Qualified Outliers

  • Qualified: fitted (as by training or experience) for a given purpose: COMPETENT.
  • Outlier: a value or point that differs substantially from the rest of the data.
Grandmaster Yip Man and Bruce Lee

In the context of the martial arts a Qualified Outlier is a practitioner whose level of skill is substantially higher than the statistical norm, or more specifically, the majority of their peers. When we think of who might best fit this description one of the first names that comes up is Bruce Lee.

While he was only 5’7″ tall and weighed around 140 lbs., he was physically one of the strongest people ever to walk the Earth. Having learned Wing Chun kungfu for only about 3 years as a teenager in Hong Kong, he certainly wasn’t the most knowledgeable exponent of the art. However through his motivation, drive, and extremely intense training ethic, he grew into a man with skills far superior to most of his seniors under Grandmaster Yip Man.

What made him a Qualified Outlier in the martial arts, was the level of personal excellence he exhibited in not one, but many of the aspects required to be a great martial artist. Among these were strength, speed, reflexes, timing, and a sense of distance. Naturally, while many of us may excel in one of these areas or another, Bruce excelled at them all.

So what does it take the average martial artist to become a qualified outlier in their own school, art, organization, state or even country?

Undoubtedly, Bruce Lee was a phenomenal individual who was blessed genetically in many ways. But those things not withstanding, it was the intensity with which he chose to train that made him legendary.

In chapter three of my book, The Empty Cup, I discuss the concept of repetition vs. time. Take any two individuals who enroll in martial arts and continue for a full year. The one who trains consistently, never misses class, and puts in practice time at home will undoubtedly develop an appreciable level of skill. But the other student, who was enrolled for the same period of time but trained less and performed fewer repetitions, will have little to show for it.

In much the same way, if one wishes to see a demonstrable increase in skill and pull ahead of their peers, the solution is simple: put in more repetitions.

Throughout your martial arts career, you will reach plateaus; periods where skill development will level off for a while. This can be especially frustrating when it comes after a lengthy period of consistent gains and improvements. I myself have encountered a number of these over the years.

The best advice I ever got on moving past these plateaus was from my former teacher, Grandmaster Leung Ting. He said that plateaus were a normal part of the training process and not to be discouraged. Plateaus, he explained, were a good thing. It means you’re on the verge of a major jump in skill. Just be patient, keep training, and you’ll experience a break through.

His advice was 100% correct. At each time in my career where I reached a plateau, it was temporary, provided I maintained or increased my training regimen. But the opposite is also true, and I’ve seen plateaus become permanent when students decide to throw in the towel. Some scaled back their intensity and never broke through. Others sadly, figured they were at the end of the road and dropped out altogether.

As I have always said, the martial arts are a truly egalitarian endeavor. Given good instruction and coaching from a qualified teacher, the only thing stopping you from becoming a Qualified Outlier is yourself.

Good luck and happy training!

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