Skill Juggling: How the Jack of All Trades Improves… All Trades

If improving multiple skills simultaneously is an issue you struggle with, try these strategies.

In MovNat training, or training from any generalist perspective, we all come across the problem of how to juggle all of these different skills. How do we improve our running, crawling, carrying, climbing, and other skills simultaneously? It’s hard enough to become competent at one skill, practicing many can seem an almost insurmountable task.

Whether you are a MovNat practitioner, a mixed martial artist, a grappler, or simply someone who enjoys participating in many activities and wants to improve in all of them, I think my ideas will help you.

Employ a Variety of Skills

My approach comes from my experience in Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ), which is a specialist’s art in the sense we are mostly just practicing grappling. But is also a generalist’s art in the sense that we absorb what is useful to us from all grappling styles, particularly when we are talking about the submission grappling aspect of BJJ. We absorb takedowns from wrestling and judo, submissions from pretty much anywhere we can grab them (judo, sambo, catch wrestling, Chin Na), and positioning strategies from wrestling, judo, and other martial arts. We are constantly working to sharpen our skills, add new pieces, subtract other pieces, and shift focus from improving in one area while not neglecting our other skills.

As BJJ practitioners, there are some times when we work on takedown skills and other times when we are focused on sharpening our submissions. Sometimes we shift to focus on a more positional pinning game. Like a jukebox, we constantly shuffle from song to song and genre to genre. So we need some way of organizing this stuff. If we devote all of our time to takedowns, then our ground fighting suffers. If we spend all of our time on the ground, our takedown skills suffer. Mixed martial artists have this problem in a more pronounced way. Not only do they have to develop a variety of grappling skills, but they also have to worry about striking and the complex melange of these skills.

The Spotlight and Maintenance Approach

The first way I approach this problem is by using a “spotlight” and “maintenance” approach. I highlight one skill I want to improve upon, devote a majority of my focus on it, and shift my other skills into maintenance mode. For example, right now I am focused on grappling, so eighty percent of my time is devoted to practicing this skill set while my other skills like climbing, running, jumping, lifting, and carrying occupy twenty percent of my time. This is enough to keep a reasonable level in most of those skills without too much decay.

Spotlight Approach

Pick one skill you want to improve on and spend four to eight weeks sharpening this skill. Try devoting anywhere from sixty to eighty percent of your training time improving in this area. This is the time when I will seek out the expertise of a specialist to help me upgrade my skills and sort through what is relevant and irrelevant to my larger goal of competence in a broad array of skills.

“We are constantly working to sharpen our skills, add new pieces, subtract other pieces, and shift focus from improving in one area while not neglecting our other skills.”

The second part, maintenance, is tricky because you have to stuff a number of different skill sets into twenty to forty percent of your training time. My approach to this follows closely the Brazilian jiu jitsu and mixed martial arts model of using sparring both as an integrative tool and also as a way to maintain a broad array of skills at a reasonable level. I also use an auxiliary strategy (kata) which I learned from the world of traditional martial arts.

Maintenance Strategy #1

I either find an outdoor environment or set up an obstacle course that allows for the use of the multiple skills I want to work on. If I am maintaining my jumping, climbing, and carrying skills, I choose an environment where I can combine these skills and use them together in different ways. In essence, I am using scheduled play time to practice in a free form way.

In this video, you can see me playing lightly with some jumping, climbing, hanging, and crawling. I am both using the skills combined together and I am also keeping things light because I am recovering from knee and shoulder injuries. This method not only keeps the skills intact, but also allows me to use and test my previously injured joints to see how they hold up to skilled activities again.

I keep the play random and light so I can feel the skills and practice different aspects of them. This also helps me get used to randomly integrating them together as they could be used in a real life situation. In real life, climbing is seldom just climbing. It also comes hand in hand with running, jumping, and other skills. This use of multiple skills in a non-choreographed way mirrors light sparring practice in Brazilian jiu jitsu and mixed martial arts.

Maintenance Strategy #2

The kata method. I originally learned this concept in MovNat as a movement combo. It is also used extensively in traditional martial arts. Skills and body mechanics are finely tuned using specific choreographed sequences of movements called “kata” or simply, “forms.” You might repeatedly practice a block, a punch, or a kick in a specific sequence over and over again to develop specific body mechanics, positioning, and timing as well as other qualities. It also allows you to practice multiple skills in a combination, but without having to deal with randomly changing conditions. The purpose is to maintain and refine skills which will later be used in sparring (non-choreographed chaotic conditions).

I use his concept to make short sound bites out of movements, which can be repeated over and over again in various ways. You can do these circuit training style, for time, or at a more relaxed pace for technical practice. In the video below, I demonstrate a quick sequence of jump, crawl, jump, crawl which can be repeated over and over again, kata style, until you accomplish your goals, get tired or bored, or someone calls the cops and you get kicked out.

Improving Multiple Skills Simultaneously

If improving multiple skills simultaneously is an issue you struggle with, try these strategies. Every skill is a little different in how much time is needed to maintain it, so the ratios of focusing heavily on one skill and maintaining the others aren’t hard and fast numbers or rules. I suggest playing around with it to find your personal recipe. Let me know if you have any questions or feedback!

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