Two of my least favourite words in any conversation, debate or piece of writing are “everybody knows”. I hear those words and I translate them automatically to “I believe X, but I’d rather not justify it so I’ll just lean on the weight of popular opinion as I interpret it. There shall be no argument. The people have spoken” These two words often accompany statements like:


… only 1 in every 100 that starts Taekwon-Do / Martial Arts reaches Black Belt

… only a very small percentage of people who do Taekwon-Do actually compete

… nobody joins Taekwon-Do for sport

… the most important thing we can teach our students is how to defend themselves

… you need to run the roads if you want stamina in the ring

… ballistic stretching is dangerous

… stretching prevents injuries

… if you lift heavy you’ll get slow


Am I hitting home yet? If we’re honest we’ve probably used those words or something similar ourselves at some stage. We’ve probably held the commonly held belief and laughed at or berated a peer because their opinion differed. It’s probably human nature to some degree, we want to belong and feel comfortable in a group and that means conforming, even if the norm is ridiculous. When I completed my final year thesis for my Degree in Sport and Exercise Science my assertion that there was no observable benefit to static stretching as part of a warm up for speed/power events was slated as utterly mad. What about prevention of injuries? Everybody knows ballistic stretching causes injuries etc. Ah well… everyone now knows dynamic warm ups are the way to go. Everyone is probably still wrong…

Today I want to take something else that everybody knows and break it down practically, the 10,000 hour rule. The concept that achieving world class mastery in any challenging activity never takes place without a significant investment of deliberate (purposeful) practice was proposed in a paper by K Anders Ericsson in 1993. His team studied 40 German Violinists and had them retrospectively look at how they had practiced their craft, arriving at the conclusion that the very best AVERAGED 10,000 hours of deliberate practice by the time they were 20 years old. The idea became popular and popularly regarded as a ‘rule’ following the publication and huge success of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers. 

I’ve had many coaches speak to me about this and tell me how they really take comfort in knowing that if someone just commits to practicing, spends enough time, they will achieve a world class level of mastery. Let’s look at a typical example shall we? A student starts training at 6 years of age, in a kids development programme (pick one you like) in her local Taekwon-Do club.

Year 1: Trains once per week for an hour and takes breaks during the school holidays. 40 hours

Year 2: Trains twice per week for an hour, takes July and August off and misses a week or two here and there. 80 hours | 120 total

Year 3-4: Follows the same pattern. 160 hours | 280 total

Year 5-7: Adds a competition class, grading prep class or third session. 360 hours | 640 total

Achieves Black Belt!!! Woooo Hoooo

Year 8: Commits to making a regional or national team. Adds a 4th session, lengthens all sessions. Trains 12 squad days. Trains through holidays 360 hours | 1000 total

Phenomenal! Only 9000 hours to go. So what can we conclude from this entirely fictional though thoroughly believable example? 

10000 hours is a very, very significant amount of time and will not be achieved by the average student training twice a week for an hour a time within their training lifetime (maybe even their actual lifetime). It’s 100 years of training that way and taking breaks for holidays, illness and other typical life events. Adding 30 minutes a day of purposeful home practice halves that to 50 years. And investing an average of 12 or so total hours every week shortens that timespan to a far more reasonable 20 years. 

So here’s what I’m really getting at. 10000 hours is not a rule or natural law of nature, but as a kind of metaphor for the type of investment in deliberate practice that will be required to achieve mastery in a Martial Art and Sport as complex as Taekwon-Do, it might just serve. Mastery in this sense, the WORLD CLASS level of achievement is almost certainly not the goal of the majority. Instead, maybe we should look at a less rigorously studied quote from John Kavanagh of SBG (Coach to Conor McGregor). ‘If you want to be good, not great, just good… train every day for 10 years’. If we want to get good (just good) we need to make deliberate purposeful practice a part of our lifestyle. At some point, we have to decide to invest in ourselves and our identity as Taekwon-Do practitioners. 

Beginning with just a commitment to a couple of sessions per week and a moderate amount of daily home practice will allow most of us to get GOOD as long as our time is purposefully spent. Our goal as instructors should probably be to foster that kind of commitment to making practice a part of the students lifestyle and not focusing on the type of intense focus it will require to achieve 10000 hours in a reasonable span of years. Practice is a great determinant for many activities, sport and martial art amongst them but it is far from the only determinant. 

Next, we’ll look at the advantages and disadvantages of different ways of structuring your training week.

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