Peaks, Plateaus and Valleys

In all mental and physical training regiments, a person moves through three stages of learning. These stages reflect the body and the mind’s synergy, or lack thereof. In a sense, these stages are the yin and yang of learning. Martial arts are no exception. Below are definitions to the three stages — peaks, plateaus and valleys.

When you experience a peak in training, your progress in the art is quite apparent. You often feel a sense of euphoria over the hard-earned gains. It is, in fact, a peak in the learning curve. This is a time when you learn quickly and easily.

This is a result of background information that can be leveraged to acquire new information. Rarely will you enter in the peak stage at the onset of martial arts training (white belt). Expect the peak to occur after you can internalize some of the fundamentals and basics. This internalization is also known as chunking information into manageable units.

In a perfect world, you want to maintain the peak stage for most of your martial arts career. A rough estimate is 60-70% of your entire career if possible. Beware, however, of creating a burnout condition.

Kempo students can expect to reach the peak stage in the latter part of the candidate level and throughout the beginning levels. It also occurs after plateaus.

Have you ever experience a time when you forget techniques or merge two kata together? This is a sign of the plateau phenomena. This stage is a stalling in the learning curve. Your skill doesn’t improve as noticeably as in the peak stage. The brain needs to time to integrate your new skills and abilities to its program, if you will.

Equate the forgetfulness to this metaphor. When you clean out your desk, you pile everything in the middle of the room. From here you can go through each item, one at a time, and place it in its place. If someone asks for a phone number, you can look through the pile on the floor, but it will take awhile. This is the same thing that happens to the brain. It’s organizing the material for quicker access. You’ll have to wait until it’s done.

When does it end? This stage just ends abruptly. It’s a eureka phenomena. I’ve watched students struggling with techniques for many months. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, they’ll be able to do it right. Eureka! During this stage, it is very important to continue practicing until you emerge from the plateau and move into the peak.

Kempo students will experience plateaus at blue, green, brown and Black Belt due to the necessary quality improvement demands of rank advancement.

This stage is the most important and the most dangerous of the three. The valley is degradation of skill and time off. You’re mentally exhausted, thinking of ways to avoid training sessions. Often, valleys are results of burnout, occurring after heavy training for tournaments, testing or exhibitions.

When used properly, it’s a scheduled break from the arts. A time to give your mind a break. It’s a vacation of sorts where you avoid martial arts completely. Take this time to pursue other interests. It can also be used to prevent burnout, renewing your vigor and determination.

If a peak period last for long stretches of time, the increased learning can begin to wane. When this happens, allow yourself to slow down otherwise the peak will become a burnout or extended valley. This stage is only beneficial if you have control over it, scheduled it for a set time. The worst thing to do is let emotion rule. You may never return to the arts.

In Kempo, the valley occurs as needed. Some students need it every three months, others every three years. Most people lie in between. Sometimes, this can result from remaining too long in a plateau due to lack of practice and motivation. The valley is yin. The peak is yang. They need each other to create a better whole.
A Natural Cycle

This is a natural cycle. Don’t fight the urge to move from one stage to the next. Recognize it for what it is and work to move from plateau to valley to peak. Open your awareness; listen to your body and mind. Though seemingly contradictory, it actually helps speed progress in the martial arts if you move through this cycle.

The next time you’re feeling frustrated and stalled, remember you may be in a plateau stage. Don’t get angry and quit. Continue practice knowing everyone else has or will have the same experience. Also know it will end and you will encounter an explosion in your learning ability. Good luck and train well.

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