One of Da Zong’s favourite posts from James Altucher is the post on how to win games.

Da Zong had learnt spent time training in aikido, tae kwon do and tai chi respectively. He had also seen his friends try to learn tennis, table tennis and golf. After doing aikido for six months, Da Zong felt like he was a hot shot. He then watched Karate Kid (2010) and then joined his local tae kwon do club. Hot shot’s ego got taken down with hilarious (well for him now, not at that time) comments like “Why are you holding a knife hand, you think you’re a ninja?”.  Three months later, Da Zong started tai chi, this time, he learnt his lesson and kept a humble mindset.

So here is Da Zong’s method to learn physical skills/physical game when you are a total beginner.

  1. Enroll in a class taught by a teacher. It really doesn’t matter whether your first teacher is a national level or city level or whatever.

Physical skill is learnt by drills and by seeing the performance of your teacher. Unless you are God’s gift to the world in this field (chances are you are not), you need to learn from a teacher. Note that teacher doesn’t have to be a professional fee paying commercial teacher. If your office has an ex-state level champion in tennis and he/she offers to teach you the game, chances are that will be good as well. To be honest,the small dance studio near your house might actually have one of the top teachers in your state too. Anecdotally, Da Zong’s tae kwon do teacher  near his house still helps to coach tae kwon do teams competitively too.

2. Drills for basic skills are the foundations of the entire physical game/skill. Each game will have a different way to practice the drills.

Basic skills are the foundations and building blocks of the entire game. For table tennis, it could be the strokes and the footwork. For golf, its the basic swing. For tae kwon do, its the front kick and turning kick and stance.

The basic skills are like individual words in a langauge, without the words, you cannot build sentences.

If your training is serious, you will have a lot of repetition of the basic drills over and over again. This is the most important part.

Each game/skills trains the basic drills differently. For tae kwon do, there could be a lot of follow the instructor mass drills done individually. For table tennis, your teacher could be partnered with you for the basic racquet drills or you could be practicing with your team mate.

You could be doing drills with your instructor correcting every mistake in every action. Or your instructor could be letting you do the drill by yourself for 1 hour non-stop without any comments. Both are valid. When your instructor corrects your actions, you are helping to remove weaknesses/ excess action in your drills. When your instructor lets you practice non-stop, you are building the muscle memory and body awareness needed.

3. You will be very awkward when you start learning physical skills. You have to get used to not understanding what you are doing and why you are doing wrong.

In the beginning, you will keep making mistakes. Your strokes or footwork won’t be correct and you will not know why. For the smart people who always did well at school, this could be very frustrating.

The real reason is that your brain and your body cannot keep up with the skills. You need to dutifully practice the drills once a week until your body and brain can catch up. You need to have faith to over come this hump. This is why sometimes, a non-intensive beginner class can be better than an intensive course when you start.

Your brain has not had the time to grow the circuits to recognise the patterns in the game. For Da Zong it took his brain 5 years before he could even begin to visualise some of the aikido moves he was doing. Your body also needs to grow in awareness of space, balance, muscle position and movement needed to have a feel for the game. This leads into our next point.

4. Cut the urge to watch youtube videos or read articles or books on your game at first.

Wait, doesn’t this sound lazy. Well, for the first year, Da Zong read tons of books on aikido and tae kwon do. While Da Zong could sprout the history of aikido non-stop, it didn’t help him in his aikido. Looking back, this was because his brain wasn’t ready to process what he read with what he was learning (see point 3 above).

How do you know that you are not ready to watch youtube videos or read books yet. The key indicator actually is: is watching this video/ reading this book fun? If the answer is a pure “Yes!” you are reading the book and watching the video for pure entertainment value. If your answer if half hearted and it feels a bit like work, then you are ready ha ha.

It would feel like work because now you feel like you have to remember the points you see in the video or take down notes. Or sometimes it would be a bit deflating because you see a point that now you see it, you will have to practice at your next trainining (e.g. keep my elbows in at all times ha ha). It can still be fun, but now the feeling of work or seriousness will join in the fun.

And if you read too many books/videos in your first year, your enthusiasm for reading too many will drop down a bit. Readers will still go and do this anyway but oh well.

6. You will eventually get it if you keep training regularly.

While in year one you understand nothing. Sometimes, by year 3 or year 5, insights may become to you just naturally.

7. Your teacher will repeat pet sayings. In year one, they will be mystifying and frustrating (cos you cant understand them). In year two, they will be annoying. In year three, you may understand one word here and there.In year four, you may start parroting them yourself. In year five, you realise that the pet sayings are the deep teachings of the art hidden in plain sight and you realise what Japanese Traditional Martial Arts call Okuden (Deep Teachings or Hidden teachings).

8. Your teacher will also get puzzled and frustrated why you can’t pick things up, do basic drills properly. It is the naturally cycle of life.

9. You will keep thinking in your first three years, why your teachers keeps teaching you the same things over and over again or why your teacher doesn’t teach you new things. After your first three years, you will keep thinking why your teacher keeps teaching you new things instead of letting you just the old things. This is because, your teacher can really see that you are ready, and cos you are ready, your brain is really absorbing what your teacher is teaching, and you go a lot slower cos you can see a lot of what you need to refine.

10. You have a tendency to want to rush your training at the beginning (eg three lessons a week). It is better to have a slower start (eg one lesson a week for the first year), and then slowly ramp up. Ignore this if you are a six year old training to be an olympic athlete (you and your parents have my deepest respect).

Overtraining at the beginning when your mind and body cannot take it is not productive. Like in running, if you do not take a break, your performance decreases. They call the days where you run (at a training and not maintenance level) when you should be resting as wasted days. Which is why a traditional martial arts story:

“Teacher, if I train once a week, how long until I get black belt?”

“Three years”

“If I train twice a week, how long until I get a black belt?

“Five years”

“If I train every day?”

“Seven years”

The exception is for intensive courses like one year residential black belt courses or things like SEAL and special forces training. The intensive courses usually have a selection phase to admit only candidates who are ready. Usually these candidates are either naturally talents (like your buddy who never ran in school or after work, beats all your friends at the marathon you guys joined for fun) or who have trained consistently (maybe in other areas) for years before.

11. Don’t keep changing teachers or styles unless your teacher or manager says so.

There is a temptation in your first three years, when you hit frustration, to think that the style or school where you are training is not suitable for you. The grass is always greener on the other side. The only exception is when your teacher/manager tells you so change.

12. Your body may need to improve to keep up with the skills. Following the training excerises to train your body and mind

You may need flexibility, then do your ballet or tae kwon do exercises. It may be timing and coordination, then do your sports, music (eg pentatonic scales), aikido drills. It may be physical strength, then do the relevant body weight or gym exercises taught by your sports/field. Your mind may need training, do the visualisation exercises, meditation, or the studying of game plays that your teacher has taught you.

13. Learn from your teacher in not just the skill, the personality and other intangibles

Personality and other intangibles are needed to succeed in a physical field. For aikido, it would help if you are calm and centered. For ballet, maybe if you are graceful. For music, if you are expressive and open and warm person. Of course there are times when you teacher is not a model for human emulation, but usually your teacher would not reach competence in a field if he/she did not have some of the intangibles needed.

Now, for a tl:dr (too long, didn’t read summary)

  1. Join a class/course
  2. Train once a week / as frequently as the class course is conducted
  3. Don’t read or watch youtube videos in the beginning (first three years), until your teacher tells you to do so (trust me they will)
  4. Pay attention to the basic drills
  5. In your first three years, dont be frustrated when you can’t understand anything and everything you do seems to be wrong.
  6. Keep at it until you decide you don’t want to do it any more
  7. dont keep changing teachers or change styles unecessarily.
  8. Train your body and mind using the exercises that your teacher has taught you specifically for the field.
  9. Learn from your teacher, in not just the skills but the mindset, personality and other intangibles.

Research this well as this is the meta skill to learn and master any physical field (sports, martial arts, music, field craft, physical crafts).Academic fields are obviously different.