Students>Achieving your best>Competence

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Martial art students pass through four levels of competency as they gain mastery in their art.

Unconscious incompetence

Unconscious incompetent students are not aware of what they don’t know. They have no experience in the martial arts. They are incompetent, and don’t know it.

For example, new white belt students are usually introduced to punching during their first class. Advanced students are aware of what is needed to execute a perfect punch, such as forming a proper fist and retracting the non-punching arm. However, beginners, even though unaware of these aspects, feel competent at punching.

Unconscious incompetent students may not progress until they realize that there are many things they do not know. Once they become conscious of their incompetence, learning can begin.

Conscious incompetence

Conscious incompetent students have realized what they do not know. They now have the knowledge, but not the skills. They are incompetent, and they know it.

These are color belt students who realize that there is much more to performing proper techniques than they initially thought. As in the punching example, this is a student who now knows all the elements needed to perform a perfect punch, but has not yet trained enough to be a proficient puncher.

Conscious incompetent students are now able to become truly proficient. They just have to practice.

Conscious competence

Consciously competent students have the knowledge to perform particular skills, have extensively trained in performing the skills, and are proficient at the skills. However, the skills do not yet come automatically; they still require conscious thought to perform correctly. They must think before they can act or react.

These are senior color belts and junior black belts who have trained enough to be confident in their ability to perform techniques properly, but they still must concentrate to perform the techniques properly. Still using the punching example, some aspects of their punching technique have become automatic, but they still need to think about some things, such as hip snap.

Consciously competent students need years of intense training to move to the next level.

Unconscious competence

Unconscious competent students have developed their skills to the point that they can perform them without conscious thought, their skills have become instinctive. They act and react without conscious thought.

Unconsciously competent students are senior black belts who have years of training under their belts. They instantly execute technically perfect punches automatically without thinking about the process.

Unconscious competent students have achieved the "the Way" of the martial arts, the true goal of every black belt.

  • Howell, W. (1982). The Empathic Communicator. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub. Co.

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