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How to progress and be successful at every class.

Years ago I was taking a break with a fellow competitor after randori, they had a frustrated look on their face and said to me as they threw their belt in their bag “Man, I am in a slump, every class I feel like I am doing worse than the last one. Feels like I can’t do anything right”.

I asked him what he was working on and why they felt it was going so poorly. He said, “My goal all week was to throw so-and-so and not only have I not even come close I also got thrown by a bunch of lower ranks instead!”

I don’t remember what I said to him at the time, but I know whatever I said it wasn’t helpful. Later that night I do remember thinking about it more though and as time went on I would run into people over and over that said the same thing as my teammate. It was as if for many people, they were either on top of the world or in a slump and not living up to some expectation they had.

Turns out, there was a very simple explanation for this that ended up changing the way I approached my own training. The key is understanding how to set good short-term (day-to-day/week-to-week) goals.

Aspirations vs. Short-term Goals

The words goals and aspirations get used interchangeably a lot, but here is how I look at it: An aspiration is a goal without a plan. Aspirations are great motivators, but as short-term goals they are unproductive for training. For instance, when people say their ‘goal’ for a class is to best another teammate, but there is no plan on how to do this other than to “try hard”, this automatically sets them up for failure. When things don’t follow our expectations it can make us feel like we are making negative progress.

Think of it this way: besting a teammate, winning a competition or getting your next rank -- these are all largely aspirations. These are the “why” reasons that we come to class every day: why we train hard, and why we put in the effort. These are great motivators, but aspirations themselves don’t get us anywhere without a plan, and a plan is the “how” in our training. Without a “how”, aspirations are like an empty bubble, and the bigger it gets without something to support it, the more likely it is going to pop. The “how”, if designed correctly, can form the structure for success that lets us hold up and achieve our aspirations.

We should focus our day-to-day/week-to-week efforts on short-term goals with well-defined objectives that:

  • Come with a plan

  • Are Measurable

  • Ideally that we cannot fail at (more on that later).

So now, let’s look at a different approach that helps maximize our training and leaves little room for failure.

Let’s say that one of our aspirations is to do better in Randori against a specific person. First, we create a theory as to why we are failing to best that person already and what to change to fix it. Our theory should be something we can methodically test with a training plan which we can create with our coach. For instance:

Theory: “John routinely throws me with left-sided Tai-Otoshi from a left-sided grip. To do better I will work on controlling the inside space through gripping so that John cannot create the off-balance he needs to do Tai-Otoshi.”

Plan/Training Goal: “During randori and gripping drills I will focus 100% on controlling the inside space left v. right.”

Every class we write down in our training/goal journal notes about how the plan went, our ability to execute the plan, and the result. If after a few weeks we are now successfully controlling the inside space and preventing the Tai-Otoshi we know that our theory was correct, if it still isn’t preventing the Tai-Otoshi then we must adjust re-evaluate our plan and adjust based on new information we have.

The key is that even if our plan fails to produce our desired end result (Preventing the Tai-Otoshi), merely by sticking to the plan we gain valuable information and training experiences that we otherwise would not have gotten without it. Sticking to the plan each class is success. Now when you ask yourself, “Did I have a good class?”, you can confidently say yes if you followed your plan.

More importantly, the information you gather from testing your theory is valuable, and it will give you a methodical way to pivot and test another plan based on new information. This methodology can be used for anything in life, and long-term these plans provide a faster way to achieve your aspirations than without them.

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