“Perishable” Skills 1

In reading through a forum on disaster preparedness, I saw a LEO (law enforcement officer) mention “perishable skills,” and it got me thinking. Some skills in life are, more or less, “non-perishable.” You can go years without using them, and then when you need them again, they still work well enough. Things like swimming, or riding a bike, would fall into this category. Once you have developed a reasonable level of skill, you can stop practicing and still be able to swim or ride a bike 10 years later, even if you’re a bit rusty. Other skills are “perishable,” in that they degrade quickly if they aren’t used. These tend to be more complex skills, like first aid or knitting. Sure, you will remember the basics, but your ability to perform will be significantly diminished, if not completely erased, by a lack of practice.

Kata practice, at home

Martial skills are both “perishable” and “non-perishable,” as they encompass both basic muscle-memory skills, like how to throw a punch or a kick, and more complex skills, like fine motor coordination, timing, and distancing. Even a short break from training (such as a vacation) can cause noticeable degradation. I have actually noticed it since I got back from my trip to Canada, but most noticeable was during the two years that I had no karate dojo, from 2008 to 2010. During that time, I trained extensively at home, and was able to retain all of my basic skills and remember all of my kata. Of course, since I was still actively training in judo at a local club, those skills were improving. Meanwhile, my more complex karate skills were breaking down due to a lack of partner training. When I finally found my current dojo, my timing, ability to judge distance, and my tactile sensitivity were all terrible!

Some things you just can’t practice well without a partner

On the plus side, once you have learned these skills, it takes much less time to regain them than it did to learn them in the first place. Within a few months, I was back to where I had been two years prior. If I hadn’t been training on my own, I would have been even worse off, and who knows how long it would have taken me to get back on track? If you are a martial artist, and you are truly dedicated to your training, then you should be training regularly on your own. This will help you keep all of your basics and kata sharp. You should also be getting into the dojo for training on a regular basis to keep all of your more advanced skills sharp. Doing just one or the other will lead to plateaus or, worse, a loss of skill.

Even simple techniques require continuous maintenance

This is where things like “self defense seminars” run into trouble. They teach untrained people a few techniques and have them practice for a few hours, and those people go off into the world thinking that they can defend themselves without practicing any of that stuff ever again. These people not have a foundation of basic skills to work with on their own, nor do they have trained partners to practice with, and most of them certainly don’t want to take the time to practice, even if they had those things. When teaching people self defense, it is vital (in my opinion) to instill in your students the importance of maintaining these perishable skills, and teach them things they can practice without you being there.

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About Noah

I began training in karate (Shuri-Ryu) in the Summer of 2006. Subsequently, I started training in judo, kobudo, and iaijutsu within the next 6 months. During my training there, I earned the rank of Sankyu (3rd Degree Brown Belt) in Shuri-Ryu, Gokyu (Green Belt) in judo, a certification in the use of the bo, and passed proficiency tests for the four tachigata of Shinkage-Ryu iaijutsu. I moved to Arizona in the Summer of 2008, and continued training and researching karate at home. I continued regular training in judo at a local club until 2010, when I was able to start training in Shorin-Ryu with Sensei Richard Poage. I have been training with him ever since, and currently hold the rank of Shodan (1st Degree Black Belt) in Shorin-Ryu under him. In addition, I began studying KishimotoDi under Sensei Ulf Karlsson in 2014.

One thought on ““Perishable” Skills

  • Kamil Devonish

    Beautiful distinction. I was just writing about this – the difference between the kata that you’ve forgotten and the kata that you remember after a five year hiatus. One is just information in the mind, the other is knowledge in the body.

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