How do you become an expert in cross-training?

Written by Paul Cale

As the popularity of cross-training proves, there’s much to gain from exposure to a wide range of expertise. But how do you recognise — and become — an expert?

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Expertise in martial arts is now being used to teach AIS cyclists crash proofing

As part of my work with the AIS this year, I have been a keynote speaker at the American College of Sports Medicine and worked with our elite in cycling and basketball — areas that at first glance would seem to have nothing to do with my core skills in the martial arts and military. When I worked with the Japanese judo team, I found myself at least in an area of familiarity, but of course the Japanese judo team had no interest in my judo, as Japan is the greatest judo nation in the history of the sport. They were interested in the innovation of the AIS Combat Centre.

The meeting of experts from a range of different areas drives innovation, so looking outside of your own field for ways to improve is key. That’s why the Japanese had a great interest in the world-leading developments that the AIS is now applying to the Olympic combat sports. AIS experts in their fields who drove the innovation that, over a decade or so, helped turn Australian cycling from international easy-beats into a cycling powerhouse are now contributing to the combat sports program, too.

Expertise, and the need to share it to advance what we do, is why I again find myself US-bound as I write. As the AIS’s world-renowned sports scientist Dr David Martin told me, “You don’t need to be a doctor. You are an expert in your field, and expertise is recognised by others who are experts in their fields.”

So what makes an expert? I can see expertise in others, but I didn’t know why until my mentor and friend Dr Martin gave me a little insight into the answer. As a martial artist who is talking to another martial artist (you), I will use something we both know — the belt grading system — as a metaphor to aid my explanation. For simplicity’s sake, I will use the BJJ belt colours.

Expert White-belt

Just like the martial arts, being an expert is a journey in which every destination, once reached, shows itself to be a false peak. Your achievements are real, but there is so much more to come if you stay the course. When you are learning your new craft, you are expected to fail, to fall short along the way. You are new and you will always stumble when learning a new craft. What is called for is perseverance: seven times down, eight times up, as they say.

Expert Blue-belt

You have your first qualification. You have something that you can hold up to show for your hard work, but remember: all who have come before you have the same, as will all who come after. This is but the first step in at least 20 years of hard work ahead of you. Whether you have an undergraduate degree, Certificate IV or a blue belt around your waist, there is much more ahead of the apprentice expert.

Expert Purple-belt

You are very good at your trade now and you can do well against all that are new to your field. You can now make a living from your skill and at this point you can also be very easily distracted. You can win against your peers, and you might even win in the world championships against other Purple-belts, but always remember: no matter how good you are in relation to your peers, there is always someone coming after your spot. You must keep moving forward, stay focused and not get ‘comfortable’.

Expert Brown-belt

You are now senior in your field. You may be a doctor or a master tradesmen but your development still moves forward off the back of the innovation of those who have come before. It is easy now when you deal with most and you can feel like the expert because you can quickly translate the innovation of others into effective and real results for yourself. You can even manipulate that same innovation to give it a look of your own and deceive the layperson of your expertise.

Expert Black-belt

You can now recognise all the hard work done by others who came before you. You have come to understand their sacrifices and dedication to their understanding. You realise that when it comes to being a true expert, you are again the beginner. You must now bring something new to the table that helps others in their quest.   

Experts by definition maintain their status as experts by driving innovation. After spending so much time with experts from a wide variety of fields, I see that what is common to all is effective, purposeful innovation that makes change for the overall improvement of their field, and also assists other experts in making like improvements in their fields. 

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