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The illusion of repetition

Motor skills are acquired and refined through repetition. The mantra ‘practice makes perfect’ is one that practitioners in all disciplines will testify to. There appears to be some fashionable misgivings and purported alternatives to the necessity of repetition. I am sympathetic to this voice but disagree that repetition is a senseless process, devoid of a meaningful and immersive internal process. True mechanistic repetition does not exists in biological systems. Motor patterns and complex movements are intrinsically variable.

 

Temporal structure of motor variability is dynamically regulated and predicts motor learning ability

 

The variability inside repetition constitutes a pool of motor and sensory experiences that inform and shape emergent movement and performative patterns. Introspective and retrospective assessment of the pool drives optimisation – particularly if coupled to the input of a teacher. The development of a practitioners discriminative capacity grows in proportion to this pool of experience, leading to unanticipated non-linear breakthroughs that launch skill to the next level.

To eliminate the apparent confusion around the term repetition I would propose the nerdy term ‘permutational learning.’ It is perhaps a more apt term that connotes the sense that every repetition consists of gross and subtle timing, coordination and force-transmission variables. As we attempt to acquire a new movement the permutational variability is massive – through practice this is lessened as optimised patterns emerge. This process is underpinned by neuromyofascial and other physiological adaptations – this interface with the whole organism offers a meatier substrate for optimisation and the necessity of a permutational view of this process.

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