There have been a number of studies and books written about groups and individuals who have mastered various disciplines such as singing, musical instruments, chess, various sports, martial arts, sculpture, painting, even mathematics and science. They addressed the question, “Is world-class skill or “mastery” the result of innate talent or effort?” The bulk of the studies conclude that natural “talent” matters very little in the long run when evaluating what it takes to master any given discipline. Another conclusion is that roughly 10,000 hours of focused, deliberate practice is what’s necessary to acquire world class ability – otherwise known as “mastery”.
This theory of 10,000 hours of focused, hard training dedicated to consistent improvement certainly applies to developing mastery in kung fu. Proper stances, punches, kicks, blocking and countering techniques are new and fun to learn at first and progress in martial arts typically comes quickly in the beginning. This is when you are introduced to the various fundamental elements of training. However, plateaus occur as you progress and begin working on mastering what can be thought of as “small” details of the basics. After learning what might be considered more advanced techniques, often times these fundamental elements of “basic” training often seem less interesting. Unfortunately, this is sometimes when students become less enchanted with their training and look for something new to stimulate them.
Not enough can be said regarding the importance of truly mastering the fundamentals of kung fu. The basics are the building blocks to advanced techniques as much as simple addition and subtraction are the building blocks to algebra. When you learn new movements, place special attention on the fundamentals that are the basis of the movement. As an example, a good side kick is required to develop a good hook kick or spinning side kick (both of which can be thought of as more advanced.) Without a good side kick, it is impossible to develop the other two to a high degree.
As you continue your training, be cognizant of the skills and areas you are weak in – remember, everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Improvement requires extra focus and attention on those skills that you are struggling with and/or are new to you. Spend time before class starts or after class ends developing those weak portions of your practice. Even better, spend time training on your own – outside of the school – working on what needs improvement. Often it’s as simple as lowering your stances or having faster kicks with better form, but sometimes it can be as advanced as envisioning sparring scenarios and “what if’s” that might occur and shadow boxing to those scenarios. Working on weaknesses can be difficult as our ego want quick fixes to our inadequacies. However, this struggle for improvement is what breaks us through the inevitable plateaus. This training is a very important part of the 10,000 hours.
For those wanting to master this art, training 3 hours/day, 6 days/week, for 10 years can roughly get you to mastery at 10,000 hours. Training 2.5 hours/day, 5 days/week will take roughly 15 years to hit the 10,000 hours. Training 2 hours/day, 5 days/week will get you to 10,000 hours in around 20 years. This may sound like an awfully long period of time, but consider two things. One, you are developing a world class skill and physical ability that can benefit you in a number of ways. Two, you are hopefully enjoying your training. Like most disciplines, more fun is had as your skills develop and become more advanced.
Not everyone needs to become a master, but consistent and diligent practice with an excellent instructor over a long period of time can make true mastery in kung fu a possibility for those willing to put in the time and effort.