Q&A: Talent and Training

How much talent one needs to be a good fighter? Will talent always beat training? I read some article were the best athletes are just naturally “gifted” at it

You don’t need to be talented to learn how to fight. It helps, but it’s not necessary. Talent never beats training. That isn’t just in the context of fighting, raw talent can help you get started faster, and can help reach a higher peak, but that’s only through training and practice.

You will see people confuse the value of talent and training. A lot of writers use talent as a justification for their characters operating at level which would require training without having to incorporate that into their background. That’s not what talent is; that’s not how it works.

When it comes to simply using a skill, talent is meaningless. Now, that probably flies in the face of how you’re used to thinking, so let me explain. Talent doesn’t make you a better at a thing, it simply means that you learn faster.

A talented martial artist still needs to practice. They still need to train. You aren’t getting around that. They may not need to train as much to reach the same level of proficiency as another person. However, it is in their best interest that they continue to put in the time and effort, further refining their skill. The irony is those who are worst at their chosen field in the beginning often turn out to be the best. Why? They started slower, but put in more time and more effort to become great. Effort, not talent, has value. The lie about needing talent has led plenty of people to quit what they enjoy when they didn’t receive immediate gratification. More than martial arts or martial combat, this includes art, writing, acting, gymnastics, and more. Nobody starts out a master.

Any talented individual should put in the same amount of time towards their pursuit that a non-talented individual would need to. Note, “should.” There are plenty of individuals who were talented in a field, put in the bare minimum amount of time and ended up mediocre.

It’s easy to look at the exceptional individuals, realize they’re talented, and believe that correlation equals causation. The problem is: it doesn’t. If you’re talented, and dedicated, you can put in the time and effort to exceed expectations. It does not mean you are destined for greatness.

Let’s talk about your final line, “the best athletes are naturally gifted.” This is untrue; or at least extremely deceptive. The best athletes put in a lot of work. They may also be “naturally gifted,” but they got there through staggering amounts of effort, and dedication. They weren’t simply blessed with good genetics or given some kind of destiny. They created themselves.

Those athletes did get lucky. There are lot of things that can go wrong with the human body, and those athletes managed to avoid detrimental flaws. If you want to call that, “naturally gifted,” you’re not wrong, but that makes it sound more deterministic than it is.

We’ve written a lot about the work athletes put into their chosen field, about how much they sacrifice, and, often, how overlooked their dedication is in comparison to their “natural talent.” At the highest levels, you are looking at individuals who have given their whole lives in pursuit of a dream. Individuals who’ve reached the same point competing against others who have put in similar amounts of time and energy. If you want to be an Olympic athlete, it’s not about being, “naturally gifted,” it’s about being willing to dedicate your entire life to training. All for an event that will play out over a few weeks.

Being the best is not about being, “naturally gifted.” It’s about work.

Being talented isn’t about being naturally skilled. It’s about work. The practice and time you put in will take you further. Over time it will look like you got a head start. You didn’t; you just learn faster, and used that time to refine your skills.

You don’t need talent to be a good fighter; you need training. Fighting tests your training against your foe’s training. Talent can give you an edge, but you need training.

Talent never beats training. Talent and training is an extremely potent combination, but talent alone is unrealized and meaningless.

So, two things to take with you:

First, if you have a talent, and you want to use it, you need to practice. You need an education. (There are some rare exceptions, so if you can’t get an education in that field, there may be other options.) To really bring your talent out, you need to refine it. It will help you get better, but it doesn’t mean you’re automatically, “good enough.” Strive to be more.

Second: if you have a talent, and you don’t want to use it. You shouldn’t feel guilty about setting it aside and ignoring it. Like I said, talents aren’t deterministic. This isn’t some divine mandate which you must fulfill.

It’s possible to engineer abstract situations where a character ignoring their mystically given powers is selfish, but that’s from the fictional perspective of characters who simply have inexplicable skill labeled as “talent.”

In the real world, if you’re talented at something, you’d still need to commit the time and energy to fully develop that skill set. If it’s something you detest, and you would rather commit to something else, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not that you can only have a single talent.

Further, “you’re so talented,” can be used to push you into a field. Ultimately, no one else knows how easily a topic comes to you, or how much you struggle with it. Another person, regardless of their authority, not in a position to determine if you’re talented, they can only make an educated guess. A guess that can be easily distorted by their own biases. Don’t let someone else pick your life for you.

-Starke

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