A model for learning

We all at some point started something for the first time. Drawing, tattooing, cooking, a sport. Since a friend of mine mentioned the concept described below, I gained a new outlook on things.

The Four Stages Of Competence

The Four Stages of Competence is a learning model that describes the various psychological stages we experience when learning something new: Unconscious competence (ignorance), conscious incompetence (awareness), conscious competence (learning), and unconscious competence (mastery). This model was developed by management coach Martin M. Broadwell in the 1960s to describe different levels of teaching but has since been adapted to apply to competence in general. Let’s think for example you want to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

The artist

Toriyama Sekien, an artist born in Japan in 1712, left a significant impact on the world of art and literature. Despite being trained in the traditional Kano style of painting, Sekien chose to explore his own artistic path. He introduced the innovative technique known as fuki-bokashi, which added color gradations to woodblock prints, revolutionizing the medium at that time. Moreover, Sekien generously shared his knowledge by mentoring apprentices, some of whom, such as Utagawa Toyoharu and Kitagawa Utamaro, achieved great renown and further expanded the artistic movement known as “Japonisme” in Europe. The wide reach of Sekien’s influence is truly remarkable.

FIRST STAGE: You don’t know that you don’t know. “How hard can it be?”

In the first stage of unconscious incompetence, we are completely unaware of our lack of skill and knowledge. We may even believe that the skill is not important or that it doesn’t need to be learned. This stage is characterized by ignorance, willful blindness, or naivete. In our Brazilian Jiu Jitsu example, we look at this from the outside for the first time and we think it’s just two people hugging around on the floor, winning by brute force and improvisation. We are confident in our abilities and think we know it all, despite not knowing anything about anatomy or leverage. If we want to bypass this stage we must recognize the need to learn.

SECOND STAGE: You know that you don’t know. “This is really hard!”

The second stage is conscious incompetence, where we become aware of our ignorance and lack of skill. We start to realize what we don’t know and understand the importance of learning. This stage is crucial in initiating the learning process. In the Bjj scenario, we go roll for the first time with some experienced practitioners and we get our ass kicked, realizing our total powerlessness. A good experience to put our ego back in place. Our cluelessness gets tested and exposed through failure. This stage is characterized by asking the right questions and acknowledging our limitations.

THIRD STAGE: You know that you know. Competence(and confidence) through practice.

Conscious competence is the third stage, where we have learned enough to understand what we’re doing and why it works. We can analyze situations correctly and perform well as long as we concentrate on the task. In our Bjj practice, we train long enough, dwelling into the various principles and techniques, testing them in real life scenarios through sparring, ultimately learning what produces the best results. We could now teach others. This stage is where most of the work happens and growth occurs.

FOURTH STAGE: You don’t know that you know. Mastery.

The final stage is unconscious competence, where we have reached mastery. Our intuition is correct, and we can perform the skill without thinking. It becomes second nature to us. We don’t need to think about our strategy or moves, our body remembers and expertly executed techniques are now an unconscious reflex. I personally had a taste of this when sparring with a black belt. He would know everything I was gonna do before I did. When I asked how, he said: “I can feel your muscles tensing, they tell me what you’re gonna do.”

This stage would only be reached after years of practice and experience. However, reaching this stage may make it difficult for us to teach others because we might forget what it was like to learn from scratch. Mastery is a beautiful thing, but it may require pushing our skills to new limits and seeking new areas for growth.

It’s important to note that the journey through the stages of competence is not linear. We may move back and forth between the stages as we discover blind spots or master some aspects while remaining ignorant about others. The speed at which we progress through the stages depends on how quickly our analytical and intuitive brains integrate, the harmony between the two is crucial for successful learning.


Red Flower Temple

In a time where big companies are taking over the tattoo supplies, often with hard cash and little passion, it makes me happy to find small suppliers, tattooers owned. Behind Red Flower Temple there si people with experience and commitment. I like to support that when possible. This online store specializes in Japanese art supplies with a selection of high-quality art materials and tools perfect for Japanese art forms and techniques. Here you will find things like Sumi ink, calligraphy brushes, washi paper, watercolors and acrylic paints. Also cool markers to freehand on the skin.