“A-hah!” and “Ah Duh?!” moments: The beginnings of cognitive incompetence


Brain loading in three, two, one: Three karate styles in total tried out, just shy of two years in to my training, one major decision made about ryu ha (lineage / style) and it finally feels like I am in the groove and walking in the right direction on a well worn path…..only then it doesn’t.

As I feel more comfortable with things that were once a struggle and do more things more automatically compared with having to be more cognitive about every movement I want my uncooperative body to do, I start to discover there is more to each technique than what I had initially thought or noticed. I am starting to realise the purpose and seeking to understand more fully.

For the first year or so, everything was new. There was so much to learn, and if I could keep up and keep my head above water, then I was (or at least felt like I was) swimming with the current. Now that things are becoming more familiar, when we revisit basics (as we do, and as we should) and slow them right down for the new beginners we have welcomed this year, I notice that I have been short-cutting things, misunderstanding others, unwittingly perhaps, but now, I notice subtleties that I hadn’t noticed when trying to copy at speed, or when I was in information overload.

Over the last month I have had several of these “Ah…duh?!” moments, by this I mean that feeling you get when you pick up from someone else’s (action or instruction) something that really should have been obvious to you already (and probably wasn’t because your brain had bigger fish to fry at the time, or was thinking too much about it to see the wood from the trees).

I have also had a lot of “A-hah!” moments. Those are the ones where suddenly the little threads of concepts weave themselves together, seemingly without your active help, to give you a fabric of more profound understanding, hitherto elusive from your grasp.

I used to get a bit frustrated when I couldn’t immediately grasp concepts or movements, or understand something my Sensei or Senpai said or did. The time has has gradually extended from immediately to weeks, weeks to months, and now, indefinite time periods. My patience is stretching beyond what I thought was possible. It has to. This isn’t something I am going to get the hang of quickly. This isn’t a journey that will ever be completed but rather a continuous process of polishing and self development.

Gradually, I started to realise that I would get things when I was ready to (often when I least expected) and as long as I did my best and kept trying and practising, eventually things would fall into place. The difference between my “a-hah” moments now and my “a-hah” moments 12 months ago are that many of them happen when I am practising on my own. This can be good and bad. It’s good that I am developing the capacity to self diagnose and correct problems. It’s bad that there is potential for me to beat myself up over things and be too harsh on myself. As long as I practise patience and keep an eye on the self deprecating tendencies (which still lurk), I can celebrate these “a-hah” moments as small wins, and build on them.

I feel like I crossed the bridge of incognisent incompetence (not knowing enough to know you don’t know) and have moved on to the path of cognitive incompetence (knowing enough that you know when you are not getting it right), and that cognisant competence (knowing enough that you know when you are getting it right, which is most of the time, but still having to think about it) is not too far out of my reach……..Some day I can look towards incognisent competence (knowing enough to know you are getting it right but not having to think about it to get it right)……but then no doubt I will further reflect……..and the cycle begins again….We will always be beginners; after all, it is only our starting point that differs. However, our starting point matters less when it isn’t a race and there is no end point.




3 thoughts on ““A-hah!” and “Ah Duh?!” moments: The beginnings of cognitive incompetence

  1. Ossu and boy can I ever relate! Except my brain can’t handle more than one style at a time. Or can it? We do Bassai Dai with a Shito-ryu flair, so I get to dig out those blocks again for a few movements. Then I have to teach beginners Shindo Jinen-ryu blocks. Then I have to teach someone else Bassai Dai. LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have passai to look forward to in a few years. Ours is from shorynji kempo I think so different from the shito ryu one I have seen done at our sister dojo. I am gradually learning to consider our style as a style and not 3 styles whilst still trying to understand the roots and history behind techniques and kata.


      • Your style sounds fascinating. We borrow elements of jiu-jitsu and freely borrow kata from other styles, but we don’t describe our style as a blend. Even though it is, and even though our founder was study-buddies with the founder of Shito-ryu, so that’s why I had a fairly easy time transitioning from that style to Shindo Jinen-ryu 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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