell. Take your pick!
      • Lecé
        I get your point, but really some people are more talented than others, again I speak of what I know, which is art, and I can really tell you that while ANYONE can learn how to draw and paint some people just happen to do it in a level that seems impossible for others. Or in the singing aspect, anyone with a singing degree CAN sing. But some voices are just amazing and born like that and some people just shine when they sing. I do castings all the time and there you see the difference between people talents. Even from people with an incredible difference of age an experience, suddenly the young and inexperienced guy shines like no other. One of the definitions of Talent is: "a special natural ability or aptitude" I guess natural is the key there, the word speaks by itself. I again agree with your post, but some people are just born into something. Technique can be very important, but an incredible physique sure helps, and some people just have it. By the way, thanks for the reading recommendations, I´ll surely check.Cheers
        • I do agree that there is something called talent (genetics?). With that being said, to become the best it is not enough with "just" having talent, as outlined in the article - and it is not a golden ticket for success. It can be though, if used wisely. But so can hard work. So yes, I know what you mean, and I agree. I have taught several "talented" beginners myself.
          • Lecé
            I agree. I guess Laziness can kill talent really fast¡ Keep it up with your hard work, love the blog.
  • Martin Mallet
    Today I was cooking a stew for my Sensei and my Dojo companions. The point is they will come to eat on friday night after the training session. (I happen to live just two blocks away from the dojo) and I remembered your article. I could make a stew in 50 minutes, it just wouldn't taste right. Same is with karate. Great article.http://cociname.com.ar/guiso-de-lentejas/
  • Domoarigatogozaimashita Jessie san. I was losing my interest after 30+ years of karatedo training, competing and now teaching but this article "changed" the way I look at things. It changed the way I perceve the "do". In my life. Thanks again... :)
  • NewBudo
    Jesse-san, I can truly relate to this article and it makes so much sense. Back in my JKA days I was one of many young black belts in my dojo. However, I seemed to be the most "untalented" of the bunch. The others always beat me at tournaments, did better kata, learned new kata faster etc. But, today, how many of them are still practicing karateka? None! Not even a single one of those "talented" karateka are still training. From the group of about 15 I think only 3 or 4 ever made it past Nidan. Me, I'm still doing what I did back then, training every day. Just training and learning, 20 years down the line. I suppose life would have been easier if I was "talented", but it would never have been so much fun!
  • warrioress
    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I love that! And thepart about talent and training was excellent. Just what I've always thought.
  • Such a great article, sir! Maybe. The. Best. Ever. ;)The only hitch is we all know people who have practiced something for decades (karate, guitar, basketball, you name it) and STILL suck. Yes, they may have mastered their potential, but their potential is fixed. That's where the "talent" factor pops up. Otherwise, logically, everyone would be capable of doing everything equally well if only they practiced. Which sure ain't the case for me! My guitar playing sucks! And I'll never slam dunk a basketball.I'd also add that a crucial piece of the personal mastery puzzle is to make sure you're practicing the "right" stuff. Training with bad habits or wacky intentions doesn't get you anywhere no matter how much you believe your practice is making you awesome. Ever been to a seminar with a "master" and immediately wanted your money back?To be the best, you need trustworthy teachers, honest self-appraisal, and objective feedback... Now add decades of effort and that's as good as you'll ever be. Which, sad to say, may still be a big, steaming pile of suck!
  • Jack M
    Great article. particularly resonant for me. I can't play sports for shit, I couldn't catch a tennis ball till I was ten, I trip up on everything, I'm not well coordinated at all. In fact in the womb, my evil twin brother crushed my skull (it's still a bit funny shaped) stunting the development of motor skills! Am I good at karate however, am I much better in fact than the afore-mentioned evil twin who plays tennis every sunday. Undoubtedly. In fact, my total lack of talent in Karate has actually helped me find success in areas in which I do have real talent. Thanks for the article Jesse.
  • Francisco
    Jesse-sensei. Thank you so much. I was(until I read this article) trapped in a spot without motivation,as you say. I am one of "those" with talent in my profession and in Karate. Now I know why suddenly it became so hard for me.
  • Jim Sorrell
    I went through a time when I watched a student pick up and use a move with natural talent. An instructor stopped by me and commented on some of the guy's flaws, which cleared the picture. I suck at some karate moves but, like the turtle, I gain promotions and fond memories by sticking out my neck and moving forward while this jack rabbit flashes past. A book like you mentioned would be fabulous but would not take the place of actually attempting and gaining karate skills. I admire the talented but I have my own path to travel.
  • Jose
    Do this books actually exist? It would be fun to buy a few, just for the laugh! Now, seriuosly, learning takes a lifetime of heartly dedication.

Leave a Reply to Boban Alempijevic or Cancel Reply