These terms relate to the progressive development of a physical practice, although they can also be applied to a movement practice at large. Their function is not simply to categorise, but rather propose different perspectives through which we can interpret, focus, and develop aspects of our practice. They provide a convenient frame within which to organise your current physical practice or place new elements as they come, as well as the opportunity to come equipped with an appropriate mentality and methodology for the task at hand.
I must emphasise that no movement innately belongs to any of these categories, but is dependent on the practitioner and their practice (we will see later how the separation between ‘attributes’ and ‘skills’ is more permeable than exclusive). The human body adapts to both the absence and presence of stresses and in the initial stages of learning any new movement pattern, attributes are weighed upon greatly as our body works hard to find the most efficient (less demanding) pattern. This is the case even if the goal of the movement is not the development of attributes; consider how learning the guitar can create fatigue in the hand and learning to speak a new language an aching in the muscles of the jaw. Fatigue (and it’s ‘side-effects’ on attributes) is part of the process of building our cortical map. These categories, therefore, are to be applied at the individual’s discretion. Consider the following a limited conceptualisation of this triad extended into sub-aspects (further divisible):
Attributes (physical POTENTIAL of the body). As a visualisation, consider the amino acids of a protein profile. Some proteins are incomplete with deficiencies in certain amino acids, whereas others are more complete. We want to develop the most complete ‘profile’ as possible with a focus on TRANSFERABILITY and POTENTIAL. Attributes such as:
Skills (the ability to do a defined task well). In the early stages of skills development, the skill will be weighed heavily by the necessity to develop particular attributes in order to make the skill achievable. Skills such as:
- Riding a bicycle
- A kick-flip (skateboarding)
Qualities (developmental aspects of movement on the character & mindset). These qualities often develop without our knowing, however by bringing awareness to them and viewing them as objective tools means we can hone and apply them elsewhere: they become transferrable. Whilst often attained throughout the journey of achieving a skill, the mindset can be taken to the acquisition of new skills in turn. Transferrable qualities worth noting are:
- Patience & acceptance
- Awareness & reflection
- Diligence & work ethic
- Stress & frustration management
As these terms are entirely permeable, we can cast a different perspective on the same movement allowing us to draw out further experience and learning where, from another perspective, it may have already “dried up”. Here is a case study in the form of the skill, ‘handstand’:
The handstand is fundamentally a skill. It requires the ability to perform a huge amount of tasks simultaneously and correctly. In the beginning, however, it is weighed on heavily by the necessity to develop certain physical attributes. This will happen as a ‘side-effect’ of the training progression, but we can also adopt a more Attribute-based perspective to focus on developing necessary strength or mobility to assist the process. On the flip-side, if I were concerned with developing shoulder mobility and stability (attributes), I might consider using the progressive skill ‘handstand’ as a framework within which to contextualise those developments. As strength and mobility attributes improve, this will coincide in developments of what we term ‘balance’ and, under the conditions of balance, specific developments in bodily coordination too.
Throughout this process a variety of Qualities have been at play, expressing themselves in varying degrees at different stages of the process. A growing awareness of the body, understanding of the skill, reflection on previous mistakes, a development of patience and, with this, a growing investment in the process rather than the goal: de-ambitioning.
Once I gain mastery of the handstand, Attributes become a diminishing return. I have already developed the required attributes to sustain the skill and so I can choose to progress laterally or linearly. Perhaps I progress linearly – I begin playing with looseness of the body instead of rigidity and find that I am almost a beginner again. Now, I call upon the Qualities perspective, I apply my Awareness, Patience, and Frustration management to assist me on my new journey: I develop tools for my practice, rather than tools for the sake of tools. Perhaps I progress linearly toward the 1-arm handstand and find myself lacking in shoulder stability. I take the Attributes perspective and apply (and develop) the concepts and methodology I use for the Attribute ‘Stability’ and any others that I may require to progress on my journey.
Take these perspectives as frameworks alone. Apply them to your practice as you see them beneficial.