Monday, 28 May 2012

Learning from the Karate Kid



If you haven't watched the Karate Kid, you haven't lived! But just in case you really haven't, basically it's about an old karate master (Mr Miyagi) who trains a young school kid (Daniel LaRusso) to defend himself against the big bullies and kick ass in a karate competition against them.

The overall plot might be a bit lame, but the method to mastery is pretty cool. Basically Mr Miyagi makes Daniel do all kinds of stupid tasks like sweeping the floor and waxing cars, seemingly just for the sake of pissing Daniel off and making him do loads of work for him. Maybe my students see where this is going!

Anyway, it turns out all these annoying chores are making him great at blocking and striking, and all the while he really was training hard. All the stuff that didn't seem to achieve anything really did underpin his eventual success. Of course, once these foundations were down, Daniel begins training more conventionally practising blocking, punching, kicking etc. I think this is the exact same model that coaches and students need to familiarize themselves with for poker and many other pursuits.


Learning at the start is tough, painful and frustrating. It also seems to produce rubbish results. In the last couple months I've been getting back into guitar and learning from one of my poker students. At first my fingers were agony, I couldn't switch chords without pausing for 5 seconds and didn't know much more than Es or As. We've worked pretty consistently, nothing crazy just each week, but I've also tried repetitively practising the same basic things over and over most days. 20-30 chords later, a few songs and some great theoretical understanding which brings everything together, I'm definitely a happy chappy and growing in confidence in my playing each day.

I find three key problems when it comes to poker coaching, both from a student and coach perspective: 
  1. In poker you can improve drastically each week and have worsening results constantly over that period. Variance in poker is there whether you like it or not, but all-too-often students conclude it's their play or the strategy that is the problem, and are simply unwilling to fully understand the implications of variance in poker. Variance doesn't need to be an enemy - just like you run bad, you will at many points run seriously hot and just win everything, I promise! We forget the wins ("I'm a great player, so I was supposed to win anyway") but remember every bad beat ("wtf, AA gets cracked AGAIN, so rigged".

  2. Poker players are egomaniacs. Well, not exactly but it's a provoking statement with quite a lot of truth. Most poker players share a number of similar traits: very competitive, hate losing, love winning, don't play to take part etc. Along with this often comes bravado and over-excuberance, and over-estimation of how good we really are. Ask yourself: are you a good cook? Are you a decent poker player? I wonder how impartial the judgement is in answering each question. I think when it comes to cooking, there isn't any stigma attached to sucking at cooking, whereas in poker there is. Everyone's in it to win, but for cooking I'm happy if you cook me a great meal, I don't have to be great myself.

  3. Coaches know everything, are never wrong and are ready to teach you exactly what you need to know in a few hours. I think the most important thing here is short-term perspective. Speaking from personal experience, all the hugely successful coaching relationships I've had have been long-term. By long term I don't mean 2 weeks, or a month or even 3 months, I mean a solid year+. I find that it takes 2-3 months minimum just to get through the initial learning curve and overcome the "I'm getting worse before I get better" cycle. That's another huge problem, it's likely in trying to adjust your game you will over-adjust, or after a week of running good conclude you've already learned everything from the coaching and are playing like a beast. Unfortunately there's still serious leaks and they compound as you crank up the volume - OUCH! This is why in private coaching and in my coaching series/forums, the framework is set for long-term coaching and studying commitments. It's consistency building from foundations that brings long-term success, not just pushing hard for a week or two. Cracks in the foundations will come out if coaching/learning is done this way. 


Generally speaking, if you are contemplating studying or working on anything, be it a university thesis, hand history review or ICM analysis, the more horrible, boring and unattractive it seems, and the less immediate reward it offers, THE MORE COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE IT WILL REAP. This was such an epiphany for me. It's not to say that these areas of study bring the biggest improvement, it's instead saying that nobody else is willing to do the hard work, so this is where you can improve and they can't. It's the extra reps you push out at the gym, that extra burn you take in a run, or that extra quality time you give the important people in your life.

I've used this quote before in this same blog (shameful!) but it's so good and relevant to what I'm talking about I'll end with it here. Hope this painful read brings you your competitive advantage in the future! Good luck!


"The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that bit "extra"" - Bear Grylls

Oh and also: "Problem: attitude" - Mr Miyagi 

1 comment:

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