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…
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.
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.