The Wolf Brigade theory on “Expert Generalism”.
When I began training martial arts, one thing I was immediately taken with and became almost fixated on in the years to come was how effortlessly those leading the training seemed to move; As a new student it was the visual side of the fluidity that initially appealed to me. As I continued my learning, changed disciplines, and ultimately put my training into more “real” practice, I began to discover that there is much more to physical proficiency than meets the eye- especially when it is expected to hold up under pressure.
Some of my early instructors in the more traditional martial arts moved with a grace and expertise that is only gained through exhaustive practice of the very same thing, day in and day out, for a very long time. My respect for that style skill development has not lessened, but HAS been compartmentalized, and now occupies a slightly different place. My later instructors in more combat-oriented martial arts and some of the world-class instructors I have had the opportunity to learn from ALSO moved with a guided, hard-earned fluidity that seemed to me, especially initially, to be almost miraculously adaptable. THEIR version of “effortless” movement was not relegated to choreography, and no matter what physical question was asked, they always seemed to have an answer.
When my exposure and perspective began to change and I began to feel the tide shift in my own training and skill set, for a time I mistakenly profiled one as having a HIGHER level of expertise than the other- a BETTER understanding of the movements or strategies they were utilizing; In actuality, it was not so much a greater expertise in any chosen path, but simply a matter of the employment of a wider view- put simply, the “Generalist” approach, as opposed to the “Specialist”.
The more people I trained with, the more that idea sunk in. To this day, the hardest person I’ve ever (attempted) to spar with was a very flexible, really strong Taekwondo expert that had adeptly learned Muay Thai and also become a proficient grappler. We began training CrossFit together, and it was at that point the “Expert Generalist” idea that was becoming clear to me in relation to martial arts transferred seamlessly into my approach to fitness.
There is, of course, a point at which MORE is no longer MORE. Not everything out there is worth spending time on, and not everything out there is going to help you reach whatever goal it is that you are striving for. The devil in pursuing expert generalism is in being able to identify what constitutes time well spent for YOU, and sift through the murk on your way to doing so. Parameters must be set, or we risk simply being OK at too random a handful of things. Goal dependent, those parameters can be wide, but they must also be WISE.
In order to hone a skill set, we first have to establish what we want it to look like and what we expect it to do. If you want to have a near-perfect barbell snatch, and that is all you care about, then pursue the smartest path you can find to that end and ONLY that end. Be a specialist in the barbell snatch. Specializing is admirable, as long as it is not simply an excuse to forsake other outlooks.
If your goals are broader, then perform the self-evaluation needed to choose a path that will light your fire, hold your attention, and drive your mind and body to pursue the never-ending journey of being as good as we can possibly be in each aspect of personal evolution that we choose to pursue.
One is no better than the other, but they must be identified as different.
Sticking to what you’re naturally good at and/ or what is comfortable will really only assure that your ego stays unbruised and that your mind stays unchallenged. The pursuit of expertise on any path, including that of a generalist, requires both a rabid desire for all manners of progress, and an acceptance of the unavoidable challenges that precede it.
An insistence on quality at all levels and in all things is an idea that will transfer far beyond the training room; high-level proficiency earned in one area paves the way for its development in many others.
In the shortest version of the story– We want to be as focused, efficient, technical, and adaptable as we can be in the learning, development, and execution of every single thing that we choose to do; Specificity practiced throughout a broad spectrum of training mediums helps ingrain that philosophy and fuel the transfer of it into all other aspects of life.