Kevin Schulz Memory Interview Profile

Kevin Schulz gave a lot of great information in his memory interview profile! I am glad he took the time to write as much as he did. I was fascinated by seeing how memory techniques play a role in Kevin's life and how everything came together. Kevin also gives me a challenge when we are doing online memory matches! Blue Screen! Enjoy this memory interview profile of Kevin Schulz!


How did you get introduced to memory techniques?

If I recall correctly that was in 2004. I watched a TV show that was named “Grips-Show” if I don’t confuse it with another show. However, part of the show I watched was a performance of Christiane Stenger. She had to memorize quite a lot of words. Back then I didn’t know that people could do, so I was really impressed. On the show she briefly explained what she did so I used the commercial breaks of this show to create my first journey, and I then successfully memorized 10, then 20, and even 30 words with no real time limit though. 

Back then I was really excited that what I had just seen on TV were really memory techniques you could learn and not just a trick. Not much time later, I successfully used this journey in my verbal final examination at middle school. I was really happy. It helped me so much because those things frighten me a lot, and the journey worked really well against blackouts and keeping on track despite my fears and nervousness. I wish I had known these memory techniques earlier in school because learning would have been more fun and successful.

After that I somehow forgot about that journey technique I had learned because I didn’t really need it for a while in my life. But 3-4 years later, I was visiting the stage program of a German comedian named Bernhard Hoecker. Coincidentally, one part of his program was about memory techniques! This did not only remind me about the journey method that I learned from Christiane Stengers TV performance years before but it also indicated that memory techniques weren’t just the journey method and memorizing: there was much more to it!

I personally considered my memory as bad, and it always disappointed me how much I forget. Moreover, memory techniques still had something magical about them even though I already had gotten a glimpse behind the curtains. So I started reading about it on the internet where I discovered 2 things that would eventually introduce me to memory sports:

1. The Brainboard: This is a German board about memory techniques that used to be the main platform for exchange between German memory athletes and those interested in memory techniques or topics related to that. I got to learn a bunch of things there from others involved into memory techniques.

2. MemoryXL: They had a homepage with brief but good descriptions for beginners to get started with these techniques and get started with memory as a sport. They even have this little program called the MemoryXL-Trainer. It cannot be compared to elaborated software such as Memocamp or Memory League that we have nowadays but back then, there was no Memocamp or Memory League. The MemoryXL software was completely free, covering a lot of different disciplines which was the perfect thing for someone who was just new to this and trying things out. But it was really fun to me. The fun never really stopped :-) Aside from it being fun, it’s useful for mental health, the techniques you learn come in handy in certain other situations in life, and I got to know much more like-minded people than under other circumstances. You cannot get much more out of a hobby, can you? :-)

How did you get started in memory competitions?

I learned there were regional North and South German Championships with beginner friendly 7 disciplines. Boris asked me to come to the South German Memory Championship in 2008. However, I had just started that year and thus it felt too soon. But one year later, 2009, I went to Karlsruhe for my first memory competition experience. It was also important that former training buddies such as Fabian Saal and Gereon Hinz wanted to go to that competition as well. Both had started at a similar time as I did, and we had a lot of contact back then. I was really looking forward to meeting them in person, and it also gave me the positive feeling that I wasn’t going to dive into this new world of memory competitions alone.

How was your first memory competition? What did you want to achieve when you went, how was the experience, and how long had you been training before you went?

My first competition went really bad. My goal was to confirm my results from training. I can't recall what they were back then, but I under performed in most of all disciplines because I was just too nervous, and I made a lot of mistakes beginners do. Other than that, it was a nice experience to meet some like minded people in person. I probably could still name most of the contestants from memory even though I never memorized them. :-)

Unfortunately I don’t remember how much and how I exactly prepared for my first competition. I think I was mostly training on Simon Ortons OMC webpage, but the OMC phase could also have been later.

How long have you been competing/training for memory competitions? Last/next memory competition?

That was different each time. For my last competition, which was already 4 years ago, I had only about a week of training because it was directly after some exams. I also couldn’t put that much energy into training because there wasn’t that much time left. As a consequence, I wasn’t happy with my preparation, but the opportunity was still rather good so I went anyway. This was the negative extreme. There were also competitions for which I was able to follow a specific training schedule for a few months.

I don’t know which my next competition will be. At the moment, memory competitions feel too expensive. I still haven’t found a job, and my savings decrease from month to month. However, I still can enjoy those regular online memory competitions organized by Clay Knight and Ben Pridmore. They provide something really great for the memory sports community, and I’m very grateful that I got to know such amazing people. :-)

How does your typical memory training session look like? How long do your training sessions last for?

I’ve changed my training habits so often over time...currently I don’t have that much of a fixed schedule. At the moment, I do a first training session after I have done all or most of my priority "To-Dos" for the day. Then I might have a second session later on but that’s not a regular thing.

There is currently no set outlook for the sessions I do. I often try to have a match session with someone over all 5 Memory League disciplines. This is a really fun way to cover many different kinds of disciplines. But I could also just focus on one discipline and try to enforce a speed improvement via single player mode or hunt for a PB/goal in any of those many disciplines.

Something that is rather typical for me despite all those differences and changes in training habits is I try to keep a certain variety in my schedules. It’s usually more fun for me this way. I made an exception during the Purge events held by Clay Knight.

What systems do you use? (Cards, numbers, etc…)

For Cards, I use a 2-Card system. The coding is a bit different, but the basic mechanism works like in Simon Reinhard’s 2-Card system. I put 2 images into every locus. For my system, I need the French Cards which have D’s instead of Q’s and B’s instead of J’s. My coding is built upon these cards. I would have enjoyed working with Q from the James Bond movies, but Q’s on Cards are much worse than B’s.

For Numbers, I have both a Major-2-digit system and a Major-3-digit system. It depends on the discipline which system I use. For most Number disciplines, I use my 3-digit system but for Historical Dates, I use both number systems. For Spoken Numbers, I use my 2-digit system. In most Number disciplines, I use 2 images/locus but for Spoken, I prefer 1 image/locus. For Binary, I use a 10-digit system which uses parts of my 3-digit system, my 2-digit system, and a bunch of additional Images. I use 3 images/locus for all Binary disciplines. 

In none of my systems, do I use PO or something like that. I have persons among my images, actions, objects and even other stuff that doesn’t fit any of those categories like "zoom." This would just make me zoom in on a location or another image linked to it. The choice of my images is of course highly based on personal experiences and preferences like it is for most of us. In my case, it means quite a bunch of images are coming from console games I played, cartoons I watched as a child, anime I watched or even still watch, and etc... So it’s very nostalgic and much fun to watch those in action.

I keep files of my systems and also have put my images into Anki. I particularly use Anki for the times when I have breaks from memory sports. It forces me to keep on training the worst images despite a break. Three times I had to relearn more than half of my Card system after long breaks of multiple months or even more than a year. I hope with that I have finally found a good countermeasure. It’s really bad if you have to restart at such a low level and in the past, it kept me prolonging my breaks.

In case of any interest, here are two little impressions of how those files of mine look like. One is from my Number systems and the other is from my Card system:

Kevin 1.jpg
Kevin 2.jpg

What is your favorite memory competition event? Why?

If you mean event in terms of competitions' events happening: My favorite competition events have been the XMT events. I never attended one of them, but I enjoyed following them from home. I love that the events are digital because is allows for people to spectate a lot better than normal competitions do.

But if you mean discipline: As a rule of thumb, you could say I enjoy disciplines more if variety is linked to them, and they are harder to systematize. Also, I dislike when rules of disciplines go along with hard punishment. I don’t like the punishment systems in general. I usually don’t work well with them. I need positive systems built upon reward. In memory sports, strict rules means I tend to memorize in fear of making a mistake... that’s not fun. It’s even distracting and it’s a hindrance for improvement.

As a consequence, I would put events like Names, ML Words, Historical Dates or Images in top positions. These events are close to each other and have been changing positions often over the last months, so it's hard to rank them at the moment free from mood swings. But I wouldn’t enjoy doing them all the time, so I prefer training a nice variety of disciplines over training a various single discipline. I also love the idea of the surprise event, but I never experienced it as an athlete so far. Maybe this would be among those, but I cannot tell yet.

What event do you dislike the most? Why?

Eventually, I disliked Abstract Images the most. It started as my favorite event when I used to improvise at every blotch. But at some point, it became clear that I could improve a lot by systematizing the patterns. I had finally started drafting and throwing away possible solutions for a 2-pattern system when I got relieved by the announcement of the new IAM Images discipline. I like this new discipline much better than AI. It has much more variety and a more reasonable length of just 5 minutes.

I also don’t like Spoken Numbers that much because it has very strict rules. At least you usually have 2 or 3 chances at this discipline. 5 Minute Words is really strict as well. I love memorizing Words, but not so much under such circumstances.

What are some of your memory training/competition goals?

Goals are, of course, an important aspect of motivation. I’m used to set long-term goals that are often connected to prominent amounts or times. Since I have been involved in this sport for a long time, I already have achieved a lot of long-term goals and had to set new ones. Some examples of running long-term goals of mine are:

3000 binary digits in 30 Minutes
150 digits in Spoken Numbers

There is a lot more of them. I also have short-term goals which could be to just get a new PB in a certain discipline, to surpass someone in the Memocamp leaderboard, or a closer amount or time-based fix point.

Sometimes when long-term goals get close, they can be both the long-term goal that they used to be and become a short-term goal in addition. That is usually highly exciting! I currently have such a situation in Historical Dates and ML Names. My long term goal in Dates is 100 Dates and just yesterday I improved my PB from 95 Dates to 99 Dates. It’s very similar for ML Names where my long term goal is the perfect 30/30. Today I got a new PB of 29 Names in 57.42 seconds. I can almost smell those long-term goals at the moment. :-) Better catch them before that smell turns bad. ;)

Where do you think memory competitions are heading? (Electronic, new competitions, getting popular, etc…)

I like the trend of going digital. Speed Cards is, at the moment, the only discipline where I prefer the analog way for competitions even though I almost only train it digitally. I hope that the trend of digitalization will continue and spread even more into the conventional decathlons.  

I can only speak of Germany and I might be deceived, but anyway... My impression is that the awareness of memory techniques has increased a lot here. When I started with Memory Sports and talked to people about it, they usually had no clue at all about memory sports but nowadays, more often people have at least heard about memory techniques. Most of them have seen one or more TV shows featuring memory athletes.

Meanwhile, I just wish more people would actually try out these techniques because spreading memory techniques seems to be the most important goal. Much more important than making the sport more popular. It’s not that those athletes performing on TV wouldn’t try to encourage people in the audience or at home, but it seems people have a strong skepticism around here. Maybe they tend to think the performers are just being modest when saying everybody can learn it or people might think it’s just a trick after all.

We have people like Uri Geller more or less on similar kinds of TV shows so to a degree skepticism is understandable, but people still could just try... Maybe a lot of people just aren’t ambitious and conservatively thinking they don’t need to be able to do something as fancy as that, but this could be something people may have thought as well about reading and writing hundreds of years ago. Yet today, reading and writing is a pretty normal thing. Maybe we just need to be a lot more patience and have the ancestors of the ancestors of our ancestors still trying to spread memory techniques... who knows...

A direction that could help Memory Sports get more popular might be to connect it not just to other mind sports but as well to the rising e-sports scene. Memory Sports certainly has huge e-sport potential especially if that digital trend keeps going on. Simon Orton does a terrific job on improving the ML software on a regular basis. Who knows where this might lead us. :-)

What type of information have you learned with memory techniques (useful information)?

I’ve experimented quite a lot I would say. To name a few kinds of information:

I’ve learned some orders like the order of the German foreign ministers. Also, I’ve learned some geographical information such as the Cantons of Switzerland. I have played with names of animals. For example: I probably can distinguish > 50 species of the surgeon fish which is kind of my favorite fish. I can recognize the Italian regions by their flags. I have also tried to apply memory techniques during my studies. Usually in a small way but for two subjects, I actually had created memory palaces.

But all in all, I am still not satisfied with my ability to apply memory techniques for learning in general even though I tried a lot. There is just too little output of long-term knowledge considering the time I’ve spent. So I have to keep on training that and make some changes. A current change is that I’m moving the information to Anki. This will definitely save me some time in the long run because I was doing a lot manually which Anki can do automatically.

My biggest problem is getting things into my long term memory. One problem is I can't do revisions with the same excitement I have when learning something for the first time. Another error I’m doing is more speculative. It’s minimalism-blunder. When doing memory sports, you cut down your efforts to save time and to have your journeys back to a clean state as soon as possible. You don’t need to remember that information for very long just until you get through recall. Forgetting the information afterwards is even appreciated. So I think I’m going too fast on learning the material when actually memorizing and reviewing it. But it’s hard to break that habit, and I’m not even sure if it’s a problem or just me over analyzing.

What are people’s reactions when they learn what you can do with your memory?

I’ve made good and bad experiences. Some people appeared to be really interested, but no one was interested enough to start training themselves. But negative experiences usually weigh stronger for me. As a consequence, I’ve become a bit more hesitant talking about memory sports to others.

What was the most difficult barrier you faced when using memory techniques and memory training?

My biggest enemy is always myself. I don’t have the best mindset for ambitious sports with my shaky self-confidence. Even though I’ve gotten better at handling myself, I still have troubles that can cause longer breaks from memory sports for instance.

Level-wise: It was probably somewhere around 200 Numbers in 5 Minutes. I was stuck in that region for years (those included breaks from memory sports though) and had hundreds of attempts. What eventually helped me break that barrier was switching from 1 image/locus to 2 images/locus.

What is your best experience using memory techniques?

Hard to say. I’m not sure if those are the best experiences but I love to break huge milestones which for a long time were just a dream. Plus I believed I would never be able to reach them. It’s nice to have a success like that. Seeing your limits are beyond what you believed just feels awesomely freeing. :-)

What would be the most difficult information to memorize? Why?

What I find most difficult to memorize is something that doesn’t interest me or isn’t fun to memorize. It's something that from deep inside yourself you don’t really want to memorize. For example: When trying to use memory techniques for a subject you had to take during your studies but you never liked.

What do you like to do in your free time when you are not memory training?

I’m doing basketball, badminton, playing Pokémon GO, listening to music, listening to Audiobooks, and occasionally watching TV shows or Let’s Plays in my free time these days. Also, I was following the NBA season, but now I’m looking forward to the draft on the 22nd of this month.

I have more hobbies/things I enjoy though, but some I had to put on the back burner. They will be resumed at the expense of other hobbies at some point. Some of them are Duolingo, writing, learning to draw, and reading. 

Kevin Schulz made sure to give as much detail as possible! There were a lot of parts of the interview that got me thinking about memory techniques. There is a lot to read, but it is all worth it! If you haven't read Clay Knight's interview yet, go an check it out: Clay Knight Memory Interview Profile. Look forward for more memory interview profiles! Don't forget to remember!