Interview with a Memory Expert: 2x World Memory Champion Wang Feng

Chinese at bottom: 中文版在下面

At only 20-years-old, China's Wang Feng burst onto the memory scene, winning the 2010 World Memory Championship. The first non-European to win, he defended his title in 2011, signaling a cultural shift in the competitive memory world. China had become a new powerhouse in a sport dominated by England and Germany. Although he retired from official competition following his '11 victory, Wang Feng, now 27, has remained active, teaching and repeatedly appearing on China's #1 TV Show, The Brain. I had the recent fortune of competing with him on the show (you can watch it here). Here's an interview I conducted with him shortly thereafter (translated from Chinese; thanks to my mother-in-law Connie Hwang for doing all the translating!). He is a true legend in the memory sports world. I hope you enjoy!

 Courtesy of Wang Feng

Courtesy of Wang Feng

How did you get interested in memory sports?

I came into contact with memory sport by chance. When I was in college, my teacher, Yuan Wenkui, who was the one who introduced me to the memory world, founded a memory association at the university I attended. That was the first time I learned that memory could be trained by some methods. Taking into account that my own memory was not very good, if the training could improve it, I thought I should give it a try. So I joined the memory association, started my training, and later participated in the world competition.

What do you enjoy most about memory?

There are two things I enjoy the most from memory training. The first one is when doing memorization, I create a series of dynamic pictures or images. It is like watching an interesting animated motion picture. The second one is the sense of accomplishment I feel from the progress of my memory ability. My progress was very fast, which gave me a great sense of accomplishment. The more I feel the accomplishment, the more I devote my time and energy to it, which creates a positive circle.

Do you have advice for beginners? Advice for those who have hit a plateau?

For beginners, first be patient—don’t focus on how much improvement you can make immediately. Instead, enjoy the fun of memory training. Fully immerse yourself in the construction of images. Work on how to make the linking of images more interesting and fun.

The early stage of training is very important. I recommend to learn to remember correctly the first time. Don’t allow yourself the second chance to go back to remember. This will build a good foundation and will avoid some difficulties in the future. Otherwise you will hit a plateau at some point. It is like building a house, if the foundation has a problem, then the height of the house is limited.

For those who hit a plateau, first of all, figure out the reasons why you are not progressing. Generally, we could examine the situation from four aspects: First, is your image system optimal? Can you make your image process more efficient and concise? Second, evaluate your way of linking images. Is it affecting your speed and accuracy? Third, evaluate the loci system. How can you link images with the loci so you can remember more firmly? Each linkage is important. Go over all of them. Four, is your training time enough? I tend to believe that intensive training period is important.

Could you describe one of your intensive training sessions?

Normally there will be about six hours of training every day, three hours in the morning, and three hours in the afternoon. There is a break after every 1.5 hours. At night, I probably go jogging or watch a movie to relax.

If you had to start your memory sports career again, from scratch, what would you do differently?

If I get to come back and do it again, I still will choose high-intensity concentration training.

Could you describe your memory systems? Cards? Numbers?

I usually use two digits as an image, and every loci has two images. The systems I use for numbers and cards are the same.

Could you give us an example of your number system? For instance, how would you memorize 123896307893?

My number system is not anything special. It is about the same as other people.

I’ve heard your number system has also almost become a 4-digit system. Did that come naturally through training? And how long did it take?

 Courtesy of Wang Feng

Courtesy of Wang Feng

I use a 2-digit coding system. Probably because my speed is very fast, the two codes can be connected in an instant, so it looks like a 4-digit system. To achieve this speed, I think it would take at least six months of continuous training.

How did you decide on the system that you use? Did you ever consider changing systems?

I use a 2-digit system. I have considered a 3-digit system, but eventually decided to keep using the 2-digit system. Because it will take me a lot of time to adapt and become familiar with the 1000 images.  Besides I think the accuracy of 2-digit coding is higher.

Do you have any pre-competition rituals?

When I have an important competition I usually meditate to adjust my own state. When meditating, I generally think of some beautiful scenery pictures to calm myself.

Besides meditation, could you tell me about any practices outside of regular training that you’ve used to sharpen your memory? For instance, adjusting your lifestyle, sleep schedule, diet?

During training, I try to avoid interference. I temporarily put down my job and other business, and only focus on training. I usually go to bed at 11:00 at night and get up at 7:30 in the morning.  There is no special arrangement on the diet. I love fish.

How did you decide to stop competing?

After winning the world championship twice, I thought my experience in memory competitions has been enough. I hoped to do something more meaningful.

What do you think is the future of memory sports? What would you like to see happen in the memory world?

Memory competition is currently limited by two major factors: First, only a small population are doing the training. Of course, this has something to do with the current boring training methods. Second, the way of competition is not appealing for a general audience, so the media cannot play a good role to promote the competition. Contestants are sitting quietly memorizing, which is boring for the audience to watch.

If memory can become one of the science disciplines in our education system, I think it will be very valuable to our society.

Could you tell me about any of your other hobbies outside of memory sports?

My biggest hobby is travel.

What do you do for a living, and how do you think your experience with memory sports affects your career?

My career is in education and training, which is to teach students how to use the memory methods to improve their efficiency in learning.

Could you describe an example of how you’ve taught others to use memory methods in learning?

Students need to memorize a lot of knowledge.  With the memory method, they can do more with less. For example, for Chinese students, the [English vocabulary] words “quiet” and “quite” are very similar, thus confusing.  We teach students that “quiet” ends with “et” which we can think of as aliens [in reference to Steven Spielberg’s movie E.T.].  Now we link “aliens” with “quiet,” such as when aliens come, we have to keep quiet, so they won’t find us. Of course, there are different ways of connections you can make up to help you remember these two words.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell me?

Memory is not mysterious; it is a skill. Through the right way of training, it can be improved. It doesn’t require high IQ or talent. It is about practicing.

Thank you for your time, Wang Feng.

You can watch Wang Feng and my appearance on the Chinese TV show "The Brain" here.

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Original Chinese:


2010年,年仅二十岁的王峰以黑马的姿态赢得世界脑力锦标赛总冠军。是第一个来自欧洲之外获此殊荣的的人。隔年他再度出赛, 成功卫冕2011年世界总冠军,开启了记忆竞赛的新时代,在一向由英国和德国主宰的记忆运动舞台上,中国成为新兴的强大势力。获得两次世界冠军之后,王峰从官方比赛退休,忙于教学,并屡次出现在中国收视率第一的脑力竞技电节目—最强大脑。我最近很荣幸有机会和王峰在这个节目中竞技。以下是赛后不久我对他的访问,希望你们喜欢。

你是怎么开始对记忆动产趣的。

我接触记忆是一次非常偶然的机会,当时我的启蒙老师袁文魁在我的大学创办了一个记忆协会,我第一次知道原来记忆是有方法可以训练的。考虑到我本身记忆能力并不是很好,如果通过训练可以提高我觉得可以试试。因此就加入了记忆协会,后面开始训练,然后参加世界比赛。

从事记忆以来,你最喜,最在其中的是什么?

进行记忆训练对于我来说有两点乐趣:第一点是在记忆时,会创建一幅幅动态的画面,就感觉自己在看有趣的动画片。第二点是来源于记忆成绩的进步,当时我的进步速度算是非常快的,这让我在记忆方面有很大的成就感,当干一件事有成就感时就会投入更多的精力和时间,进入了一个良性循环。

于初学者你有什么建?而于正遇到瓶的人,你又有什么的建

对于初学者首先不要心急,不能想着我学完以后记忆力立马要提升多少,而是首先要找到记忆的乐趣,充分去思考和感受如何编码,以及编码联结过程中如何更加生动有趣。起步阶段非常重要,并且建议练习一遍记忆(不给自己复习第二遍的机会),当基础工作做好以后后面碰到的困难就比较少,不然练到一定程度就会发现有瓶颈,就好比建房子,地基有问题,那么房屋的高度就受限了。

对于遇到瓶颈的人,首先要找到自己不能进步的原因是什么?一般从四个方面去总结:一是总结自己的编码是否足够优化,编码的使用如何更加高效简洁;二是总结自己联结的方式,是不是联结的方式影响了自己的速度和准确度;三是总结地点系统,编码如何与地点联结会记得更牢,每一个地点要怎么联结都是值得去总结的;四是自己训练的时间是否足够了,我比较倾向于集中一段时间强化训练。

能請你描述一下你强化训练

强化训练期间每天大概会保持六个小时的训练量,上午三个小时,下午三个小时,每训练1.5个小时休息一次。晚上可能会选择跑步或是看电影放松下。

如果一切从你得重新开始走记忆动这一条路,你会有什么不一的做法?

如果重新来一遍,还是会选择高强度的集中训练。

能請你描述一下你是采用什么记忆数字和扑克牌的系是什么?

我一般是两个数字作为一个编码,然后一个地点上面联结两个编码。记数字和扑克的系统是统一的。

你能一个你号的例子?例如,你如何123896307893?

我的号码系统并没有太多特别的,应该和其他人的差不多。

我听你的号几乎成了一个4位数的系。是通过训练自然而然地形成的?需要多长时间才能到达个境界?

我是两位编码系统,但可能因为我的联结速度非常快,两个编码在瞬间就能完成联结,所以看起来就像是4位数系统。要达到这种速度我想至少要连续训练半年以上吧。

你是如何决定要采用什么系的?曾虑过采用不同的系统吗

我用的是2位数系统。有考虑过3位数系统,但是最终还是继续用2位数系统。因为3位数系统要重新花更多时间去适应和熟悉这1000个编码,另外我认为2位数编码的准确率更高些。

你有没有什么特别的习惯来帮助你入情况?

当遇到重要的比赛我一般会通过冥想来调整自己的状态,冥想一般是想一些优美的风景画面,能让自己静下心来。

除了冥想,在正训练之外,你有什么习惯和做法是来强化你的记忆? 例如,整你的生活方式,睡眠时间表,习惯

我在训练期间会选择尽量排除干扰,会暂时放下工作以及其他事务,只专注训练一件事。一般晚上十一点睡觉,早上7点半起床。饮食上没有特别的安排,比较喜欢吃鱼。

得了两次世界冠之后,你当初是如何决定不再继续

已经拿过两次世界冠军了,我觉得我在比赛方面的体验也已经够了,接下来希望干一些更有意义的事情。

记忆未来的前景在哪里?你希望看到什么展?

记忆比赛目前影响力受限有两个很大的因素:一是训练的群体不够多,当然这和目前训练方式枯燥也有关系;二是比赛的形式观赏性不强,媒体无法很好的发挥作用,大家都是坐在那安静地记忆,观众看起来会觉得很无聊。如果记忆能变成一门自然学科纳入到教育体系,我觉得会是一件很有社会价值的事情。

能跟我们谈谈除了记忆之外 你有什么其他的兴趣或?

 平时最大的兴趣爱好是旅游。

你的职业是什么?你得从记忆所得到的经验对你的事有什么影响?

我的职业是教育培训,就是教学生如何把记忆方法用到学生的学习当中去提高效率。

你提到教育学生。你可以描述一个你如何教人使用记忆方法来化学的例子

在学习中有很多需要记忆的知识点,用了记忆方法以后可以做到事半功倍。比如对于中国学生“quiet 安静” 和 “quite 很,非常” 这两个单词因为比较相似,所以所以混淆。那么我们教学生, “quiet 安静” 结尾的字母是“et”,可以想到外星人,就把外星人和安静联系起来,比如外星人来了,我们要保持安静,以免被他发现。当然也可以进行别的关联。

还有什么其他事情你希望我们的听众可以知道或了解的吗?

记忆术并不神秘,它是一门技能,通过正确地方式训练就能获得提高,并不需要多高的智商或是天赋,这是一个熟能生巧的过程。

谢谢你接受我的访问

*Youku: 最强大脑 第四季:武大才子王峰再战江湖 20170331