The need for having the talent to either succeed or achieve high levels of success in martial arts or, in fact, any particular endeavor is an often heard statement. Many who feel that they don’t have the required talent or are told that they don’t have it, and don’t question the belief that it is a necessary innate attribute for success, will give up and go onto other things never realizing the true ability that they are capable of developing and expressing.
In order for anyone to be able to determine whether they, or those that they are commenting on, have a particular talent they must be able to define accurately what talent is. It is in respect of this definition that we often find incorrect interpretations, information and vagueness. The Oxford standard dictionary defines talent as “a natural aptitude or skill”.
The impression that we get from the less informed coach is that it is some innate quality pertaining to some discipline that, aside from physical attributes, you are born with and that you either have or don’t have. I have noticed this particularly with martial arts and other very competitive sports.
This opinion appears to be derived more from the coaches personal ego and a need for his/her students dominate the competition, than from a desire to teach students the discipline that they wish to learn, for whatever reason they want to learn. Surveys of martial arts practitioners have shown that only about 5% of students who start learning a martial art do so for the competition aspect and my own personal experience teaching Muay Thai, MMA or BJJ supports these findings.
This opinion then begs the question as to where this ability comes from and how does it become preset in the brain during conception and embryological development. To date there is no evidence to suggest that knowledge is transferred to and somehow encoded into the genetic material involved in reproduction. In addition, there is no known mechanism that would enable it to occur.
However, there is strong evidence to support the hypothesis that the knowledge may start to be acquired at an early age, such that by the time the so-called “talent” is recognized the subject has in fact been exposed to and even engaged in practicing the discipline, or actions relating to it, for many hundreds or even thousands of hours.
Genetics may play a part in equipping the subject with mind-sets, mental and physical attributes and attitudes that are influenced by both genetic factors and further molded by developmentally affected factors, the “nature/nurture” debate.
Certainly the observation that all accomplished practitioners of any discipline, including martial arts, combat fighting systems, music, writing, etc, have trained and practiced for many hours to achieve the mastery that they have acquired, provides a more robust explanation of their ability than some hereditary acquired “talent”.
Immersion also provides another means by which the knowledge could be acquired. Living in a world in which you are exposed to the particular knowledge and skills makes acquisition of any skill very rapid and often very subtle in it’s acquisition. Take the example of any person and their learning of their native language. None of us were born with a “talent” to learn a specific language. We were born with the mental (psycho-physical) capacity to learn language but not any specific language.
Research has revealed that people who have achieved mastery of their discipline, and become highly accomplished, have spent thousands of hours practicing over many years to achieve the level of performance that they exhibit. Athletes, writers, actors, musicians, in fact in any area of human performance, which requires a high level of skill, the high achievers have spent a huge amount of time and effort reaching the level of skill demonstrated.
Some research has indicated that it requires approximately 10,000 hours of training and practice in a discipline to achieve mastery. However, the quality of instruction and coaching are also dominant factors in this required time. This is especially true of martial arts and their related competitive fighting sports such as Boxing, MMA and Muay Thai.
The quality of instruction must include the ability of the teacher to impart the correct information in a manner that is easily and readily learned by the student. The delivery and subsequent learning of incorrect information will impede progress and produce errors that must be replaced with correct information and re-learned in order to achieve success.
Quality coaching is another essential factor in achieving mastery as this provides a feedback element to the learning process.
The ability of the student can be observed objectively by a trained observer and trainer of the discipline; problems identified and corrected, and recommendations made for further development. This will greatly enhance and accelerate the learning process and progress towards mastery, a journey that requires constant review and adjustment. Incidentally being a great fighter does not necessarily make someone a great teachers and the converse is also true that being a great coach and teacher does not make someone a great fighter. Many great fighters either don’t teach others or have little success teaching other students to acquire the level of kill that they have obtained. This I would suggest is because a completely different mind-set and attitude must be adopted for each of these roles.
We are often given examples of some who may have, through some special gift, shown exceptional skill without the apparent time spent, but it appears on deeper research into these cases that in fact they were exposed to, and nurtured within, an environment that developed the foundation for the skills that, over time, were honed to a very high degree of efficacy, in what appeared to be a comparatively short time.
Many are labeled child prodigies, and while there maybe some that exhibit a high rate of learning and understanding, due to a genetic propensity for high intelligence and memory retention, many are products of being nurtured in a positively influenced environment. Mozart, an often touted example of a child prodigy born with a talent for music, was on more thorough and objective research an example of being brought up immersed in the environment that he achieved great things in.
The main ingredients that seem to be required for success in any pursuit or discipline, provided that you have the physical and mental attributes to accomplish the skills required, are enthusiasm, motivation, perseverance and determination coupled with the willingness to train and practice consistently; this is certainly the case in any martial art and is the reason why some of us become martial arts “lifers”. The practice of the discipline and pursuit of the elusive mastery becomes an obsession.
In summary, the ability to achieve high levels of performance in any endeavor provided that you have the physical and mental attributes for learning and performing the skills of the discipline are all elements that make up our spirit (another abstraction) to achieve, the manifestation of which, when observed by those that are unaware of or who do not objectively reflect on how the level of mastery was achieved, call talent.
Thus, it is possible for anyone with the necessary attributes to develop mastery of any discipline, whether martial arts, music, art, writing or any other aspect of human interest, provided that they have the determination to succeed at it, so that they too will exhibit a so-called talent. It’s absolutely dependent on the time spent practicing and the quality of instruction in the elements of the particular discipline; practice, practice and more practice!