Whoosh! Issue20 - May 1998

IAXS project #486
By Donald Plunkett
Copyright © 1998 held by author
1403 words

Introduction (01)
Knowledge (02-07)
Analysis (08-09)
Exercise (10-11)
Becoming One With the Force (12-17)
Experience (18)
The Price (19)

Xena and Skill Development

No,no...that's an art, not a skill,

Xena first declares she has "many skills" in THE BLACK WOLF.


[1] Xena has many skills, but how exactly did she come by them? Acquiring physical skills is not easy, but there is a formula that will give the maximum results in the minimum time.


[2] The first step to acquiring any new skill is the acquisition of knowledge. There are many ways to acquire knowledge. Xena may use scrolls, even as Gabrielle did, to learn the spell that released the Titans in THE TITANS (07/107). Xena can also come up with original ideas like the flying parchment in A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215). Likewise, she probably did not have anyone teach her how to use a stringer of fish to subdue her foes [ALTARED STATES (19/119)].

[3] As often as not, Xena will learn from someone else. Some of her teachers do not impart their knowledge voluntarily. I am sure Xena has learned many a trick from her opponents in battle. Most of Xena's instructors, however, teach her willingly. She learned pressure points from M'Lila, and probably learned healing techniques from Nicklio in DESTINY (36/212). She learned to fight from her brother Lyceus in REMEMBER NOTHING (26/202), and every week she learns something new from Gabrielle. Xena's not the only one. In HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110) Gabrielle learned staff fighting.

[4] Xena teaches others as well. She gave Hippocrates his start in IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE (24/124) and she teaches Gabrielle the fine art of survival in a rough world in many episodes including DREAMWORKER (03/103).

[5] For nonphysical skills, knowledge is usually all that is required. Physical skills require the student to go a bit further.

[6] A good rule for instructing others is the "rule of three". If an idea or skill is presented three times, most people will retain it. The first presentation is a demonstration. M'Lila demonstrated the "pinch" on Xena in DESTINY (36/212). The second time, the instructor walks the student through the material. M'Lila showed Xena where the points were. The third time, the student is allowed to try the action with corrections from the instructor. Xena tried the "pinch" on M'Lila.

[7] Some skills are too complex to get in one try, so they should be broken down into smaller sections when possible. The instructor can then continue to coach the student while she practices her new skills.


[8] The next step to developing physical skills is to analyze technique for any inefficiency. Often this has already been done by the instructor, but the student may still wish to optimize skills for herself.

[9] Economy of motion is important. Starts and stops slow things down, so they must be eliminated. Movement is based on circles or ellipses, some so small or large that they can appear as straight lines. When Xena draws her chakram, she does not reach down, grab it, and then throw it. She makes a tight curve with her hand that allows her to grab it on the way past and throw it as a continuation of the curve.


Wow! Those people DO look like

Xena makes great leaps in PROMETHEUS.

[10] The physical requirements of a skill are also taken into account. An ex-gymnast who could easily do a backflip years ago may get out of shape, and although the reflexes are still there, the body becomes unwilling. The range of motion needed to do something must be developed through stretching exercises. The strength needed is developed through calisthenics.

[11] Aerobic exercise develops stamina. This is not a problem for Xena, who is pretty well developed already (yes indeed!), but, as time has gone on, we have seen Gabrielle (and Renee O'Connor) whip herself into shape. Xena still exercises to stay in shape, as with the punching bag in A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222), although, granted, she was primarily trying to take her mind off "alternative forms of exercise" at the moment.

Becoming One With the Force

[12] The next step is to program the movements into the brain and nervous system. Ed McGivern was one of the fastest pistol shots of all time. He described the nervous system as electrical in nature, and he said that it is possible to wear "ruts" in it with repetition. Actually, the nerves grow new connections along well-used pathways making it easier for signals to travel along them. The brain learns this way as well. Beginners must think about every move they make. Put the hand to the hilt. Get a good grip. Pull out the sword without cutting yourself. Bring it to the ready position. After a while, many of these movements become reflexive and the signals to complete them may not come from any further up the nervous system than the spinal chord. Xena sees a threat and when she decides she needs a sword, it is there. The draw has become reflexive and she no longer has to consciously perform each step.

[13] Much of the development in the brain can be done through visualization. By imagining her body going through the motions, Xena is able to refine her reflexes without actually doing the task. In A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215), while she prepared to kick the buckets off the poles, she was visualizing what she needed her body to do. The buckets were probably visualizing a quiet life on a dairy farm somewhere.

[14] To program the rest of the nervous system, it is necessary to practice, and keep on practicing. Begin slowly. Perform the task as slowly as is needed to do it perfectly. Now do it again, perfectly. Keep doing it over and over, each time perfectly. Eventually, the muscles and nerves learn how to correctly do what you are asking of them.

[15] This theory is thousands of years old. Tai Chi Chuan is known as a slow motion exercise, yet that is only the beginning. The movements become programmed and the Tai Chi practitioner eventually moves on through each of the four stages until the movements are lightning quick. The time it takes to perform the movements will decrease as your nervous system learns.

[16] Speed will develop naturally. Some tasks cannot be done in slow motion (juggling, for instance), so mistakes are simply tolerated until a feel for the technique is developed. Practice makes perfect, but only if you practice perfectly.

[17] The nervous system will learn whatever you teach it, even if it is incorrect. Xena has to practice to maintain her skills. Her practice sessions with Lyceus started her on the path to martial magnificence. In HERE SHE COMES...MISS AMPHIPOLIS (35/211), she practiced with her swords. Even simply tossing the chakram out of boredom in A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215) was a form of practice. I think Xena tried to minimize the practice on the breast dagger fling, though. Lots of visualization with that one.


Thus, telephone lines just HAD to be

Xena's "Flying Parchment" turned out to be a success in A DAY IN THE LIFE.

[18] Finally, the one thing a teacher cannot give you is experience. Experience allows you to work the bugs out and try something under different circumstances. Experience was the only teacher Xena had when she tried to get her flying parchment off the ground.

The Price

[19] Some skills will be easier to acquire than others. Some will be more fun to "practice" than others (just ask Hercules, Iolaus, Julius Caesar, Ulysses, or Draco). But, none of them come without a price. Skills will only develop to the extent that someone is willing to invest time and effort. However, it is an investment that pays dividends. Just ask Xena.


Donald Plunkett Donald Plunkett
I'm former military. I collect knives, swords, and most other types of weapons. I enjoy board games, racquetball, fencing (both foil and kendo), archery, and sport judo. I've tried most types of martial arts, but I've been practicing jujitsu and escrima the longest (maybe someday I'll even get them right). My little speckled dog is named Shelby. I live in the White Mountains of Arizona.
Favorite episode: A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215)
Favorite line: Vidalus: "I'm under a lot of pressure here..." BLIND FAITH (42/218)
First episode seen: THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (#H09/109)
Least favorite episode: Anything with Joxer in it, except those with Callisto in it.

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