Why is training important for you anyway?
Training, of all fields, has undergone a revolution in the past 10 years. It has been transformed from a process of copying an instructor and then being assessed on your ability to memorize or copy that instructor to a scientific method that has overtaken the old systems and propelled us forward into a training age of guided discovery, coaching and mastery.
The sheer volume of research and data collected on how different people learn different skills has equipped and empowered us to teach and to learn at accelerated rates and mastery of a skill is now within reach to most, if not all people, if they approach it in the right way under the guidance of a good instructor or coach.
In general, the principles of training remain the same but how we get there is very different. Stay with me and I will explain.
A person learning new skills will naturally encounter this process
2. Then, usually very quickly, we realise that we are not very good at it at all and become consciously incompetence.
3. We work harder and smarter and get training and practice in until we are able to perform the skill well but we still need to think about it to get it right as we become consciously competent.
4. Eventually, with hard work, good training and practice, we become unconsciously competent, we are able to perform the skill without really thinking about it. Some people call it muscle memory other call it mastery. You have become the master of this skill.
An easy example that relates this to bushcraft is using a ferrocerium rod to create sparks to light a pile of birch bark shavings. This is a basic and very easy skill but it is easy to forget how difficult it is to learn from scratch. I will demo it for them and usually light the pile of bark on the first or second spark and then watch as my clients begin with the enthusiasm of step 1 (Unconscious Incompetence) and then when it does not light on the first few strikes they arrive at step 2 (conscious incompetence)
Step 2 is where i come in, I have already broken this skill down into it’s component parts, I know what makes it work and what does not make it work. I have, in years of teaching this skill and practicing it myself, learned that certain things have to be done in a certain way in order for it to work. The wind must be taken into account and your body must be positioned to protect the young flame from being blown out. Sparks are not all born equal and must be struck with a necessary force in order for them to be hot enough to ignite the tinder. There must be a minimum amount of tinder or it will burn out before you are able to convert this young flame into a stronger flame by adding fuel. Even the way a person holds the ferrocerium rod is critical for them to be able to apply the right amount of pressure to generate the hottest sparks.
I am therefore able to quickly identify any sticking points or trouble that a client is having and with a few words they can be sitting by their impressive creation of fire and feel the warmth of their achievement. The alternative is for them to muddle through and spent 2 hours doing the same thing over and over again, not knowing any of the finer points until they eventually stumble upon the solution themselves.
When I first started teaching this skill, I noticed that it took, on average, about 45 minutes for a person to learn how to do it. I have since refined this to about 20 minutes (including all of the preparation and collection of material) by going through my own learning process and becoming a better instructor and coach.
Some people will try to tell you that you can learn everything that you need to know from books and YouTube videos and that nobody needs training. This is demonstrably false and I will explain why.
There are 3 learning systems that people learn with, Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, otherwise known as the VAK system. Some people learn best by watching, looking and observing (about 40% of people). Others learn better by listening, they need to hear an explanation of what is being done in order to process the information fully (about 20% of us) and then there are Kinesthetic learners, those of us who “learn by doing”. Kinesthetic learners will not feel as if they have really got to grips with a skill until they have physically done it. We all use each of these systems but tend to depend on one more than the others and this shapes the way that we learn considerably.
In context, this could be a mathematics problem, the Visual learners will “get it” by watching the teacher write out and work through the equation on the whiteboard and then have no trouble replicating that themselves. The Auditory learners will need to hear the teacher explaining how to solve the problem and then will have no trouble with it. The Kinesthetic learners will need to solve the problem themselves, on paper before they will feel that they understand it, they will learn it by doing it.
These learning systems are generally equally effective but you can imagine that some are better suited to certain environments that other. For example, Visual and Auditory learners are going to have an easier time of it in a classroom setting where the Kinesthetic learner will spend most of the time in a classroom not really understanding why they are doing any of this. Living outside and practicing bushcraft or expedition skills, anything “outdoorsy” tend to be very kinesthetic in nature so it comes as no surprise that people who do not do so well in classrooms tend to do very well in the outdoors.
I myself was in trouble through most of my school life for not paying attention or not applying myself, under achieving etc…If only I knew then what I now know. (I am a Kinesthetic learner)
Each of us tends to use one of the 3 learning systems more than the others but we do still use them all and we can be trained to utilise the most appropriate system for the task at hand but that is outside the scope of what I am doing here.
This is all very interesting but why is it important?
This is important because if your predominate learning system is not Visual, that is 60% of us, then reading a book on bushcraft is not going to be enough to even get you started. The book will not be able to recognise you’re particular leaning style and adjust it’s narrative to suit you.
Books have their place but they do not replace hands on, practical training, they supplement it.
A good coach and instructor will be able to recognise the best method to teach you, personally, a skill and they will be able to do that while you are among a group of mixed people with mixed learning styles.
Practice makes Perfect though right?
Practice does not make perfect, it makes things permanent. If you are making mistakes while learning a new skill and then go on to practice by repetition, you will program that mistake into your new skill and make that permanent. Due to the way the human brain learns new skills, it is much easier to learn something than it is to unlearn something so it is very important that before you start to practice that you get it right so that the 1000 hours you put into practicing to make your skill permanent is not wasted.
A book or a YouTube video cannot take a look at the way that you are performing a new skill and correct any mistakes that you are making. We are not good at spotting and correcting our own mistakes and it is always easier for another person to spot these mistakes in another. This is why Olympic athletes have coaches. It is extremely rare for a coach to be a better athlete than the actual athlete but being able to observe and correct a problem from the outside in invaluable. Coaching and Olympic Track and Field sports are two separate fields of excellence and coaching is always necessary to help an athlete achieve their best.
Depending on the skill or activity, safety will be a factor. Doing something potentially dangerous on your own without guidance is to invite an unpleasant outcome as is heading off into the great outdoors in an uneducated state. A well run training company will have emergency plans and procedures in place to handle medical emergencies and weather problems that you can benefit from during your training phase prior to you heading out for your own adventures.
You may have your own little getaway spot hidden in the woods somewhere but most people do not and they do not know where to begin when it comes to finding a place to practice and learn in nature. The western world is heavily regulated and controlled when it comes to accessing our wilderness and natural land. A good training company has already gone through the not inconsiderable trouble of locating and securing a good place to do this and it means that you can have your training and enjoy your time in the woods without the stress and worry of not knowing if you are allowed to be somewhere or not or if you are going to be confronted by an angry land owner at any moment.
A good training course run by a good instructor or coach can save you thousands of wasted hours, pain, and frustration. It can mean the difference between a year stuck with the basics and a year spent mastering the full range of skills that you wanted to learn.
You might not care about any of this technical crap and just want to have a fun adventure and be guided to a great location and have a lot of fun while learning a few new things without really noticing that you are being trained. This is good, this is a great mindset to have when going into this.
Whatever your reason for wanting to learn Bushcraft, Survival or Self Reliance skills is, get some training so that you can get it right from the beginning and achieve your full potential as soon as possible. Obviously, and by now you might have wondered, yes I have a bias here, I am an instructor and coach and my door is open to you and I would love to work with you someday but honestly, if not me then there are other training companies that you could go to and you should. The important thing is that you get some training.