My notes from this past weekend are a mess. For two days and an afternoon I worked on material with Counterpoint Tactical System founder Zach Whitson. They’re split equally between a notebook and the printed curriculum sheets. There are notes in my brain that I haven’t gotten to yet, and the notes that I forgot before I could write them down.
Notes go through stages like all martial artists. At first, notes are study guides to help us progress towards our goals. They clarify and deepen the source material. Naming a technique, concept, or drill is just the start; without annotations, the name is just a name, just a placeholder. Practicing is only half of learning; thinking about and engaging with the material is the other half. This is especially true when it comes to countering.
The ability to counter requires exploring how a technique can be countered. In boxing, the jab has many, many counters – parry, bob & weave, shoulder roll, cross counter, corkscrew uppercut, etc. – that exist because of creativity of thought. This is one technique that has many counters, and it is the fastest punch in boxing. If this technique can be countered, doesn’t that mean all of them can? If so, then we must think and explore countering. This requires making notes of what works and what doesn’t work.
The martial artist can also track progress through notes. They are easy milestone markers for skill. Each scribble reminds you of the struggle that you’ve overcome. What was once hard, now requires little thought. This is the stage of moving from deliberate practice to becoming second nature.
As a teacher, notes allow me to minimize the obstacles that my student will go through in their learning process. That is the point of a teacher, right? To help the students avoid your mistakes so they can make their own. Your comments on the material increase the efficiency of the teaching process. You know where you struggled and are able to explain how you overcame the struggle. In fact, I take even more notes now that I’m teaching than I did when I was just a student.
The final stage of notes – if there is such a thing – is where you have to refer to them for teaching the appropriate lesson. Grandmaster Whitson will refer to his notes because he possesses a lot of information and needs to know which information goes with which skill level of the system. However, using notes as a memory jogger doesn’t mean you stop making notes. During my visit, Zach pulled his notes out and jotted some stuff down to refine his curriculum sheets. It is one thing I admire about this system; Grandmaster Whitson is continuing to refine and to polish it. CTS is a living, evolving system.
Those little comments that you write down while studying the martial arts are so important. We know that true martial arts is taking movements and making them your own. Often, the physical part of this is focused on because it is the most noticeable. To really learn the arts, you must mentally tackle them as well. We focus on the physical training because it is the most fun. The intellectual training is the most work. Successful martial artists study, though. There are stories of the copious notes that B.J. Penn took when first learning Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu. It was integral to his rapid rise in skill. Before I left on Sunday, Grandmaster Whitson showed me his video library, which is his study material. He records his training with SGM Cacoy Cañete and his other teachers to rewatch and take notes. CTS is a living, evolving system, and I got to see the notes that drive that evolution.