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I never thought Goethe and Bruce Lee would have too much in common.

But apparently I was wrong.

Despite their diverse origins—one hailing from 18th century Frankfurt; the other from 20th-century pop culture—somehow, they managed to agree on one key point:

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”

In case you were wondering, Geothe was the first one to say it, and the quote is misattributed to Bruce Lee. Regardless, as a philosopher or martial artist or as a debater, this idea is foundational. It hits home especially now, with tournament season in full swing.

You probably have a decent idea of what most people are running. You have a good base of research. You know the areas to target and the weaknesses you ought to exploit. But knowing is not enough; we must apply. So in between tournaments, take what you’ve learned and put it into practice. After you’ve done a SWOT analysis on your ballots, pick an area you want to focus on. Make sure you eliminate any mindset blockades. Then, choose a drill, set a timer, and start doing.

Four Drills for Mid-Season Growth

1. Sound Bite

Purpose: Word economy

The Sound Bite is a take-off of this excellent drill previously published on Ethos. You can work off a list of generic arguments, or a compilation of common attacks your case. Give each point over and over again, until you can deliver it in one minute flat—tag, claim, warrant, impact. Your goal is to cut out all extraneous fluff, and all unnecessary fillers.

I actually did this while driving to work one time, and missed my turn because I got so caught up in the fiat argument I was running against myself…

2. Practice 1NCs + CX

Purpose: Organization; giving meaningful structure to a speech

By this time, you know some of the most common cases out there. Line up a 1NC against a mainstream 1AC, organize it, structure your arguments, and give it. Do this multiple times, trying different structures, layouts, openers, tags, warrants, etc. until you find the most effective lineup. Focus on creating a structure that leads your audience, logically, from one point to the next.

If you have a teammate or fellow debate geek on hand, they can take Aff’s side and cross-examine you after each 1NC for extra benefit.

3. Warrants

Purpose: Full, well-rounded arguments that will appeal to multiple judges on multiple levels

Put together an argument with all the right pieces—tag, claim, warrant, impact—but no sub-points allowed (this will be a real struggle for some of you, but please restrain yourselves). You only get one warrant (your reason to believe the claim). Once you can give that argument with that warrant in a way that could absolutely win the round, then give the same argument again—but with a different reason to believe. Be dedicated, be persuasive. You can do this as many times as you want until you’ve thoroughly exhausted the reasons to believe that the rabbits in Zimbabwe need our protection. At this stage, you can begin combining them by using sub-points. The goal of this is to make sure you fully develop the reasons to buy an argument before you begin squishing them together into 30 second sound bites.

4. 1AR PreWrite

Purpose: Time management

Put together responses to all the arguments you’ve ever heard against your case, then practice putting together a 1AR that addresses all of them. Take as much time as you need to refute (nine minutes…twelve minutes…fifteen…). Then you can begin to condense it and start reducing your time. As you experiment with different groupings, structures, warrants, and evidence, you’ll find the most effective ways to address the arguments in the shortest amount of time possible.

Several of these drills complement or build off each other, so give all of them a try before heading off to that next tournament. You can find other exercises here and here, and some other mid-season prep ideas here.

Of course, we all deserve a little breathing room in the midst of the frantic vortex that is tournament season. But if you’re looking for a way to bring up your game, take your skills to the next level, or achieve a goal you’ve been working towards, then take a page out of Bruce Lee’s playbook. “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”

Or…maybe that was Goethe.

Anna Johansen is a TP and advanced speech coach in the Chicago area. During her two years in NCFCA, she competed at Nationals in eight speech events and Team Policy debate (taking 3rd place at Nationals in Original Interpretation her novice year, and IronManning at Nats the year after). After graduation, Anna moved into a teaching position at her local club, EverReady, where she discovered her passion for coaching and seeing lives transformed.
Currently, she is also working part time for an executive level recruiting company. In addition to providing targeted research and support, she works in the internal hiring sphere, screening resumes and interviewing candidates.
Anna is pursuing a degree in English, and hopes to continue teaching and writing long-term. Whether it is through editing others’ work or creating her own, teaching the tools or using them, she wants to pass on a love of speaking and writing and communicating to everyone she comes in contact with.

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