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The four stages of learning


4-steps-learningThe 4 stages of learning

Do you have problems retaining your karate techniques?

During your studies, did you hear about the four stages of learning?

It's not just about karate. You will find these learning phases in all the areas you want to study.
The important thing about this system is knowing where you are in learning.

Let's see what are these four phases:

first step: Unconscious Incompetent

You do not know that you do not know.
Take the case of your grandmother's relationship with Heian Shodan.
As long as you do not tell him what Heian Shodan is, she does not know it exists so she does not know she does not know.
Your grandmother does not have the skills and is not aware of this lack of skill.

If you have never heard of roller skating, you do not know that you do not know how to rollerblade. You have not even heard of it.

Second step: Conscious Incompetent

You know you do not know.

Let's go back to your grandmother. Now, if you ask him, "Can you do Heian Shodan? "
She has never done karate and she does not even know what it means "Heian Shodan". But your grandmother realizes her lack of competence in this area.

At this stage, she has enough knowledge to realize that she is unable to understand or make Heian Shodan.

Once you know you do not know how to do it, you are in step two.
You become: "consciously incompetent". You know you do not know.

If we take the example of roller skates, once you go up there, you know that you do not know how to do it.

So here you have two solutions.
Either you say, "I do not know, it does not interest me and I do not want to go further."
Either you decide to learn.

Step Three: Competent Mindful

You have decided to go into a learning phase. You will start to learn.
You come, for example, to learn Heian Shodan. There you are, but at each technique you say to yourself "I have to go to the left, it's behind, I turn, etc." ".

You know how to do it, but it must remain conscious. That's it, you are competent. So, you are in phase number three. That is, you are competent, but conscious.
You know how to do it, but you still have to think about it to do it.
You do not do that without thinking.
You engage in Heian Shodan's conscious learning process that you did not know how to do. You know enough to understand and speak Heian Shodan knowingly, but you do not have enough experience to do it in the most effective way.

Step Four: Competent Unconscious

Being competent but without having to think is, for example, making your laces.
You do not need to think to do them. You do not think anymore when you do this. That is, you do things without having to think about them.
When you learn something in karate, it is towards this step number four that you must always strive. It must be your goal.

When you learn a kata, the goal is not only to learn it.
Once you know your kata, you are competent, but conscious.
That is to say that to do it, you must think: "I must not forget the hammer, etc. "
You are competent because you know how to do your kata but you have to think.
So you have to do it again, to do it again, so that you do not have to think anymore.
If you get to do your kata without having to think, even if it's been six months since you did not do it, then you become competent unconscious.
And it is only then that you can make your katas by living them as if they were fights.
Your mind is not taken by: "I have to go to the left, I have to go to the right, I have to lift my arm"
Your mind is not there. Your mind, he imagines opponents and you are on them.
And that's what you should be doing.
In karate, do not say "it's good, I know, it's over"
You must constantly say to yourself, "No, I do not know enough! ".

"I know how to do my kata, but that's not enough! ". You need to become competent unconsciously, without having to think.
You learn, you continue, you progress, you insist until the gesture becomes part of your body and your mind. It is in your long-term memory and in your skin.
Suddenly, the gesture becomes automatic and you become competent unconscious.
You know how to do it naturally. It seems natural but, in fact, it is not quite the case since it is you who have learned and insisted that it seems to be natural.
Finally, we must think of arriving at this fourth stage but very gently insisting and persevering.

Take a step back

Also take the time to think about how you learn.
Whether in karate or even outside, when you learn something, try to know what phase you are in. In general, we are in the third or fourth stage.

I see a lot, for example, of brown belts that will teach Tekki Shodan, and then stay in phase three. They will do it for two or three classes because the teacher, that year, will do three to four courses in a row on Tekki Shodan.
This is a typical case: the student comes to class again Tekki Shodan and does not do it after. He does not revisit his home either and does not learn it anymore. A year later, what do you think happened? The brain has swept everything clean in his head. And as always, the teacher must teach him Tekki Shodan again.
Why ? Because he has never been competent unconscious: he is each time, in the phase where he is competent but he thinks again.
Your objective in karate, it must be to become competent unconscious for all that you learn. Your goal is to no longer have to think about your techniques or your kata.
I'm talking to you about kata, because you often do not like learning them.
But it is by learning the motions and having the automatisms of kata that you can turn your kata into bunkai or application. All because the gesture will be automated.

Here are the friends, I wish you a good day and I await your comments because I am passionate about this subject and I would like to know your learning experiences.

As usual, I have prepared a video in which I explain all this in detail. See you soon.

See you soon.


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  1. Hello Bruno,

    Thank you for your work and this sharing of knowledge. I completely agree. The 4 stage should be the ultimate goal. I myself am in stage three "in phase of getting into stage 4". My Sensei repeats to me that when I perform a kata correctly, he sees that I do not doubt but that I am "in" the kata, body and mind, living an imaginary fight against several adversaries. A remark: This is possible with repetition, but also by knowing the Bunkai of each movement. Because only, can we really imagine the fight.



  2. Michel Le Bouler at

    hi bruno

    I just saw your video on the 4 stages is excellent memory is not enough you must actually repeat constantly to remember whether in karate or other learning. I practiced karate long enough and I always said I do not like katas I like karate but not katas which blocked me a lot on this activity. your courses and especially your explanations are clear and clear and allow to better understand the path to be made to progress thank you for your valuable advice. michel

  3. Hello Bruno,

    your article on competence and consciousness is extremely interesting. Once explained, everything becomes obvious. Until then, we were unconsciously incompetent, but everything will change now. Thank you for doing all your research and for sharing it with us.


  4. This is a very good explanation and very fair.
    We are not too inclined to think that memory is lacking when it would be more the lack of work.

  5. We are already the result of learning and sometimes learning is unlearning to do otherwise. Following a knee kick (kung-fu oriente selddefense, hihi) I had my leg in the plaster. I have found that what we do is learned but that it is managed by a part of the brain that does not need the conscious and the slow intellect. In fact we educate in the years the body, the brain and fd complicate things ......

  6. I read and I often look at what you write..I love enough what you say 4 steps is also true in everything..I have 57 ans.2 myocardial infarction..more 1 AVC..j had stop the karate in 2000 after 23 years of practice after infarct ... but the avc made me put at least to train my son ... but the left side is struggling to recover (hemiplegia) is the law..c is what you do it makes you want..Thanks

    • Since everyone is unique, it is possible that things are better than what you are told? at least I wish you!
      Maybe you could practice kata like taichi?

      • my learning of Karate was very standard, but not the standard of teacher explained the philosophy of japan..the language and philosophy Zen ... 30 minute by course 3 or 4X / week ..
        I adored the katas .. I always like to practice them and indeed in a special way taichi..and I even managed to make them appreciate to young people in Mma.Commentme.mon my opinion is that: we must not to dissociate, the karate of its origins (okinawa) .to understand, how and why karate must be taught in martial art after the sport..dixit M Itosu..The kata transmits the technique and the spirit of this one ... well done they build the whole for my reeducation i use these kata. especially the advances..Thank you for that too.

    • Hello Enrique,

      You are right to use the kata for your rehabilitation. I think that karate and kata in particular is really excellent for finding mobility and working coordination gestures. I am sure that this work will allow you to progress and in addition to making you happy.
      The kata in Tai Chi mode is very good too. Personally, I sometimes use it to do my warm-ups.
      Good recovery and see you soon.


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