If Everything Is A Priority, Nothing Is!

I watched the student repeat the same mistake, again!  This must have been the fourth or fifth time he attempted to perform the whole drill we were working on, yet made a mistake on a key part of the technique in the drill.   I stopped him and told him that the

This is Mike Janich's Martial Blade Camp in 2013. I distinctly remember the camp I attended and how we painstakingly worked on one cutting sequence over and over. Of course, that focus on one key portion of the skill is what led the students to improve in leaps and bounds!
This is Mike Janich’s Martial Blade Camp in 2013. I distinctly remember the camp I attended and how we painstakingly worked on one cutting sequence over and over. Of course, that focus on one key portion of the skill is what led the students to improve in leaps and bounds!

key to getting better was to focus on one thing at a time.   Think about it for a second.  How many things can you think about at one time?   One!  Even the best of you multi-taskers can only think (and focus) on one particular piece of information at one time.   I realize that those of you that are highly caffeinated and reading this might be thinking, “Mike, I just thought about fifteen things in two seconds!”  But the truth is that those thoughts (bits of information) were rapid fire thoughts that occurred one at a time.

Training a complex group of techniques requires that we learn to “put things together” so to speak.   What this does not mean is that we think about the elements of each skill necessary at the same time consciously, because that is not possible.   Rather, we use our well designed subconscious (some call it unconscious) mind to take over and run skill programs for us, so we can divert conscious though elsewhere.

A good example is the last time you navigated your car while driving, via a mapping program on a phone or navigation system.   The conscious thought occurred while you drove along and followed the instructions and looked for the roads and exits the program told you to take.   But during those turns and stops and lane changes, did you ever think about turning on your blinker (ok, the truth is some of you never knew you had those on your car….anyway), hit the brake, or turn the steering wheel?  No, you likely did not.  Your subconscious took those actions over.   It all happened automatically.

Now compare that same set of actions done by a brand new driver, say 16 years old, taking his driving test.   He on the other hand, is probably literally thinking, “left turn, blinker on, steer left while gently braking, straighten the wheel, accelerate.”   So what is the difference between you (if you’re not the 16 year old) and the younger driver?  Simple, you have driven enough to make most of the driving skills necessary automatic.   Your subconscious took over!

What does this have to do with shooting or training a combative technique?  Everything! The only way to real skill development is to learn to focus on exactly what you are trying to improve on.   I have developed many different drills for my two programs (Your Competition Handgun Training Program and Your Defensive Handgun Training Program) and the drills range from very simple to more complex.  The key though when using any training drill is to recognize when you hit your failure point, and then know how to correct it.

The term failure point is simply the area within the technique that causes you problems.  For example on a complete drill like my 2-shot X drill you might find yourself missing the reload.  If you continued to do the drill over and over hoping that the reload would improve you would be wasting your time.  Instead, since that specific area of the drill was the problem area, stop the drill and focus on just that.   Stop and try to figure out what is going wrong, and attempt to correct that specific portion of the technique.   Once you figure it out, perform ten or so repetitions of just that key area before attempting the whole drill again.

This picture shows the failure point cycle, a key to improvement during practice.
This picture shows the failure point cycle, a key to improvement during practice.

Another problem is trying to accomplish and learn too much during a practice session.  Once again, if everything is a priority, you will accomplish nothing.  Instead, focus on one or two key drills that work on something specific, and attempt to push (with both speed and accuracy) until you find the failure point referenced above.   In the last years of training I have found myself learning much more in practice sessions that focus on one or two key areas, by doing  just one drill after my warm up routine.   The time this saves by not having to set up complex drills is also a big benefit.

A combative (empty-handed fighting) example of prioritizing one area is obvious if you train with a true professional.  I can remember training at the Gracie Academy in Torrance, California years ago under the tutelage of Royce Grace himself, and one thing that stood out to me was that we were introduced to and practiced no more than two to three moves in each class.  We would be taught a move, and then drill that move and the variations and nuances of it until we ingrained it.  It was some of the best fundamental instruction I have ever received, and each class I found myself getting better.   Imagine yourself practicing striking skills and spending a two-hour class just working on one combination and the technique, balance, and set-up of this one combination for your entire training session.  Your skill with that combination would improve dramatically!

So what is the solution?  Here is a framework that might guide your thought process on how to practice:

  1. Break your skill practice sessions into short, highly functional bits of time.
  2. Pick 1-3 skills to work on in each session.
  3. Push your skill by using time as the nominator, and try to find the failure point of the skill you are working on.
  4. Immediately pause at that point, and figure out the corrective step actions needed to fix or improve the key areas you need improvement on.
  5. Perform ten or more mental (think visualization) and physical repetitions of the corrective step.
  6. Repeat the original drill and perform the skill (entirely) correctly.
  7. Lastly, keep in mind that a practice drill of any kind that requires several skills to be done throughout should be saved until you have correctly ingrained the skills necessary to perform the whole drill.
  8. As you gain skill, add more complex drills that require several skills to be performed.  The better you get, the more complex the drills should be as your sub-conscious should be taking over many of the small tasks.

There you have it, a framework to base your future practice sessions on.  Keep in mind that the whole principle this article was written about applies to any skill, so if you want to shoot better, fight better, drive better, or whatever, focusing on one thing at a time will take your skill to the next level.

Your Action Steps:

  • Comment on and share it if you learned something from this article and like it! (there is a comment box and Facebook link below the article)
  • Follow the action steps above to improve the focus of your practice sessions.
  • Simplify your practice into short, focused sessions where you are making improvements each minute you practice.
  • Add complexity as your skills improve.
  • You might also like this article: Try-Versus-Do

Until Then – Train Hard!

Mike S. 

Leave a Reply

3 thoughts on “If Everything Is A Priority, Nothing Is!”