Notes on Learning (Alan Blim)

It is not just the learned material and level of security and ease therein which is improvable but also the quality and rate at which we learn. It is this ‚rate and efficiency of learning‘ which I will look at in this text. I speak from my experience and wish only to share. There are no patent methods of learning and the following thoughts, although working well for me, give no guarantee that they suit you.

It is crucial in a good learning process to have clear objectives. In juggling we can create this precision with the length of runs we aim for. Just as important to the effectivity of learning is the feedback. „Mistakes“ are far more clear in juggling and manipulation than in many other physical activities due to the strong visual aspect, and also than in most intellectual ones. These mistakes, and in particular the improvements are also clear with concrete targets. The third in the crew for learning is the repititions and „programming“. Here too, manipulation lends itself to long runs attained by clear targets.

In these ways manipulation is greatly effective for investigating and attaining learning processes and methods. I derive from them the following practical (and practiced) approach to training.

My starting point is that no-one but ourselves cares a shot about how well we learn. However, if we choose to improve then we should be constantly working on our learning methods parallel to working on the material. This means not thinking about it but moving towards being able to push or learning skills as automatically as we push out our breath. Whereever we are in our technique of juggling our learning, we are at the beginning of our future. It is irrelevant what this level is objectively. Any judgements or comparisons are disturbing to the development. It’s just you and the prop and the material and noone cares a shot.

First we need an awareness of our current level/degree/quality. We can not influence the past but only the present and the future. So be clear where you are starting from- what is the „Now state“?.

It’s not about being ‚bad‘ or ‚good‘ but about always being able to improve. At whatever (objective) level we are in an activity or quality of learning, there are always thousands of micro steps of development behind us and infinite ones before us. I say ‚infinite‘ because a juggler with a 300 catch seven ball pattern has just as much to be working on as someone trying the three ball shower for the first time. Start by looking your current state in the eye. Any distraction by relation to others or your past is detrimental. More importantly, the farther we can move away from thoughts of ‚I can do this‘ the better. This monster is quite as negative to improvement as thought of ‚I can’t do this‘. That is not what it’s about and is not true either. If you ‚can’t do it‘ then you are simply aiming to high. Take it apart, try it just once, try a simpler height or rhythm or variation….

If you think you ‚can do that‘ then run it for 1000 repetitions. If it’s say the three ball reverse cascade then that will only take about 10 minutes (right hand throws). In that time it is unlikely that you do not discover points which can be improved. If you don’t then you are not looking closely or critically enough.

If you can’t run for 1000 then: a) you have more clear material to work on than if it had worked b) you have increased a little your awareness of your current standing in relation to your possible future (it’s this awareness which can endlessly be improve) and c) you have a number of repetitions which you can take as a reference point. That’s the „Now state“.

If you were fine with the 1000 then do it again. Several times. It’s not going to get worse for doing it more often and is sure to open the road to new variations, ideas and „tightness“. If you don’t manage the 1000, then you have your reference point. After how many repetitions does it drop? It is not ‚by chance‘ that you drop at a particular number. That’s where you are at the moment. The more you can accept this fact, the more you can be happy about it and really work on it. After this ‚trying out‘ you can focus on ‚trying‘. This is a very important differentiation. The first is a doing and observing and the second is 100% focus on attempting.

Whatever the now state is, pick a number a little inside this current limit and run it several times. 10 times is a good reference point to be pretty sure of making some good progress and solidifying. Next time round the target number can be higher and so on and so forth. Remeber that if that trick or pattern was really good then it would run for 1000 with ease. It doesn’t matter if you are working with 1 repetition or 600. The processes are the same- Pick it up where it is and push it. It is crutial to actually stop at the target number. Your body gets positive feedback and you put 100% into the run. Just as a 100meter sprinter does.

We have to start somewhere on new ideas, and that is generally at 1 or 2 repetitions. But training patterns which manage 10-20 repetitions and pushing it up into the hundreds is often very productive. It’s a matter of choosing a level with some flow and increasing it rather than trying something „too hard“ at the current moment.

As a reference point:
10 runs of 100 is good.
10 runs of 200 is like good enough for stage.
10 runs of 500 is great
And 10 runs of 1000 is like you really have it in your pocket.

Don’t expect of yourself to manage as many runs of more difficult patterns than you do of easier ones. That’s why they are more difficult. If you push the easier ones, the harder ones will get easier too. If you think you are having a bad day then great. Hard work on ‚bad days‘ can bring more than on ‚good ones‘. Or leave it. The work on repetitions can be for anything and at any level.

It can be a new height, rhythm or position of a comfortable pattern. It can be a change from one pattern to another. It can be a variation or hybrid, or a routine. All need their own long runs to get stable and secure. It can also be any frequency of a pattern or trick or routine.

Frequency is the regularity of the ‚trick‘ out of the base pattern. All frequencies are worth pushing and deliver often their own beauty. Pushing a low frequency a long way can give more ease of improvement in the long run than hitting a high frequency ‚too soon‘. If the frequency doesn’t run for 15 or 20 times it is far from being solid. If a higher frequency were to be solid then the low one would be. If it is so then do it. Don’t kid yourself. If it’s easy then it only takes a while and will add polish.

I’ll give you an example of frequency:
Four ball shower one high one low. It is not of much use to throw the pattern once and stop. Once you have managed the new „trick“ out of the base pattern occasionally aim on for eg 10 shower, one high/one low, 10 shower, 1 high/1 low…… First once (often) then twice in one run (often)- if you can do it then do. It’s not going to get worse for it, then three (totally important to stop when you have done the targeted number of repetitions. Without this stopping being a certainty, you will not put 100% into the run). And so on. Then taking the frequency down for example to eight normal shower thows between the high/low etc.

The same principles apply just as well to a backcross or some natty multiplex or a four ball siteswap…..etc. etc. etc.

For new ‚tricks‘ or ideas, pay attention to get one circuit „right“ (meaning-to the standard of your expectations) before going for a frequency or a run. Choose your base pattern. Center yourself in that, prepare for the move, complete it and settle straight back into base pattern and base energy. Training this ability in practice is extremely valuable. Base is often the cascade, fountain or the shower with however many balls, but it can be any other pattern with which you are comfortable. New ideas often come from pushing established ones to further limits. The more patterns, variations and changeovers you have, and the more secure they are, the more material you have to play with.

That’s when the fun really starts.

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