Have you ever walked down the street holding the hand of a small child, or noticed in passing another adult doing the same?
If the adult is not fully focused on the child, but on getting to their destination, they will tend to automatically adopt their normal stride. Alongside them, making many more shorter steps at higher speed, the child keeps the same pace, but working a lot harder to achieve the same aim.
I see this a lot in the martial arts. In this example we see an analogy with regard to the difference between more experienced practitioners and learners, between teachers and students, and the nature of goal setting for improvement.
What looks flowing and natural in experienced martial arts practitioners does not come naturally, even if the movements themselves are based on natural actions. They move freely because of the hours of practice that iron out the stilted steps of childhood into smooth transitions. Like a child growing up the less experienced student has to try much harder and make many more repetitions over a period of time in order to move in the same way as the adult.
The many small steps that a child must make to keep up with an adult is a reminder to those of us that teach that what seems easy now, and one simple unconscious movement, is actually made up of many more small steps for the beginner. To help them reach where we are now we must remember where we started and help them identify and make those early steps.
As students we look at other practitioners around us making those adult steps and we try to emulate them. It’s important for us to remember that to get to where they are we need to go through the small step process. We can try to hop, skip or jump the same distance they are walking, but it isn’t as efficient or as sustainable. Progress is predominantly achieved through the repetition of many small steps that, as we grow, become fewer and bigger, until they are no different to the ones we tried to mimic.
Training, just like life, is full of Big Steps and Little ‘Uns.