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The Necessity of "Process Time" in Learning

In his book, “Teaching with the Brain in Mind”, Eric Jensen, one of the leaders in brain-based learning, discusses the importance that the role of “processing” plays in learning. He relates the following three points:

1. Much of what we learn cannot be processed consciously, because it happens too fast. We need time to process it, so the brain continues to process information before and long after we are aware that we are doing it.

2. To create meaning for ourselves about what we learn we need internal time. Meaning is always generated from within, not from external sources. So in order to figure out what it all means to them, a student must “go internal” using such things as reflection and contemplation.

3. After each new learning experience, we need time for the learning to imprint. (For example, new physical skills can take up to 6 hours to solidify).

He goes on to state that it’s important that we allow for this creative time if we want new learning to occur, and cautions that cramming more content per minute, or moving immediately from one piece of learning to the next, virtually guarantees that little will be learned or retained

How much processing time depends on the difficulty of the material and the background of the person learning it.. According to Jensen, teaching “heavy, new” content to novice learners may require processing time of 2-5 minutes for every 10-15 minutes, whereas review of old-hat material may require only a minute every 20 minutes.

So what does this mean for those of us who teach martial arts? To me it means that perhaps we might need to re-examine our teaching approach and some of our teaching methods. The martial art industry is forever bombarding us with messages about how classes have to be fast-paced and filled to the brim with material to keep students engaged and excited and prevent them from becoming bored. But a lot of that is based on fitness industry propaganda that has been adopted by the martial art industry. “Get ‘em in - get ‘em out” -- “You gotta make sure they leave sweating and smiling.” You know the rhetoric. But they never seem to mention anything about thinking, do they? Who says that classes need to be taught in such a way? The people who think you should teach classes that way, that’s who.

Perhaps we should move away from getting caught in this “gym” attitude and hype and bring in time for processing. We need to remember that learning martial arts is primarily neural. It is about skill conditioning rather than physical conditioning; developing the proper neural pathways, not how many kicks a person can do in one minute. While physical conditioning may be an integral component in most forms of martial art training, it’s important to keep in mind that skill conditioning and physical conditioning are two different things.

How can we bring processing time into our classes? One way would be to encourage “personal processing time” after new learning for material, perhaps though the use of short breaks interspersed into the training or between rounds of training which the students reflect upon and discuss what they are learning. If you’re their teacher or coach you can ask them simple questions about what they just did, about how a drill or motion or even a sparring session felt to them. This can help them process and stay in tune but also relax a bit.

We’ve all read statements such as “JKD is a process…” etc. Well, I think we need to make sure they we include “process time” in that process.

To find out more about Eric Jensen and his brain-based learning visit:

Sources: (“Teaching with the Brain in Mind” -- Eric Jensen – Association for the Supervision of Curriculum Development – Alexandria, Va. – 1998)

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