The four stages of learning

In psychology, the four stages of competence, or the “conscious competence” learning model, relates to the psychological states involved in the process of progressing from incompetence to competence in a skill.

This theory Developed by Noel Burch in the 1970s. Relating this to learning a new skill, in this case Wing Chun Kung Fu, these four stages can be broken done like this:

andyUnconscious incompetence

Stage 1.
The student does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognise the deficit of a given technique.

At this level a student may openly deny the usefulness of the skill at this time, even thinking it is impossible to learn. With good coaching and encouragement, this stage will soon pass.

It is important at this stage that students recognise and accept their own incompetence and also value the new skill they are trying to learn. Having a good teacher that encourages you and corrects you in a positive way is a great help.

The acceptance and realisation on a conscious level of the student has to be there before moving on to stage 2, otherwise excuses or boredom, another excuse, coming from a lack of understanding and increasing frustration will stop the student from learning the necessary skill completely, leading to the student giving up completely.

The length of time any individual student spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.

Having both a good teacher that encourages you and having an understanding of this stage of development, including the frustration and inevitable mistakes that will come with learning a new skill, coupled with a willingness to learn, are a massive help at stage 1, possibly the most important stage to get concluded.

sifu_showing_tan_sauConscious incompetence
Stage 2

At this stage, although the student will not fully understand or know how to do something, they will recognise the insufficiency of their skill, as well as the value of a new skill, a massive step forward from stage 1.

Again, with encouragement and positive and constructive feedback in addressing any insufficiency of a given sequence or technique, a teacher will have a substantial part to play in the successful conclusion and progression from this stage of learning and on to the next.

It is important to note that the making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage, these mistakes must be observed, discussed and corrected and then practiced to iron out the faults.


Conscious competence
Stage 3

The student understands or knows how to do something well. However, demonstrating the skill requires concentration, this can be observed by simply adding a new element or sequence to known routine and watching the student having to really focus and concentrate in order to incorporate the sequence change or added element.

Even asking a student to explain verbally, in a step by step fashion what they are doing can cause the student to freeze or become slightly frustrated as they have to process the steps internally and try to explain this in words.

Any new element added may have to be broken down into smaller steps and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.

As a teacher adding additional steps or sequences at this stage, you will be able to observe the student go through the first 2 stages, albeit very quickly, as they assimilate the additional steps to an already known sequence, then become more comfortable as they get back to being / feeling consciously competent at the task at hand.


Unconscious competence
Stage 4

The student has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. Any additional required elements can be added, assimilated, adapted and refined, almost at will.

As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task or even multiple tasks at the same time, for example, if you observe new students practicing Dan Chi Sao and all the mental processes going on, and then observe and compare a senior student or teacher, not only doing blindfold Chi Sao, but also adding a running commentary, stopping to explain their hand positions, the energy and direction of force they are feeling and continuing to be in control, not only of their Chi Sao partner but also themselves.

Only then may the individual truly feel they are able to teach this skill to others.

Wing Chun Halesowen Kuen is proud to offer authentic Wing Chun Kuen from Sifu Alan Bagley through the Ip Man lineage via Chief Instructor Sifu Shaun Rawcliffe.