Context instruction is explaining what the technique is used for when teaching a new technique. A 1998 study by Hodge and Deakin, Deliberate practice and expertise in the martial arts: The role of context in motor recall, found that elite athletes tend to enjoy deliberate practice and that activities closest to actual performance, as well as their work with their instructor, are the most relevant activities to improve their performance. The researchers examined teaching a new kata, with and without context, to a group of novice and black belt karate students. The context the instructor used was a verbal description of a battle.
Teaching in martial arts traditionally involves a whole-part-whole strategy in which the instructor will first teach the entire kata to give a sense of flow, followed by breaking the kata down into parts to decrease the complexity of the learning requirements, followed by teaching the entire kata again. Therefore, the researchers used a three trial method and examined improvement across the trials. Although the students rated the context-aided instruction as enhancing the memory process, the initial context trial showed decreased performance over the no context trial for the novices and no difference for the black belts. Interestingly, the black belt performance actually decreased in the third trial as compared to their second trial when context was present.
The researchers had not expected that black belt performance would be affected by context because their experience allows them to more easily recognize meaningful associations and interpreted this finding as indicating that the black belts’ internally generated context may be more meaningful than the context provided. Overall, the researchers did not find support for pairing verbal context with motor information to enhance performance.