A Path of Benches on Grass

This post is about creating a plan for our learning endeavors. A learning plan provides us with a visual presentation of the task we are tackling. In order to stay committed to learning a skill, we should devise a structured plan that will lead us through the steps necessary to achieve our goal.

Trying to learn without a plan is risky

At my kung fu school, the beginner’s classes were always full at first. We had well over 20 participants during the first couple of weeks, but the number went drastically down as the weeks passed by. In the final examination, we would usually have around six people left in the group—which is less than a third of the original count.

What was the problem? The students all seemed enthusiastic about learning kung fu, but ended up quitting after several sessions. The instruction might have been poor. But apparently this seems to be commonplace wherever we go. I’ve talked with many martial arts practitioners about this topic, and all of them have seen similar results. It’s unfortunate how most students quit during the beginner’s course. They want to learn kung fu, but can’t, because something is lacking. Maybe they want to try a different school. Or a different kind of martial art. But the sad thing is, they just give up.

“Do you know any martial arts?”
“Yea, I used to do Taekwondo.”
“Cool! Can you show me some joint locks and hurricane kicks?”
“Actually I just practiced for three months…”

It might have been partially the instructor’s fault why he quit, but part of the reason also originated in the practitioner himself. He didn’t have a well-thought purpose. The reason why he decided to join the club was because he just wanted to learn kung fu. But kung fu demands a lot of dedication from the practitioner. Practicing kung fu can feel unimaginably boring, repetitious, and tedious if you haven’t made the right preparations. You won’t be learning hurricane kicks, kip-ups, somersaults, butterfly kicks… and you definite won’t look like Jet Li after six months. The learning process is extremely slow. You will be most of the time shifting from horse stance to bow and arrow stance, and back. The thing is, if you want to look like Jet Li on the big screen, you need to get your stances right first. And most people can’t do that even after two years.

Find a purpose

The key is to find a purpose for your endeavor. It’s often better to have multiple “backup” purposes, so to speak. If you have a purpose, you also allow yourself to accept and welcome the steps that you have to take in order to achieve your purpose.

For example, if you make a commitment and devote yourself to learn kung fu because your purpose is to make flashy fighting flicks with your friends, you would have to accept terms close to the following conditions:

  • You will almost certainly have to spend years to acquire good form.
  • You won’t learn much at all at first.
  • Learning kung fu is not a mysterious tour to Ancient China.
  • You won’t be joining any secret society where they teach you how to run on water and flutter from one bamboo tree to another.
  • After a year, you will most likely be beaten by a kickboxer with only a month under his belt.
  • You will suffer from boredom during practice.
  • You will be tempted to give up and quit.

But on the brighter side, if you accept those conditions and stick with your plan to achieve your goal, you will experience an immeasurable sense of accomplishment. Mastery doesn’t come knocking on your door—it creeps in through the window while you’re sleeping. But first we have to invite it with a killer plan.

Purposeful planning repels confusion

Now that we have a purpose, or a set of purposes that we’ve committed ourselves to, we can start plotting a course for achieving those goals. But first we have to ask ourselves, what does it mean to make a plan for learning a skill?

It depends on the skill and purpose. In this article, we’re dealing with learning kung fu, and honing our skills for the purpose of shooting awesome kung fu movies. If we don’t have a plan, we are making ourselves prone to getting lost along the way. Having a conceptual framework for our endeavor can be a powerful tool and an effective motivator. We will have a visual reference to turn to whenever we feel lost. It can be a list of tasks that we need to take in order to accomplish certain goals, both short-term and long-term goals.

Having a plan will also reduce procrastination. We don’t have to waste time thinking about what we have to do next. If we keep the plan up-to-date, we will always have some goals to work toward. We might, for instance, set a short-term goal as follows:

Task: Learn to stay in horse stance for 3 minutes.
Time limit for completing the task: 2 weeks
Purpose: To feel less frustrated during practice. My thighs feel like s**t when we’re told to hold our stances. Stance work is killing me, so I must to do something about it.

It is also important to include a description of why you are assigning the particular task to yourself. Why do we need to complete the task? How will I benefit from it?

Having goals in our structured learning plan helps us to keep track of our progess as we go. It will keep things fresh, and we can feel that what we’re doing is meaningful. Our learning plan can be a paper slip that we update with a pencil and an eraser, or it can be a more complex system like a computer spreadsheet. Anything goes. Keeping our tasks simple and easy to visualize helps too. Abstract concepts like “becoming one with the Univeral Energy” should be avoided of course. They will only hinder our progress, especially when we don’t even know what the task is about 🙂

Stick with the plan

No plan will be meaningful without proper implementation. We have to make use of it, and not stray off course. At times we might feel that progressing without the plan would seem more natural and less restricted, and that’s totally fine. Sometimes we should let go and deal with things as they roll in. But having a structured backup plan is essential when ambivalence obscures our thoughts.

The learning plan should be constantly updated and amended depending on the frequency of completed tasks and arising obstacles. Whenever we are faced with a roadblock, we should devise steps to overcome the problem. Every hindrance should be taken seriously, and it shouldn’t be put off for later processing.

Keeping things organized will also keep us free of distractions that furthermore hinder progress. Being burdened with a bagful of unprocessed obstacles will overload our will to carry on. It is like wandering through a jungle in undergarments full of leeches.

Be patient

If we stick with the plan and stay committed to the tasks written on it, we will be able to achieve what we’re after. Some skills take longer to acquire, but the learning processes follow steps similar to one another. HTML is, no doubt, faster to learn than Taijiquan, but to successfully learn it, it is advisable to prepare a learning plan that will guide us through the process—all the way up to mastery.