Tuesday, July 31, 2012

It's Not Fair

I love the Olympics, the opening ceremony never fails to bring a tear to my eye - all that optimism and camaraderie, humans coming together as one people, with the common goal of achieving excellence in sports.
May I just say though, that sometimes I wish that the art of being a good loser would be taught alongside the skills and the confidence it takes to win.

Most already have this down - the handshake, the nod of the head and the brief verbal congratulation, but where this politeness falls down the most is when there is a refereeing error - a bad call or an unseen foul.
Many of these kinds of errors are rare now because of modern technology - video playback, slow motion, and camera angles etc, which is great for fairness, but in some ways I am sad because the new technology has lessened the opportunities for us, as participants, to deal with human fallibility and unfairness.
Of course, sports and games should be fair and the true winner should be rewarded, but I cannot help thinking that the opportunity to deal with of one of the greatest lessons life has to give, is being taken away from us - that of experiencing the cold truth that life is absolutely impartial, and cares nothing for the outcome.
At it's very heart, when you are on the losing side of a bad call, it is absolutely, and unremittingly unfair. And you know what?
That's OK.
Fairness is not universal.
It is situation dependent, and sometimes you draw the short straw.
Sport is a lovely, safe, place to find this out ... and a place to practice how to deal with it.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all about gaining advantage and being all tricky and sneaky where dueling (and other combat) is concerned, but if you are participating in a sport against others, please have the fortitude to lose gracefully. The experience will definitely improve your understanding of time, place, those around you, and of course yourself.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

..... And Now You Don't

What do you NOT want seen?

Any difference between your fake and true intents.

Your real options at any one time - evasive and attack.

Potential full extent of your range.

Changes in timing (unless used as feints).

Weapon manipulation
 - Tip placement.
 - Hand.
 - Disengagements.

Your own personal glitches/tendencies (unless used as baits)
- Your mistakes.
- Any readable rhythm.
- Your personality.

Did I miss any?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Now You See It ....

If you are playing a game where feinting and baiting play a key part, you have to be adept at choosing when you are seen and when you are not.
Both feinting and baiting involve being seen - to create a reaction in the opponent. You can't fluff that.
You may be being sneaky and playing tricks, but you still need to show and express something that is visible to your opponent's eyes for your ploy to work.
Depending on their skill level, the extent of this visibility can vary, but being stealthy during your feint or bait makes no sense at all - It's gotta be seen to be believed!
The ACTUAL hit, of course, can be as sneaky and stealthy as you like .. though if you opponent is in a disadvantageous position, even this is not important.

The 'being visible' part, is what makes feinting and baiting an advanced skill set. Not only do you have to understand how different people react to movement - one person's threat may appear unimportant to another, but when you are visible, you are also in danger. You have made your move, and your intent is (seemingly) out in the open. This might cause your defensive line to open, and you are definitely right at the edge of the range, more likely in range with some part of your body .... and you might have miscalculated.

Most importantly, you might not have the ability to see if your opponent has fallen for your subterfuge in the split second you have to make the decision on choosing your next move .... If they have fallen for it, then X might be the right next move, but if they have not, then Y or Z might be the only options that get you out safely. It bears noting that the fake/feint/bait itself might also be the actual hit if things go really well ... and should not be forgotten.

In essence you need to have at least 2 options, better 3, at your disposal depending on the success of your feint/bait, and all must be on line, and possible, at the critical moment.
If you always play as though the fake has worked, without seeing if it really has, you may occasionally succeed, but you will just as often not, and get yourself tagged in the process.
So you have to practice, and honestly practice sucks because the failure rate is so high until your eyes/brain/body start to comprehend what's going on. But the key points are:
Be seen ...
Watch ...
Choose your move.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

2 Parts

My fencing teacher just came back from the Nationals and we were talking about coaching. I asked him if he could predict which of his students would make good fighters/competitors, and he said something interesting.
He said that he has noticed two distinct phases of training a fencer - the technical part - blade manipulation, footwork etc, and above all accuracy, and then the sparring/fighting ability part.
He sees the 2 parts of the training as almost opposites of each other - in one the student knows what is expected and trains to perform as close to perfection as possible towards a scripted outcome. The other part is totally uncertain, unscripted, and happens without instruction, and without a known outcome.
He said that there is no real way of telling how good someone will be at part 2 from how good they are at part 1, apart from in one important respect. He said he has found that some people seem unable to follow instruction, and do not have the focus to attain accuracy and technique when taught, and that those that cannot succeed in part 1 will never be successful at part 2.

I then asked how far a 'fighting spirit' went towards giving a competitive edge in part 2.
Was 'emotional content' important in predicting good fighters? Did those who were successful 'want' it more? Did they exhibit more aggression for instance?
He said that actually the opposite was true, with the most successful maintaining an almost detached indifference to the outcome - that's the word he used - 'indifference'. Not that they didn't care, just that they were immersed in achieving the goal rather than invested in it on an emotional level.

It took me back to a long time ago when I asked a teacher if they thought it necessary to get angry or aggressive to fight, as my natural personality does not often go to that place ... and he said he didn't know, though SO many martial artists seem to think it is essential ... which left me wondering what my options were?
Later it was interesting to read Rory's take on the difference in emotional investment between a dominance style monkey dance and a predator killing it's lunch, and I started to think maybe this emotional investment might not be essential ... which is good, because it means there might be a different path for folks like me.

I'm not saying there is no 'grit' or tenacity or whatever you want to call it that is present, or that maintaining total indifference is even possible in an adversarial interaction (especially if one is losing), but it was certainly interesting to entertain the possibility of a different path.

I suspect it has something to do with cultivating the ability for the human and lizard brains to converse directly ... bypassing monkey ....
But how do you teach it?
I think this is what Sonny was doing, but I'm still not sure if it is a method that works for everyone.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Working double sword today and was very pleased to have come up with a more efficient way (I think ..) of teaching half beat timing (mostly for faking), and thus upping the level of trickiness of a feed, whilst still keeping the same tempo.
This flow progression helps the feeder learn how not only to feed well (not so easy with 2 swords), but also to start working on choosing openings, and begin baiting and causing reactions in their partner.
Meanwhile, their partner gets to work on improving their evasion and general defensive skills at the same time.

Having just spent an evening reading a historical fencing techniques manual, which is pretty much as mind numbing as reading step by step instructions on how to salsa, I just don't have it in me to describe it in words.

In the same way that over a couple decades, Sonny went from this:

To this:

To throwing descriptions out altogether and just doing it ....

I think I will avoid the technical description ... but of course would be happy to flow it with anyone that is interested :-)

Monday, July 9, 2012

'Health and Fate'

An inspired blog post by my friend Scott:


The part about the underwear elastic is totally true .... Who knew it was related to Internal Arts practice ... :-)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Spirals or Loops

Sometimes it seems that almost everything there is to be thought about and analyzed (at least in martial arts) has been thought about before. Conclusions have been drawn, problems solved, idiocy and short sightedness ranted at, and bad ideas railed against ....Yet still we have the same conversations that folks were having back in the 16th Century, and even further back into ancient history. I can hear the complaints of George Silver*, for instance, down to the present day.

- Why is it then that we are still trying to solve the same problems? (Though weapons and technology changes, there are still human beings at the other end ...)
- IS it the same problem?
- IS it just because in any group there will always be the same selection of archetypes, arguing the same viewpoints?
- IS it that there is more than one right answer over time .....?
- Do we just not pay enough attention as we try to pass knowledge down?

Also, why is it that solutions that one discovers or stumbles upon now, have all been 'known' for a long time (if you care to do the research), yet often seem hidden or even surprizing in the present? Some of this knowledge, put forward as 'secrets' or huge advances particular to a teacher or system ... are in fact common knowledge that has been around for hundreds (1000s?) of years .....

Are we just short sighted, amnesiac mice, running around on some silly treadmill, thinking that we are getting somewhere new and unexplored?
Or is the incentive to ACTUALLY, TRULY, change something, consciously, just not urgent enough?
(I would say that natural evolutionary forces do the job quite well ... I'm just irritated at out frontal lobe's seeming inability to join in)

I read the book 'Collapse' a while back, Jared Diamond's follow up to 'Guns Germs and Steel'.
One of the reasons he posits as a cause for the collapse of a society, is the 'forgetting' that happens over a few generations as conditions change. A marginal location, for instance, may have originally been able to support a community of fixed size, but given a few generations and a change in rainfall, say, leading to an easier life and a growth in population, and the dry, difficult, and perhaps more common, conditions for growing food are forgotten .... And when they return, the community fails.
Apparently our ability to forget is very powerful.
The recent and terrible Japanese Tsunami also holds examples of 'forgetting' the wisdom of historic knowledge and experience:
And I guess the martial arts are no different ...

My best hope is that in the same way that music, art, and science have morphed over the centuries, we too can keep interpreting the world we see in different ways, and that it will all keep adding to the rich variety of knowledge that is our reality - that would be OK.
The possible alternative of course is much more absurd and futile .... that we are condemned to solve the same problems ad infinitum, endlessly chasing our tails.
It would certainly be nice to think that we are moving in a spiral - didn't Mark Twain make some comment that 'history does not repeat itself, it rhymes? - and not in an endless loop, the minimum length of which is the amount of time it takes each one of us to forget.

* - http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/paradoxes.html

Monday, July 2, 2012

Through The Moment

I was watching a video clip of a seminar, and the participants were paired up, one was practicing an attack, in this case a particular strike, the other followed with a response. This is one of the most common teaching methods, and I am assuming that the thinking behind it is to condition a reflexive response to a stimulus .... See X coming, do Y, or Y + Z + ..... until it becomes ingrained. Everyone was doing the drill in rhythm, repeating this rhythm over and over.
I kept wanting the attacker to switch it up and throw a different attack, or mess with the timing, because of course that's how I learned, and though I know that this part comes later for those who spar or do some other kinds of random drills, it made we wonder, do you really need this first step at all?
Instead of only training to deal with what your opponent DOES, would it not be better to either train to deal with what your opponent is THINKING of doing (as you will get to deal with what they actually do do as a byproduct anyway)? ....... Or alternately, train to MAKE the opponent do the strike you want them to do by giving them a reason to throw it?

The repetitive, reflexive exercise in the clip may well be training how to predict the incoming danger of a particular strike from watching the opponent's physical motion, and maybe even from the physical set up, but if the feeder KNOWS what they themselves are going to feed, then you are not going to learn how to predict the intent itself, and the smaller micro adjustments, or 'tells', that happen as they decide what to throw.
Neither are you going to understand WHY they chose to throw that strike, or HOW to get them to do so.
If you are getting your information from this drill only, you will always be behind the opponents intent, in other words always behind the timing.

Tactically any partner practice like this where one is waiting, makes better sense if there is a reason for the waiting.
One reason could be being unsure of what is about to happen, and therefore making space until you can be more sure of what is going on. This set up could train reading the opponent's intent.
Alternatively, waiting for something you know is about to happen could potentially be a ploy/bait/draw of course, but then there needs to be a reason for the opponent to enter, for instance an opening ... and for that you need to MAKE one, AND be sure that it is tempting, but does not put you in danger of actually getting hit.

Is training AT the time something is happening, then winding the clock backwards until you can SEE the moment coming, and then can CREATE the moment to come, the best way to train?

Or could you train the uncertainty, and the creativity in from the get go, so you are already closer to context?
Even if there are only 2 options - perhaps either left or right, or high or low, now or  ++ now, as choices, surely it would be a more efficient way to learn?