Got the chance to sword spar recently with someone with great skills. A friend videoed the fun and I got to see the footage yesterday and it was really interesting.
As I've mentioned before, Sonny video taped all his classes and we all got to go home with a VHS tape and review the workout, but since his passing I have rarely taken footage of spar time, so it's been quite a few years since I have been able to watch what I do free style as an observer.
Here's what I noticed:
- Sparring is basically a form of Monkey Dancing which is fun, and when you are having fun the game is absolutely playing you and it's hard to remember to get off the carousel.
- Fun is seductive - it makes you forget.
- Having fun makes you think you are doing better than you are ... and as such gives you no reason to change your tactics.
- All the stuff I practice to gain advantage over an opponent when I'm training, or at least much of it, is subsumed by the fun I am having being danced by the monkey.
Now, there's nothing wrong with having fun. I am a huge fan of play as a vehicle for learning .... But here's the thing, I don't recall any specifics of our sparring time, and I know if I could, there would be stuff I could learn from, I just can't put my finger on it from memory alone.
(Aside: The post I wrote on Ego, Death and Progress comes exactly from this forgetting, and 'being danced'. )
But there is a secret weapon - I watch the VIDEO.
... Ahhhh .... Wow, look at all the stuff I forgot to do. Look at all those opportunities to try something different. Look at the strange loops, decisions and errors ....
Why did I keep trying that same combo? Didn't work the last 2 times I tried it ... Why didn't I ....? Or ...?
Actually it's inaccurate to say I don't recall anything, I do remember contemplating trying some tactics and plays that did not manifest physically, but dismissed them as unworthy.
For instance, I didn't think I could fake or bait this opponent - they're pretty good at reading, and the marginal advantage between something that looks real to a seasoned player and is not, is very risky to try .... But was that a correct read on my part, or no? I think I should have investigated more, not just assumed.
To reach a higher level of skill you have to become more open, be willing to lose, invite your opponent in more and start thinking a bit further out of the box ... the monkey box ... and make yourself DO IT during the dance to test what works.
Through the power of video and the third party point of view it bestows, I have visual confirmation that I did not try a large part of a repertoire I have at my disposal (in theory), and so the next time I play I'll have a place to start and to seek improvement, to practice again remembering to play AND think.
And who knows what will and will not work .....? I actually have no clue, but if you believe you can get better you must expand your imagination and try it out.
And that, ladies and gentlemen is why I highly recommend you video yourself too.