Why 10,000 hours to Mastery?

By Mark V. Lonsdale

It is a common wisdom that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, but have you ever given thought to just how much training is required to hit that 10,000-hour mark?

Looking at a skilled trade such as a carpenter or welder, the average apprenticeship is about four years which breaks down to 40 hours per week, times 50 weeks, equaling 2,000 hours per year, and 8,000 hours in four years. But a competent journeyman, fresh out of his or her apprenticeship, still needs a few years of experience to be considered a master at his or her chosen profession.   

Now to the field of sports, and using Judo as an example, it usually takes an individual 5 years to make 1st degree black belt, depending on how often they train and how successful they have been in competition. Training three times a week for 2 hours in each session, adds up to 6 hours per week, times 50 weeks and you have 300 hours per year. So five years would equal 1,500 hours total training time, well short of the proposed 10,000 hours. The logic here is that a black belt is not the end of the road, but merely the beginning of a much longer journey. The real mastery of Judo comes many years later and at about the rank of 5th Dan.

Again, using Judo as an example, the road to mastery can be accelerated by dedicated judoka and elite athletes. When I was training with the national training squad I was doing Judo 2 hours a day, 5 days a week, plus periodic weekend training camps and competitions. So at a minimum, and including road work and weight training, I was putting in 600-700 hours per year. But when I was invited to training in France with the RCF and French national squad at their nation sports institute (INSEP) I had to step it up a notch. In France I was training 2 hours a day at INSEP, 2 hours each evening at RCF, plus teaching junior Judo 2 hours each afternoon. This was in addition to European and Japanese training camps and time in the weight gym, running, and swimming. This equated to 30-40 hours per week and about 1,500 hours per year. This is equal to 5 years training for the average recreational judoka. As a result, Judo skills, performance, and promotion came much faster.   

You will also hear people say that an individual technique needs to be repeated 10,000 times to master it. So let’s see how that breaks down. If you choose a particular throwing technique and do 100 uchi-komi and nage-komi (repetitions) three nights a week, that equates to 300 per week, times 40 weeks for 12,000 total repetitions. So mastery of techniques is a process of months and years not days and weeks.

Warning – the quality of training is always preferable to mere quantity. Repeating a poor technique thousands of times only reinforces bad habits. While doing a technique correctly hundreds of times builds the required neuro-muscle memory to be able to execute the technique reflexively in randori or competition.

Finally – if you aspire to great things you must do great things, and this means many more hours of structured training.


About Mark V

Dedicated shooter, seeker, traveler, teacher, trainer, educator
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