The Four Stages of Competence
A few weeks ago I mentioned frustration with training, particularly that I was able to see what I was doing wrong but not necessarily able to fix it. During the recent course in Springburn, Shoto Budo's technical director Billy Haggerty, mentioned about the four stages of competence that one goes through.
It turns out that this model for learning was first developed in the 1970s. It suggests that individuals are initially unaware of how little they know, or unconscious of their incompetence. As they recognize their incompetence, they consciously acquire a skill, then consciously use it. Eventually, the skill can be utilized without it being consciously thought through: the individual is said to have then acquired unconscious competence.
I thought I would look at each stage and try to identify where I stand in each. With that, let's go to Wikipedia for some descriptions and add my own thoughts.
1. Unconscious incompetence - The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit.
At a high level, I recognise the need for self defence and the skills to attain this goal so to some degree I have moved beyond this phase. However, if we bring it down a level there are surely self defence scenarios that I have not considered or encountered and therefore may not have any skills in these areas. So even after seven years of training, clearly I still spend sometime in this phase as I develop my skills.
2. Conscious incompetence - Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.
I am definitely in this stage a large part of the time. I recognise areas where I need to be able to do something but my body does not react or I do not know how to deal with the situation. One example of this came this week during a Tuesday night wrestling practise with Paul G. Paul is much bigger and many times stronger than I am so I recognise a need to be able to move and be faster.
At another point, he had me pinned on the ground but in moving, he left some space for me to move and an arm that was ripe for an arm bar or lock. So I recognised the situation and the opportunity but did not have the skills in place to get in the position to take advantage.
I do find that this spotting of a situation happens quite often so I am spending much time in this stage.
3. Conscious competence - The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.
In this phase. At this point, I have some skills that I can apply but they do not necessarily come "on demand" or automatically. I have skills that will help me in specific situations but I am still not able to adapt if the exact scenario does not present itself (for example, someone grabs me with two hands rather than one). During Wednesday's training as I practised with John C, an opportunity for a choke that I learned the previous week presented itself. I applied the choke successfully but it was definitely a case of a specific opening and a move to match.
I would say I spend the largest amount of time in this phase.
4. Unconscious competence - The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become "second nature" and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.
Watching the senior grades train, I can see how much time they spend in this phase. An ability to react to changing situations and cope with these attacks. This was demonstrated (yet again) as Hugh used me to show the class a variation of a single leg take down that we have been working on. I thought I had enough balance to avoid being taken down, only to find Hugh changing my balance and me ending up on the mat once again.
Very occasionally, I do enter this phase. Ironically, most recently this happened at work when a colleague that knows I train, tried to grab me, only for me to parry his arm without thinking. I do not think our HR team would approve of me practising on my colleagues so fortunately there were no locks or blows but it felt surprisingly good to parry a simple move without thinking, under a situation where an "attack" would not be expected.
What can we draw from this? It seems to me that we are in a continual state of learning and each skill is at a different stage. It is an interesting journey and I do find the moments when I jump from one phase to another to be an indicator of my own development.
Tune in next time for some thoughts on the final week of training before the 2014 Spring School in Largs.
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The BMAC blog began in 2013 to chart one member's journey to black belt.