There is a movie that epitomizes the concept of drills, drills, drills: the Karate Kid. I feel the original version (Morita-Macchio) makes the connection between the mindful repetition of drills and resulting performance clearer than the newer (Chan-Smith) version, or maybe its just that the original movie had a more significant impact on me as a child than the new version had on me as an adult.

For those that know the story, skip to the bottom of the blog for the take away points.

For those that do not know the story, allow me if you would to share it…

A boy – Daniel (Macchio) – moves across the country, becoming the typical ‘new kid’ just wanting to fit in.

In standing up to a bunch of bullies, Daniel gets beaten to a pulp.

Daniel is rescued by the maintenance man – Mr Miyagi (Morita) – of the building he lives in.

Wanting to exact revenge, Daniel asks to be taught in the fighting style that Miyagi took to stopping Daniel’s beating. Miyagi refuses, offers to negotatiate on Daniel’s behalf with the teacher of the bullies.

The bullies are apprentices of a sensei who teaches a ‘no mercy’ / ‘death to the enemy’ approach to martial arts, so a peaceful and respectful solution is obviously unacceptable; the agreed upon ‘solution’ is for a fight to settle the matter.  Miyagi agrees to train Daniel to fight the Cobra Kai’s (name of the martial arts team) top dog in an upcoming tournament.

Miyagi’s training begins… but not in the manner that Daniel expects.  First he must wax all the cars in Mr Miyagi’s lot… but not just any which way… in a specific way: left hand doing counter clockwise circles (i.e. wax on), and the right hand doing clockwise circles (i.e. wax off).

Oh, and breathing… breathing very important… how you breathe while you wax the cars very important: in and out through nose.

With cars done… now we are going to get to lessons in mortal combat… right?!?

Not exactly… now sand the deck, again the technique especially important in how you do it… not just randomly, not just here and there… watch the specific technique I show you and replicate exactly.  Now, paint the fence… the entire fence… again, watch how I want you to do it and repeat… and watch your stance, your posture while you paint is as specific as the movement of your wrists. Oh, and when done with the fence… paint the house.

Daniel is pushed to his limits… this is a lot of nonsense… the tournament is approaching, if I don’t start learning karate soon he thinks to himself… the tournament fight will be over and done before it begins. At his limits, Daniel yells at Mr Miyagi that he hasn’t learnt a thing, he has only been worked like a mule.

Miyagi then starts to throw punches, and Daniel begins to block each one.  How?

Because each of the chores was a drill, Daniel practiced for hours and hours, training not realizing he was training despite repeating defensive karate patterns over and over and over.  When it comes time to execute on demand… the connection is made.

Training then becomes more complex, with balance being challenged while performing movement pattern after pattern.

At the tournament, to ensure that he doesn’t lose on the deal, the Cobra Kai sensei uses one after another of his students to weaken Daniel so that his prized pupil can “finish him” once and for all. In the final match up, the Cobra Kai sensei encourages his top dog not just win, but to dismantle Daniel.

The end is predictable… typical happy ending, for Daniel, for Mr Miyagi, for the students of the insane sensei, just not for Mr No Mercy.

Take away points:

(1) Drills, drills, drills…  this is the true pattern of training. Execution of the sport in its fullest is the byproduct of training.  You do not train the sport in its totality, you train individual components via drills, drills and more drills, and unite the pieces into a final product for competition.  Sometimes mid-season, the pieces have yet to be united and athletes compete testing out their drill training to evaluate whether the changes are taking them in the direction of technique they want or whether additional adjustments are needed.

Mindless laps in the pool, grinding and spinning mindless miles on a stationary bike or trainer or on the road, mindless miles of putting one foot in front of the other is NOT training.

Yet athletes do this day after day, week after week, wondering why they fail to improve significantly.  Their coach tells them that they are training, they compare their training schedule to whats online and seeing that it is similar assume that they are indeed training. Unfortunately over time, the lack of progress leads to the inevitable same conclusion made by almost all athletes when deliberating whether to continue on in sport or not:  it’s me, I’m the reason I’m not improving… I guess I’m not cut out to be an athlete.  WRONG!  There is nothing wrong with you, there is everything wrong with your coach and their philosophy of what is coaching, of what is training. In fact, your coach likely has no clue what sport truly is: a precious precious gift because of what it affords us to do.

Find a coach who trains athletes using drills, not mindless hours, laps, and miles of doing a sport where the only variables are heart rate zones, power output or pace times.  That is not coaching, and it is most definitely not training. Writing up workouts is not coaching, doing workouts is not training.

Understanding what it means to train, what is training, and how to do it… this is what sport lacks today. Working out is not training.  Working out is exercising for the purpose of cosmetic health, to ‘look’ like an athlete, but has nothing to do with being an athlete, performing like an athlete, competing like an athlete. To be an athlete requires the repetition of drills, drills and more drills until the skills, the posture, the form and the techniques of the sport are burned into the mind of the athlete to the point that they can execute consistently on demand in high stress situations with what appears as effortless movement.

(2) Anyone telling you that training is anything other than drills, drills, drills is selling you something, and it ain’t got anything to do with sport.  The Mr ‘No Mercy’ coaches are indulging your fears, your anxieties, your anger, all of your egotistical desires, and what they sell has nothing to do with sport.

In fact, what ‘No Mercy’ coaches sell has nothing to do with you or your own goals, your health or your well-being… like the Cobra Kai sensei, these coaches are so swallowed up by their own fears, anxieties, angers and ego that to them you are nothing but a tool by which to stroke their own ego, to appease their own fears.  They do not train athletes to be fearless, they do the exact opposite… they teach fear. That is why they teach every competitor is to be treated as an enemy, every competition as the opportunity to mercilessly throttle your opponent to the point they cannot stand up, and just like in the movie, ‘No Mercy’ coaches expect you to mindlessly follow through on their demands demonstrating your loyalty and submissiveness to their ego – even if it means competing unethically (hence… doping either via drugs, mechanical, sabotaging competitor equipment, course cutting and all the other bulls#!t age group and pro athletes do in order to ‘win’).

‘No Mercy’ coaches do not teach you to win at anything because what they teach does not translate into life. A podium you may be able to steal from the true victor of the competition, but you cannot fool yourself for forever.  At one point we all wake up or are woken up… and looking in the mirror ask ourselves… oh, my God what have I become?

Find a coach whose philosophy of coaching leads you to looking in the mirror and becoming more and more satisfied with the person you are, more inspired by the person you see yourself becoming.  Any coach who does the opposite is not worth another moment of your time.