Deep and Wide: The “T” Principle

tree*This topic was originally discussed on another website and for the life of me, I cannot seem to locate it.  If anyone can point me to the article, I will be happy to link it and give proper credit where it is due.*

The T Principle is a concept of attaining & categorizing knowledge related to a certain field of study.  Knowledge is divided into two main categories: The breadth of knowledge and the depth of knowledge.

A basic diagram of the T Principle would look something like this…

basic T diagram

 This is a nice little exercise to help assess areas of skill/knowledge you might be lacking in.  You can be as basic or detailed as you like.  Heck, you could even take this outside of martial arts and apply it other areas of your life or to your entire life as a whole (that’d be WAAAAY overkill in my book, but hey, whatever floats your boat).

For grins, here is a self-assessment using the T Principle.

sample T diagramNote the T shape of the diagram.  Could also be a bell curve, but that’s not as catchy.

As you can see, the areas I have the most knowledge/skill in are in the center and the other skills radiate outward in descending order (on a scale of 1-10).  You can arrange the skills however you like.  This is just the general template.  If you are training with the intent to compete, your diagram should be narrower in scope, limited to the techniques and exercises pertaining to your competition.

Be honest with yourself while creating your diagram.  If you spend little to no time on a field, then don’t put a 5 or higher on it.

Criteria to use for determining proficiency

Determining how to rank yourself on each skill/technique can be a bit tricky.  Let’s discuss a couple to get you started and the pros/cons of them.

  • % of Training Time Spent: If you spend 60% of your training time drilling kicks and footwork, they will rank higher than the 10% of time you spent practicing another skill.  The pros of using this criteria is that it gives you a consistent and reliable method for creating your T Diagram.  However, time spent doesn’t always equal the level of proficiency in a specific skill.
  • Proficiency: This method directly measures how well you can perform each skill.  The advantage to this method is you might get a better representation of your areas of weakness.  The problem with using this method is it’s incredibly subjective.  Measuring yourself is hard to do unless you’re videotaping your techniques.  You will also need a knowledgeable coach/instructor/friend who isn’t afraid to be brutally honest with you.
  • Hybrid: The ideal setup would be to combine the 2 methods together so you can determine a level of proficiency based off the time spent training a skill AND how well you can actually execute the skill.  This will give you the most accurate results, but is more time consuming.
Why you should do this exercise

In short, self-awareness.  That’s not a good enough answer?  Fine, I’ll elaborate.

The cornerstone of every athlete’s training should be the basics.  If you skip the basics, you’re technique and subsequently, performance will suffer.  Reflecting back on the time spent training and your level of proficiency in specific fields will give you a better grasp of which areas are lacking and whether you have a weak foundation.  Your foundational skills should always be the highest ranked on your self-assessment.

This can also provide insights to unique strengths you might have not been aware of.  For example, let’s say a TKD fighter is training like most other TKD fighters are…roundhouse kicks and footwork until your legs fall off.  His whole strategy is one of quick aggression.  While creating the T-Diagram, he comes to realize he is very proficient at spinning kicks.  His whole game could change from aggression to one of defense/counterattacks.

The T-Principle helps validate the Training Pyramid.  If something doesn’t work in sparring and you think you’ve identified what level of the pyramid the failure occurred, you can then go to the T-Diagram to see how much time is invested on that level.

Many people think of training merely as physical conditioning and technique.  Those people won’t go beyond amateur status.  The pros critique every aspect of their training; physical conditioning, technique, nutrition, strategy/tactics, and psychology.  This diagram doesn’t take long to make, so give it a shot and leave a comment letting me know if it’s helped you identify and weak/strong spots you weren’t aware of before.




4 thoughts on “Deep and Wide: The “T” Principle

  1. I was curious if you ever thought of changing the structure of your website?

    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people
    could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text
    for only having 1 or 2 pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?

    • I don’t believe in filling up articles with useless pics. If I feel a picture is needed, I put it in where it is most relevant during the conversation.

  2. Excellent tool; it has been a real kick in the pants for me. I’m finally confronting some weaknesses that have been lingering for too long. I recommend that other readers actually go through the analytical process rather than merely thinking about it. There’s something about looking at your own personalized graph that helps you see the entirety of your training/knowledge so that any deficiencies or imbalances will become glaring. Also, for my part at least, it made the redesigning of my training routine that much easier.

    Since I’m a bodybuilder, I will show my own analysis in the hope that it can buttress MACE’s point about the adaptability of the “T” principle to disparate goals.

    I began by breaking down the elements of my training and competition prep (excluding diet and recovery). There were 16 categories and I wrote them down. “16” was arbitrary, I merely spent a few minutes thinking about the important elements of my training and wrote them down as they came to mind while making sure to incorporate various tiers of generality and specificity. Then, I went through my training journal and analyzed the contents of my split while making a hash mark for every 3 sets (or equivalent) that I performed in any particular category (dupes were allowed for overlapping categories, double hashes for six sets, etc.) Some subjective judgments were required, but for the most part this was all very straightforward.

    I tallied the results from a typical week of training and then assigned a score for each category on a scale of 1-8. I chose the 1-8 scale because it was a facile solution to the problem of creating a tidy, bell curve type graph (no need to revisit your old statistics text books here… keep it simple). I scanned the raw numbers and began with the two categories scoring the highest and assigned them each with an “8,” and then the next highest with a “7,” and so on. Sometimes I needed to deviate from this method a bit when there was a wide disparity between the raw numbers of successive tiers. Basically, instead of rigidly having two “8”s, two “7”s, two “6”s, etc., I would allow for say, two “8”s, one “7,” three “6”s, etc. After scaling in this way, I constructed a simple bar graph with labels. This whole process took me roughly 45 minutes.

    What was the point of all this? I took your recommendations here and asked four questions.

    First, “Are my foundations the highest rated?” Five out of six of my highest rated categories were foundational (i.e. strength, compound lifts, accessory lifts, isolation lifts, unilateral lifts). My answer was “yes.”

    Second, “Are there any [unique] strengths?” One of my highest rated categories was “accessory lifts,” which earned a score of eight-out-of-eight. My accessory work is anything I tack on at the end of my workouts with an aim to bringing up certain weaknesses or otherwise making something a special project. These vary between training cycles and right now they include: forearms (top, bottom, finger extensors), core (crunch variations, plank, ab wheel, hyperextensions), serratus, and some bag work and jumping rope (hat tip). I perform accessory work after every training session, hence the high score. I always had a bit of pride in my ability to nail down the [obscure] details of my physique by including accessory work so regularly, but in the end my focus here has proven to be folly. My current thinking is that one of my greatest strengths has served to enable one of my glaring weaknesses.

    Third, “Are there any weaknesses?” Lower-body, plain and simple. While my upper-body got an “8,” my lower-body got a “4.” That means that half of my body is only being worked about half as much as the other half of my body (even worse, it’s more like 1/3 according to the raw scores). This is a big problem and one that I’ve been thinking about for some time. The interesting thing to me is that I was already aware of this weakness, yet I hadn’t considered it in light of any particular strengths and how I might integrate this weakness into an area that’s already a strength. This is where the “T” analysis really demonstrated its worth to me, which led me to consider the final question…

    “What am I going to do about it?” Something about seeing the entirety of my training and knowledge stacked up against itself gave me enough perspective to see where I might be able to correct my imbalances without shaking up my routine too much. Previously, I was sort of paralyzed by indecision regarding how I could integrate more lower-body work into my routine. I did not want to replace any of my training days with an extra lower-body day and I did not want to add any training days, so I felt a bit stuck.

    It suddenly became clear to me what I needed to do–swap lower-body work for my typical accessory work and then perform my normal accessory work on rest days. Basically, I need to start working my legs 4 days rather than 1 day a week. Performing 3/5 of my normal leg routine after every upper-body day and keeping my full lower-body routine on leg day would raise my raw score for lower-body from 10 to 28, which would place it squarely next to my upper-body raw score of 30 (both scaling to “8”s–the highest score). Also, moving my accessory work to my three rest days (and keeping it ‘as is’ after leg day) will allow me to maintain this unique strength.

    I discovered weaknesses in my arms too, which scored a “3.” I’m going to include bicep and tricep work in my accessory days by performing feeder workouts with resistance bands and light dumbbells. This will take my score for arms from a “3” to a “6.”

    I was going to attach a pic of my analysis but I can’t figure it out through this commenting platform. Oh well.

    Merry Christmas and happy new year.

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