Last week, you got to see a demonstration of how deep in the technical rabbit hole you can potentially go on the way to mastery in any given technique or skill. This week, we’re zooming out a bit and taking a practical approach- how do we apply this in order to learn any skill more effectively? Where do we shift our focus to? What do we ignore (perhaps temporarily)?
Here’s a sequential breakdown of the parts. If this looks familiar, it’s because it applies metalearning principles from various different sources.
If that’s hard to memorize, try remembering the first two letters of each word: Ob-De-Se-Se-Mo. Obdesesemo. Say what, Che? Is that Italian for “obese”? No, and I apologize if you are reading this and happen to be Italian. For what it’s worth, I dream to one day spend several weeks in beautiful Italian towns and cities.
Also, I’ll be approaching this with an example that I’m familiar with: wrestling takedowns. Cut me some slack, dude. I live and breathe this stuff. I could try this breakdown with other stuff like language learning but I’d be doing those topics an injustice for now. Maybe next time, yeah? Stay tuned!
First, start by seeing the big picture first (if possible). What does this look like from start to finish? What exactly are you trying to accomplish? By seeing the big picture, you may end up filling knowledge gaps on your own instinctively. To begin, this is fantastic. You don’t want to drown in details just yet. In wrestling, the objective of a takedown is to bring an opponent from the feet to the ground in a controlled manner. If you watch rugby or American football, think of the tackle. If you watch judo, think of the ippon.
Fortunately, takedown mechanics are pretty similar throughout most combat sports in principle. Physics will still be physics. Rules can change, so the application of those principles may change to accommodate those rules. Since you can no longer grab legs with your arms in judo, judokas use their legs to trip and throw the opponent. In Greco-Roman wrestling, this is illegal and wrestlers are limited to grabbing their opponent above the waist for their takedowns. Freestyle wrestling, folkstyle wrestling, and BJJ have more flexibility here in that you can attack the legs in addition to using judo or Greco throws as desired.
For learning purposes, use this step to get some idea of what a takedown looks like from starting position (stance) all the way through to the finish (opponent on the ground with you in control of them).
In deconstruction, break the skill or technique down into chunks. It’s much easier to learn something when you have the option to consume it in bite sized chunks. When was the last time you swallowed a whole burger? Yesterday? You sick bastard. All joking aside, you get the point. Break it down so it’s easier to learn in small pieces. If it’s still too complicated in the small pieces, you can probably break it down further or there’s a piece of the puzzle that you’re not seeing. An experienced instructor can help you find the missing piece of the puzzle!
For all wrestling takedowns, the deconstruction consists of three main parts: set up, shot, and finish. You can also argue that stance, mat strategy, pace, intensity, and game planning have its place here, but we’ll keep it simple for now, which brings us to the next principle.
In selection, we’re looking at the building blocks that we deconstructed and choosing the important ideas that are most effective. The key here is to identify that building blocks that will give you the best return on investment of time. In any skill, there are a select few pieces that will give you the most bang for your buck. Additionally, we can go further- which takedowns should we focus on? That’s a valid question, but for now, we’ll focus on the principle of how you’d learn any wrestling takedown.
One intuitive example can be seen in how you break down an athlete’s performance. In this case, the main parts of any successful athlete can be traced back to adequate sleep, nutrition, training, and recovery. Supplements are cool, and I’m not against them, but you wouldn’t be focusing on the most important pieces. If you focus on supplements and nothing else, your return on time (and money) invested isn’t optimal even if you still make progress.
Situational mat strategy, pace, intensity, and game planning can be considered the equivalent to supplements in the takedown puzzle. They all have their place in wrestling, but they are not standalone pieces. This means that if you focus on those four items without any time spent on set up, shot, and finish, you wouldn’t be making great use of your time. As for stance, that should be the absolute first thing you learn in wrestling anyway, even outside of the context of takedowns. For that reason, I’ll be leaving that out even though it’s crucial in wrestling.
At this point, we’ve identified our objective (bring the opponent to the ground in a controlled manner), broken down wrestling takedowns into manageable learning chunks, and decided on the most effective pieces (set up, shot, and finish). Next, we’re answering the question of which order we want to learn these blocks in. It’s tempting to start in chronological order, but hear me out; sometimes there’s a better way.
When chess grandmaster Josh Waitzkin began former instruction in chess, his instructor started with the endgame (king vs. king and pawn combinations, and so on). This served a number of purposes. First, chess games inevitably move to the endgame, so learning the endgame with a solid level of mastery makes sense. Next, the endgame teaches you to value your individual pieces where the amount of pieces on the chess board are scarce. With fewer pieces on the board, you also build a deeper understanding of chess piece relations. How would a bishop-rook combination compare to a knight-rook combination or a bishop-knight combination? These principles can then be applied to chess openings, mid games, and end games. Waitzkin’s instructor was onto something. While other young chess players were memorizing complex chess openings, Waitzkin would lag behind in the beginning but would inevitably figure out the situation towards the end game. This served as a powerful foundation for years to come, and Waitzkin went on to have a phenomenal career as an international master. Fun fact: When I was a child, I played a game of chess against a computerized version of Josh Waitzkin. I got absolutely destroyed and humiliated. Maybe that’s why I personally prefer checkers now.
You can apply the same principle to learning takedowns. Start with the finish, and solidify that. This allows you to have a good feel for gauging distance and gives you takedown confidence. Would you shoot more takedowns if you knew you could score points on any of your opponents as soon as your attack connects to the opponent? I personally would, and I’ve seen examples of coaches teaching certain wrestling moves backwards. After showing the “big picture” and main objective, 2X NCAA champion Jordan Oliver starts off the finer points of the low single by working on the finish first (about 4 minutes in).
Next, the finer points of the shot. With takedowns, the shot takes the longest to learn and is the most time consuming piece because there are many moving parts and details involved. By having a feel for the finish before fine-tuning the details for takedowns, you already have a good idea of how close you need to be to the opponent in order to initiate your shot. This alone fixes most of the problems that beginner wrestlers face in learning the takedown as they otherwise tend to overcompensate their position through other means, ultimately breaking their athletic position and preventing them from chain wrestling or transitioning to another more advantageous position off of the initial sequence.
Finally, work on the set ups. These are easiest to learn, require the least amount of time to learn (less overall movement involved), and the attacker understands what objective they are trying to achieve by working the setup. Once you reach a sufficient level of competition, opponents will start to figure you out and adjust to your set ups. At this point, the most effective use of your time would be to learn new set ups to attacks. It might make sense to learn a different finish but this isn’t a long term solution to your new problem. Trying to learn as many different shots as possible is ineffective at the higher stages simply due to the depth of knowledge required to execute at the higher levels. Because of this, set ups become increasingly important as you progress. Starting out, however, you can keep things pretty basic while focusing on the finish and the actual shot first.
It’s easy to get bogged in the details when you start diving down into the technical rabbit hole, so it’s important to approach the process with motivation and a sense of purpose. Why are you learning this? What consequences will you face if you don’t learn it? To up the stakes, sign up for a tournament or competition so you have a tangible deadline or goal in sight. When you lose sight of the purpose and simply go through the motions in training, your progress slows down too.
You can certainly apply this to other fields such as language learning, business, writing, or anything else. If you get the hang of this framework (or other variations of it), you’ll find your learning speed improving in no time. It’s learning how to learn; a program for programs. What skill will you learn today?