Four Stages of Learning


Welcome to this week’s wisdom for the Inner and Outer You.

Each week I lead a class in martial arts. Having trained for over 30 years I have a few things to share with interested students. I call the training Essential Martial Arts, as it combines the best of what I’ve learned over three decades. It’s not just about kicking and punching, the training is used as a tool for personal development. The emphasis is on experiencing enhanced awareness through the refinement of consciousness. This week’s article is an excerpt from the training reference manual that each student receives when they become start training.

The four stages of learning have been around for quite some time. When I first read about them I knew they would make an excellent addition to the tools I use, that would help students understand the process of learning and how it applies to martial arts training.

I hope you enjoy the read this week.

Four Stages of Learning


Listed below are the Four Stages of Learning and an explanation. It is good to know these well so when you are training you understand how they apply to you.


1. Unconscious Incompetence

2. Conscious Incompetence

3. Conscious Competence

4. Unconscious Competence

Understanding the four stages of learning is crucial to maintaining awareness with regards to how your training can progress best. The over all goal is to have all you learn reach the fourth level, Unconscious Competence. It should be noted however that as a student progresses through these stages it should be with the utmost care and attention to detail placed on the learning process of each of the stages. The reason for this is mistakes as well as correct learning are easily accepted into the unconscious mind. If mistakes reach the unconscious competence level then it will take a greater amount of time to progress as the student must first unlearn and then relearn the correct way. So it is wise to practice with the greatest clarity possible of what is expected.

Stage one of learning is called Unconscious Incompetence. This is where you don’t really know anything about what you’re attempting to learn. It’s completely new to you, as if it was from a foreign country. At this beginning point you are in the mode of acquiring knowledge. While this stage can be overwhelming, it’s important to remain calm, positive and open minded to learning. When you’re in the first stage of learning it’s always good to keep in mind what the Ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” Or in this case the first stage.

Stage two of learning is called Conscious Incompetence. Here you begin to gain some clarity of what you are learning and you notice many of the things that you’re doing incorrectly, even though you’re not entirely sure yet how to correct them. At this point you are in the mode of clarifying and solidifying knowledge while you begin the practice mode. During this stage of learning you develop patience and acquire the important attitude of intention: intending to get it right! You also learn another important skill called asking. Ask your teacher for assistance to ensure you are performing correctly. Asking for clarification is essential so that you develop proper practicing habits. When you have the intentions of practicing correctly and you ask for clarity when needed, then you will assure the success of this stage. Remember the saying ‘practice makes perfect’. Well, the way a martial artist says it is like this: ‘perfect practice makes perfect.’

Stage three of learning is called Conscious Competence. This is where you understand exactly what is required of you to perfect your moves. Even if you are not performing correctly all the time, you know what to do. At this point your knowledge (theory) is clear and solidified as you are fully engaged in the practice mode now. This stage simply takes time, conscientious practice and determination, and your skills will certainly improve.

Stage four of learning is called Unconscious Competence. This is where you want to be. At this stage the performance of your skills happens without having to think it through. Your skills are executed spontaneously and automatically, just like the skills of walking or running are to you. This fourth stage of learning is also known as the Application Mode of your training.


Quote for the week:

 “Art calls for complete mastery of techniques, developed by reflection within the soul.”

― Bruce Lee

For more information on Terry Hodgkinson’s classes please click the following link: Essential Martial Arts Training




About Terry Hodgkinson

Terry J. Hodgkinson is a MindFit consultant. He owns Positive Changes Hypnotherapy and Meditation Centre in Toronto, Canada. As a corporate trainer, keynote speaker and retreat leader he enjoys his work so much that he calls it his passion. In 2009 Terry's book, Memoirs of a Wandering Ninja - Walking the Path of Enlightenment was published. *For information on Terry's international retreats visit: *Book Terry for your next event visit: *Martial arts training visit:
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