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Becoming a Master – how to train when you’re not training

Scientific research suggests that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to obtain mastery of what you want to learn. In my case, I’m working on Capoeira & Yoga, studying, learning & integrating both practices as well as teaching what I learn to others.

Formally I teach 2 hours of Yoga classes and 4 hours of Capoeira classes a week, and I set aside about 8 hours a week to develop my own personal practice – I learn when I teach, so I’ll include that in my 10,000 hours to mastery calculation. Between teaching and personal practice I therefore do about 14 hours a week during term time (split approx. 50:50 so 7 hours capoeira & 7 hours yoga). In holiday time, it’s less.

Maybe each year I’m currently doing approximately 250 hours of capoeira training & 250 hours of yoga practice across the year. On that basis, it will take me 40 years to reach the 10,000 hours and master both my practices. I’d like to progress to mastery faster than that, so the logical conclusion would be that I need to train more often during the week – and this is what I have seen happen with many of my peers. They have trained more often than me and progressed more rapidly. I don’t doubt that it works, but it’s not a good option for me right now. I have other work and family commitments, so my schedule doesn’t really permit me to set aside any more time for actual training.

Instead I’ve been asking myself a different question: How can I train when I’m not training?

One of my capoeira students (Coragem) gave me a bit of an idea a year or 2 ago when he was talking about a technique he used for brushing his teeth whilst at the same time strengthening and protecting his knees. It’s dead simple, and it won’t take any extra time out of your day. You can try it next time you clean your teeth. Simply stand on one leg and balance for the first minute of brushing your teeth, then change and balance on the other leg for the second minute. You do your recommended 2 minutes of brushing and you’re training too. Training the strength in your legs, balance & co-ordination. I also noticed an improvement in my actual teeth cleaning – by challenging myself to do this, I became more actively aware of what I was doing when cleaning my teeth, which meant I cleaned my teeth better, rather than doing it in a mindless, mechanical and careless way, which is what I was mostly doing previously without even realising it. Somehow it also made me enjoy brushing my teeth more too.

Now 2 minutes brushing in the morning and at night, doesn’t get me much closer to my 10,000 hours to mastery, but what it does give me is an idea, or a way in, to what it might be like to train when I’m not training, and I can extend this into other areas of my life.

I often suggest to my yoga students that they should complement their yoga work in class with some personal practice. My previous blog on developing a spontaneous practice touched on some of these ideas – see: https://www.thedailybaboon.com/single-post/2018/05/23/Let-go-flow-%E2%80%93-developing-a-spontaneous-movement-practice I also suggest that they try to keep the awareness of their breathing, alignment and mindful movement work going when they are going about their daily life. It’s not always possible, but if you can remember to do it, you can transform walking to the shops or doing the household chores into practice. And this transforms mundane tasks which drain you energetically into activities which nourish you. Suddenly you’re doing yoga when you’re not doing yoga and a whole new world of possibilities opens up when you realise that you don’t need to be on a yoga mat or taking a class to practice.

Similarly with Capoeira, my friend Lobinho who also teaches in Oxford, often reminds students that Capoeira starts when you enter the training room – i.e. in how you prepare yourself & interact with the other students even before the class has actually started. Mestre Fantasma, a teacher who has influenced me a lot, talked about how when he started Capoeira he had to travel far and wide to practice, so as well as the actual training, he was also thinking about capoeira on the way to practice and digesting what he had learned on the way back, and therefore his training time extended and he learned more. Personally I have often found that simply putting on my Capoeira clothes and Angoleiros do Mar group uniform has helped me to get into the capoeira frame of mind.

More and more I’m also finding that I don’t need to be in the training room, travelling to and from class or wearing special clothes to train. I can train capoeira songs as I cycle to work, I can train my ginga and kicks whilst I’m waiting for the bus, I can train my awareness & interaction with people and the environment around me when I’m in the park with my daughter, and of course I can now train my balance when I’m brushing my teeth!

I’ve still got a long way to go to mastery, but discovering some ways to train when I’m not training has helped transform the previously mechanical, mundane and meaningless parts of my life into special moments which just seem to keep giving and giving.

Perhaps that’s actually much more important than becoming a master in the end anyway?

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