Safe training: the 3 errors rule

How the rule of the three errors works

There are several popular sayings (in China, in Arabia, etc.) that refer to the rule of 3 errors:

  • “Everything that happens one time can, or not, happen twice but everything that happens twice will probably happen a third time.”
  • “Once is a fluke. Twice is a coincidence. Three is a trend.”

In 6 Dragons Kung Fu, we apply this concept to the safety of our daily training. Basically, the idea is that:

  • Fist error – If we make a mistake in carrying out an exercise once (eg. we are wrong in a movement of rotation of the rope and we hit the elbow, read Loop rotations of the rope) there is nothing strange or unusual; we just have to recover our concentration and we can easily continue our training
  • Second error – If, on the other hand, after the first one, we make a second mistake, an alarm bell must sound in our mind; we are likely to be deconcentrated, tired, injured and / or unfit to continue the practice (we are doing something too far above our present possibilities)

Important: when we refer to “errors” we allude to something potentially “dangerous” and not a common happening (like a missed moving target).

The explanation

Although this may seem an exaggerated precaution, it hides behind a very precise psychological mechanism that we can describe through another small example:

  • A practitioner is twirling a short stick (read The basics of short sticks: 5 basic exercises)
  • His concentration level shuns apparently for a moment
  • The stick mistakenly hit one of his knee (first mistake)
  • Automatically his mind tries to increase the level of attention
  • If the increased concentration is sufficient, he is able to continue the exercise
  • If the increase in attention is not sufficient another mistake could occur (second error)
  • Even in the presence of a “mental boost”, the practitioner may be facing a dangerous collapse (or a complete inadequacy) of performances

When we make a mistake in carrying out an action that we think to master, as a rule, the brain reacts by providing much more than the necessary psychic abilities. If even in the presence of a medium-high concentration level we repeat a similar (or worse) error, probably (not certainly), we are facing:

  • A temporary cognitive decline
  • An activity that requires more preparation

To insist after this loss of control may mean a drastically increase of the risk of an injury (the third error).

A note by Master Kongling – Differently from many other martial arts, at an advanced level, 6DKF includes endlessly harder exercises (the goal is, in fact, to never stop the growth of the practitioners). The reason why I care so much about sharing this “trick” is that most of the times I got hurt (myself, my students and training partners) was in violation of the three errors rule. Since I started to adopt it in a categorical way (despite the continuous increase in difficulty of the training sessions) I have gradually reduced the onset even of small injuries (almost absent now).

In short, this method can avoid most of the accidents to which we would otherwise be exposed. In particular, it is important to follow this tip when we train in the most “dangerous” conditions:

  • Acrobatic, balance or weights involved activities
  • Activities with rigid mobile targets and / or obstacles
  • Exercises with weapons (training versions and above all the real ones)

What to do after the second mistake

Fortunately, in our training system, the fact of not being able to continue the practice of a specific exercise is a minor problem (generally each session is divided into sequences of 5-15 minutes).

When it happens to be unable to continue an activity we have several alternatives:

  • Go trivially to the next exercise (alternating the involved skills and body parts)
  • Decrease (drastically) the difficulty level (until a good performance is recovered)
  • Eliminate all the dangerous aspects in relation to our safety (eg. replacing a sword with a plastic tube)
  • Return to train the fundamentals of that exercise (eg. with a long stick, from a moving target stepping back to the always-good basic rotations)

Final considerations:

  • The only choice we have to try to avoid is a temporary rest (over 2 minutes); this is a very bad attitude for a martial artist (read Intensity of training: depends on what?)
  • In the most serious cases, of course, it is obligatory to interrupt the whole training (since the range of exercises that we can perform is so wide and different, it is a rather rare eventuality)

In-depth articles


Reply in the comments and share your experience:

  • Have you ever seriously hurt yourself (or someone) during training? Why did it happen in your opinion?

Author: Master Kongling

Founder of 6 Dragons Kung Fu.

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