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Cognitive Preparation vs. Physical Preparation

As we so often do, let’s start with a quote:

“Chance favors the trained mind.” – Louis Pasteur

Oh, that’s a good one, one so worthy of repeating that we all have heard/encountered some version or variation of it in this or that business office or sundry Facebook status update. The truth of it is so obvious that it needs no explaining, but… I’m going to all the same; let’s make sure we make a distinction here, one that adheres to what Dr. Pasteur intended.


In his domain(s) of chemistry and bacteriology his “training” was not simply his “book learning” so to speak. His training was his use of the experimental method to continually refine, confirm, and most importantly disconfirm any and all ideas pertinent to his field of study.

Pasteur’s training lies in what he did via experiment and experience (mighty close words, huh?) and not what was read or pontificated upon in the classroom or textbook. Yes, book learning and lectures can act as aids/assists but if we do not act upon what we encounter in our studies then we have merely consumed trivia.

OK, dead horse flogged. Moving on.

Years ago, working with one video producer or another I was told of an in-house study where they speculated that a significant portion of their instructional DVD sales never even had the cellophane popped off of them once they arrived in the purchaser’s hands. This was followed by the next largest percentage of sales that they speculate were viewed once and no more, this followed by those who viewed maybe a handful of times.

Now, how they conducted this sales research I have no idea, so I can’t vouch for its accuracy, but if (if) the idea holds true we would be looking at a large majority of folks who assume that exposure to knowledge, seeing text or video demonstration is akin to training.

Now we all, surely, know that this cannot be further from the truth. Seeing and being aware of something does not make one competent or trained. This holds even if one has viewed/read something hundreds of times. Knowing physical material inside and out at a cognitive level in no way implies it will manifest at the physical level.

Example — Every Autumn weekend in the states millions of people log hundreds of hours of watching football games. Now these viewers may know the rules of the game and may have some ideas about this or that strategy, but I don’t think any of us make the leap that these “knowledgeable” viewers are by dint of this “training” made ready to enter the very games they watch.

If this cognitive knowledge were all that is necessary to master physical movement, Bob Costas would be the most talented multi-sport athlete on the planet.

Ludicrous, right?

In combat sports/street work viewing material, reading material, talking about the material just ain’t gonna cut it. The practitioner, the combat scientist must actually experience the curriculum, must actually test it against his own experience. We’ve got to give up this mistaken idea that knowing and being aware is the same thing or even related in any way to actually doing.

Even here we must push Pasteur’s wisdom further. Knowing and then taking the extra step to drill are absolute musts but… they mean nothing without adding in the conditioning training that best reflects our combat game. This is another truism that we all know at a gut level but often ignore. We sometimes allow our elevated knowledge garnered by years of study and drilling to take the place of the, oh, so valuable conditioning portion of our games. Let’s face it, book learning and superior technical knowledge has often lost at the hands of a better conditioned athlete in boxing, MMA, Muay Thai, and, most unfortunately, the street. Many up and coming fighters earn victories over veterans who “know” more, but who have allowed the conditioning to slide.

We’ve got to engage all three implied aspects of Pasteur’s hedge against chance.

With that in mind we can re-configure his axiom to one that better reflects our combat goals.

“The fighting chance favors the well-conditioned athlete with the trained mind and body.”

A question for all my combat athletes and “street-ready” practitioners.

Which is the higher number: The number of YouTube videos of other people training you have viewed this week or your own number of training sessions?

To my non-combative Brothers & Sisters: Does the number of this week’s viewings of meals you’d like to prepare, crafts you’d like to concoct, experiences you’d like to have come close to what you have actually done or prepared to do this week?

Viewin’ ain’t doin’.

Plans uncommenced are likely broken promises until acted upon.

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15 thoughts on “Cognitive Preparation vs. Physical Preparation”

  1. Yeah this blog has made me realise I’d better get back to the Dojo next pay packe, to keep old skills and refine some others even learn some impressive new ones, also reminds that some of the more complex and effective skills must be constantly drilled to remain a second nature to one as a survival instinct, thanks again, Mr Y.

  2. Man. Stepping on my toes. As I get older (60) I do tend to watch that video instead of doing the workout. I tend to watch combat training and wrestling having long ago hung up my singlet. But you are correct : Viewin’ aint doin’

    Thank you sir – may I have another?

  3. Thanks for the article.

    Many years ago in the early 80’s, I was tasked to create and teach a course on man-tracking to my Recon platoon.

    It was knowledge that my grandfather had passed on to me when I was a kid. I had an opportunity to prove myself to my platoon sergeant months earlier and he wanted me to share the knowledge I had with the rest of the platoon.

    There were a few guys (my superiors), who had thought the instruction would be a waste of time since they were supposedly already familiar with and capable of the task. They made other arrangements during the training week.

    Training week finally arrived and while it was a bit of a rocky start for most of the participants, all progressed into learning the task and successfully tracked another person.

    The platoon sergeant had my superiors show up on the last day to see what skills they had and they couldn’t do it….

    Knowledge is not power, knowledge in action is power.

  4. Thank you for this. What he says makes sense. I confess to being in the “viewing”, rather than the “doing” category. However, as I say, what he says makes good sense.

  5. Exelant treatus, reminds me of a man who has a library of books because it makes him look learned, but hasn’t read any of them.

  6. I like what you said in your blog just now. I grew up on and working on farms from junior high school to high school and learned what hard work was plus it conditioned my body into a machine of muscle and endurance that the military liked. I joined the Navy as soon as I turned 18. Those lond hours working horses and hauling hay gave me big arms and a strong back. Plus other skills learned along the way, like hunting shooting tracking woods skills. Or woodcraft skills but being so young they were surprised by my ethno and ethnic differences. So they started putting me in schools to see if I was as smart as they thought. As it turned out I was. So they voluntarily put me into special forces training where my education plus hard work ethic really helped me through the hard times and show others that this kid just kicked your ass. After that they put me on Nuke submarines with Nuke weapons on board and a 45 1911A to be ready to protect them. But if I had not been exposed to hard work as a kid I would not have known how to handle the tough conditions of SF training and the many other schools they sent me to. That mind set has helped me all my life, at University work and training my body and mind as one. I have 2 black belts but have not stopped learning other technics for time to time have saved my ass. The constant training and learning has crossed over in all aspects of life. And your so right about practice makes perfect. I turn 60 next month and have had to develop different types of skills to match my abilities both mentally and physically. I just want to thank you for your informed insight on your blog.

  7. As Plato once said that if you want peace prepare for war. He sunk that nail in one hit. Perperation is key to every endeavor weather it in learning or doing. You must approach each thing with the proper mind set. Think act then excute. I love Plato he has left us with many drops of wisdom a long the way another quote that I think is very relevant is Victory loves preperation. I don’t know how to say it better. I live in the woods in Arkansas and love it . On my property I have three pistol ranges. One is for targets, one is for physical training where I have set up punching bags and kick bags, shooting targets all while in motion down a trail. My younger brother come out to shoot and train I’m in the process of teaching him skills I have learned in the military and life. I keep telling him to take what I ‘m teaching and take from it what he wants. But keep learning on your own and incorporating it in his skill kit.and practice, practice, practice constantly until it become a second nature skill set. Thank you for your thoughtful insight and words of encouragement. Respectfully.

  8. Yeah, been there done that Retired CPO, believe in prior proper planning preventing piss poor performance. At 66 i still carry a knife. Grew up as a cub scout then a boy scout to a sea explorer. While inside my home i shoot first if you enter unannounced. Still learning!

  9. So true! I know it to be fact as I have lost more fights than I care to admit because I don’t actually physically train. watching these great videos and not really working at learning the moves won’t make you a real winning warrior. I’m 61 years old so I doubt I’ll ever be good at this stuff.