Training Versus Learning (Pt. 1)

Readings for Kanji + movies and characters I’ve used to memorize them over the past 10 days. Tracking is RIDICULOUSLY important to prevent overwhelm, but also be organized as you work towards this monstrous goal.

My approach and results have exponentially improved with a perceptual shift in my approach. I find the term “learning” to be quite passive. “I want to learn to speak German” or “I want to learn how to paint” are quite subjective. What is involved in “learning German” or “learning painting”? what will be the approach, what’s the ultimate goal? What are the time requirements and structure of this activity? The term “learning” does not immediately encompass this perceptually. The idea of learning is passive, open-ended and not concrete. It is also ambiguous, learning can be slow, fast, medium paced, efficient or inefficient. Too much has to be specified for one to consider what is “good learning” versus “bad learning”. The word itself is rife with contradictions we do not need.

Training, however immediately sets the tone within its meaning. One does not “learn to run a marathon”, one trains to run a marathon. It is immediately understood that whatever task you train towards will require: (a) extreme dedication (b) significant time and energy (c) a willingness to be adaptive (d) a perception of the end goal quite specifically.

Do we go into “learning something” assuming these four things immediately? No. This is why most people never learn anything. However, everyone knows once you decide to train towards something, there are demands which exist that you must satisfy or you will not achieve your goal. This is intrinsically understood, and people do not undergo training they feel they cannot complete or handle. Language training, memorization training, Kanji training, sets the stage for your mind to prepare for the significant demands (and rewards) that await you, with the knowledge that it will not be easy, but that is always an aspect of training.

This mental approach has allowed me to safely navigate the treacherous waters of high-intensity learning over an extended period of time. Only by considering what I am doing “training” does my mind appreciate the struggle or mental demands of the activity. This is because of a fixed truism that comes with proper training.

The truism is, proper and effective training MUST result in superior ability. 

Training is always a forward-thinking based activity. You train to become faster, stronger, more efficient and able. Training is never perceived as a passive activity. “I’m training in Jujitsu” can never be seen as passive. One does not take blows to the face and have a body filled with bruises casually. Likewise, one does not “train a language” casually. Writing 1,000 repetitions per day is not a “casual” or “passive” activity. Planning to learn 5,000 words and ‘training them’ is also not casual or passive. The territory is marked and the expectations are set. In fact, people know that if they decide to train for a marathon they may fail. They know that despite training for weeks or months, they may not achieve their goal. Their muscles might seize up, they might not run the perfect time, or an injury might happen, but they do it anyway. Training, is something that is done, knowing that it may be difficult, may not provide the exact results one seeks, but has rewards that greatly balance those risks.

Training sets the conditions that make one think of their task relative to two things: Mastery and Reward. Let’s look at Reward first.


All training is hinged on the reward the training will bring. There is no benefit to running one hundred miles a week and then not running a marathon. There is no benefit to learning thousands of words and not attempting to use them in either reading, speaking, or some other manner. Training is done only with a very specific (and usually high level) goal in mind. This is important to note, because “learning” tends not to be hinged heavily upon a specific outcome. “Learning to paint” is quite different from “Becoming proficient at portraiture in 90 days”. Training is working towards the goal, knowing that excessive failure and adaptation is required for improvement. It sets the stage to both handle and understand the demands of what lies before you. The value of this is immeasurable, because it psychologically prepares you for what blocks 99.99% of individuals that seek to master a task. 

Psychological preparation and awareness allows a mediocre “learner” to surpass a motivated one with a weak psychology, who cannot maintain the consistency of a training schedule. Some types of training do not show results for months. Some for years! Training, effectively is a kind of “madness” because one must imagine their future results in the form of a REWARD at the start of the journey, knowing they will not have that reward/ability for a foreseen period of time. 

With language this doesn’t have to be more than a handful of months, but the activity required is still incredible and demands a solid mind. Reward is the only “carrot” leading you through the long days and the long hours of mental training.


Mastery is the decision to become really good at something. To “learn German”, is quite different from “Be proficient at conversations”. One is passive and open-ended, the other sets up a situation where one must master certain concepts to a certain degree, which is linked to a certain amount of time and effort. Mastery lets you know that simple effort will not get you the results you seek. Mastery lets you know that 30 minutes per day does not equate to mastery. Mastery lets you know that it is several hours of work, per day for an extended period of time that creates a high level of achievement. Accepting that you must master aspects of your goal allows you to deal with the inevitable stress and doubt that come from going after a high level task.

Once I nailed down these concepts, my entire process changed and I’ll talk about where I am relative to implementing these concepts psychologically along with efficient methodology to develop a training schedule forcing me to master what Im’ approaching, versus just absorbing it. 

Concepts in Action

I’m presently at about 115,000+ repetitions of writing written Kanji. I see this writing as a form of daily training, where I do a minimum of 1,000 writing repetitions daily. We can call these “reps”.

A rep is defined as writing a Kanji immediately from memory upon seeing the English Keyword. 

This means each day I’m doing a minimum of 1,000 retrievals of various Kanji from my memory (even if these are Kanji I am learning that I write multiple times in a row). I also did this with German (before solidly understanding the concept) where I’d read 1,000 sentences per day and another time when I was doing about 500 active translations of grammar per day (which lead me to conversational ability without speaking to anyone).

After trying the Heisig method a long time ago with mixed results I did not understand how one goes from learning Kanji to complete memorization of the Kanji. I knew there were ways to “transition” and “learn words in context” but these ideas are rather ambiguous because there ar thousands of words and context is not always easily created (or reinforced). Perceptually it set up a mental mountain which seemed unsurpassable. You must have a way of seeing what you want to master frequently, reinforcing it and retrieving it from memory frequently. 

At the time I could not see how this was possible based on the data (thousands of Kanji, thousands of words, hundreds of grammar patterns). Until I understood that training is intersectional.

Training is Intersectional

Language learning is arranged in a modular fashion for a reason. Core concepts need to be learned to a certain degree before other concepts can be mastered. We always want “speed” and nothing is wrong with “speed”, but “mastery” requires that we really understand what we are doing on one level to ensure the next level gives us the greatest benefit. Mastering the recognition of Kanji opens up the entire Japanese language. What I mean to say is, I don’t want to “sort of” recognize a Kanji then go look it up (waste of time) then have to re-learn it because I ‘kind of’ know it. I want to just read words and Kanji without pause because this leads to a better outcome.

Yesterday I was scrolling through Youtube and a Japanese channel that posts tests popped up. It listed a word (in Kanji) and put multiple choice answers that were the possible correct readings.

the Kanji was:


Which I immediately read as “HOKYUU”. I did not know what this word meant, but this was an N1 vocabulary word, which is the highest level of Japanese. The word means ‘supply’. I give this example to illustrate that normally, I’d look on this word and be stumped. NOT because its an N1 word, but simply because I would not be able to read it. By simply being able to read it, I am already winning. 

As I have mentioned before, it is like a child reading a word like “perspicacity” and asking a parent or sibling what it means. The ability to read is the super power that allows training to be efficient. Now I can either drop this word into a revision list, or encounter it later, but I won’t “stumble” or “stutter”.

Think carefully about this.

Since the largest barrier for entry in Japanese is reading, this means that by mastering reading, you have significantly lightened the load of acquiring the language. By doing this in 8-12 weeks, you save yourself years of time and move faster to acquisition.

N1, N2 vocabulary is described as “hard” because people cannot read them because they do not know the Kanji. The perception of the word is more based on what they do not know. I am confident that presently with 100 Kanji left I can read pretty much any N2 word that is not a verb or adjective (since I haven’t started learning all of those readings yet). This means that I will have no issue “training N2” or “training N3”. I won’t have the reading barrier, which drastically closes the gap between reading and memorization, which drastically closes the gap with recall ability which is our ultimate goal.

INTERSECTIONAL means that you train significantly from level to level. When I decided to do my first 5K, three days a week I woke up at 4 a.m and by 4:30 ran 8 miles per day to build stamina in preparation for the race. But I did not “get up” and do this. I ran almost every day normally (for about 45 minutes) so I already knew I could run eight miles if needs be, but I’d never trained that distance. By running frequently at a certain distance, I was able to know “step up” what I was doing. I moved from module 1 to module 2. I didn’t start at 8 miles. I started at around 2 or 3 per day for months no end. This intersectionality fits logically into all tasks and language training is no different. Being able to read Kanji smoothly and quickly must improve my likelihood of acquisition once I train each section. 

Being able to read the 2,136 Kanji now allows me to really “train vocabulary” in a way I could not if I was trying to memorize the word, reading AND Kanji at the same time. I’d burn out before gaining any real mastery (which happened to me in the past). Getting really good at reading Kanji(in 8-12 weeks), now allows me to relax knowing that I can put maximum effort into my vocabulary phase, without the stress of the Kanji reading barrier. 

I call learning the Kanji phase 1 and vocabulary is phase 2. Each phase is a section and each phase overlaps intersectional. The massive training of one section adds rocket fuel to the next. So my efforts and the level of them will greatly help my next efforts, which will link to phase 3 which is activation/speaking.

Monstrous Repetition

I have noticed that the monstrous practice of repetition i’ve been doing has allowed me to read very dense sentences quite easily, which for 99.99% of Japanese learners is impossible. I already know that it will take 4-6 weeks to expose me to the words I need to know, which will then overlap with immersion and translate into massively enhanced speaking ability. It has taken great patience on my part to not “jump the gun” with vocabulary, because I have found that memorization is much faster and smoother when I can read all that i’m seeing in my anki deck. 

It’s like seeing die Regierung pop up in German on a card. I won’t have to think about any of the letters (already memorized) or the pronunciation which I mastered early on. I only have to focus on one thing, the meaning which I will “train” through exposure or attempting to use it in language, or creating more cards with same word.

Focusing simply on the meaning takes 90% of the mental load off the process. Training is the process of memorization, but being able to read what you see gives your brain the context it needs to both remember it and internalize it. The monstrous repetition has so deeply embedded these Kanji in your brain as you start to reinforce vocabulary it will automatically reinforce all that you have learned. Eventually i”ll talk more about how i’ve doubled down on these strategies, based on my concept of “narrow” to virtually ensure you will master words from your Kanji groups with a certain type of focus.

It’s an interesting journey and I’ll keep writing my thoughts as I finalize things and release the program.



About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
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