I have been thinking much of late on the concept of expertise, specifically as it relates to the concepts of commitment, effort, and of course our martial training. Malcolm Gladwell's bestselling book Outliers (which I strongly recommend) postulates that expertise is far less a matter of innate talent than it is of practice. Specifically, he discusses mastery as the outcome of 10,000 hours (or more) of practice. This level of commitment - roughly equal to three hours of practice every single day for just under ten years - seems to coincide with a certain degree of expertise across most disciplines, skills and professions.
Gladwell's book goes on to tell stories of people like Bill Gates who through some luck and commitment, were able to put in these many, many hours of practice in order to become the experts they are. This number, he asserts, is very similar whether one practices computer science or athletics.
It is interesting to note the similarity of Gladwell's assertion to the well-known O'Sensei quote, "In your training, do not be in a hurry, for it takes a minimum of ten years to master the basics and advance to the first rung."
10 years. 10,000 hours. It takes some fortitude to decide to march up that mountain.
When we watch masters of any endeavor we marvel at how easy they make it look. We remark at how incredibly quickly and accurately they can asses things, seemingly with the gift of some intuition that escapes the rest of us. We envy the effortlessness with which they demonstrate their skills. We wonder why the gulf between us and them is so wide.
It is not magic though, nor talent. These seemingly instantaneous and intuitively correct decisions are the product of thousands of hours of deliberate, trial-and-error practice in similar situations. The seemingly mysterious ability to be 'right' comes from having practiced and been wrong many, many times over many, many years.
Our current culture makes achieving mastery very hard. We lead very busy lives. Most of us have other responsibilities. We also live in a society of plenty with many options and distractions. Having so much on offer, it is tempting to want to try a little of everything. And of course, we get so busy that it is equally easy to just want to sit down and do nothing. Unfortunately neither path leads to mastery.
And that's fine provided our expectations are properly set. We can live life sampling many things, and possibly be very happy doing so. But we cannot expect mastery in doing so.
Most of us are granted far more than 10,000 hours of life on this planet. How do we spend that time? What do we do with it? What do we want from it?
If we choose to spend 10,000 hours shooting baskets, we will likely develop a level of expertise shooting baskets. If we spend 10,000 hours learning to cook, we will develop some expertise in cooking. And if we spend 10,000 hours in front of the TV we will become an expert in watching TV.
So we are faced with two questions...
Do we seek expertise in something?
Are we willing to put in the time and practice to get there?