Saturday, September 28, 2013


This post could be a part 2 to the previous post on coaching, injury and 'negative' experiences.

Lately I have become fascinated by the idea of the edges of things - the edges of truth, the edges of experience, the edges of actions.

It could be argued that many ideas are true, just that their truth is very very limited. What can be true once, for one person, at one time, may never be 'true' in a broader sense. What is true on a small scale, may not be true on a larger one ... Even the idea of a flat earth is 'true' on an experiential level for someone that never leaves their village .... So the idea I am playing with is how the edges of things can define truths, and that finding the edges, where things start to fall apart, is a far more useful endeavor than staying within their boundaries.

For instance in real life, near misses are fabulous learning opportunities because they are by their nature 'on the edge' of things. The lessons learned here are powerful and generally hold us in good stead throughout our lives.

I think the concept also transfers to teachable subjects like martial arts and even to the gym, and perhaps creates a faster path to competence than working in 'center field'.

Here's what I'm thinking, and I'm not done with thinking it all through yet, so apologies in advance if it is all a bit scattered ....

There is a 'best' way to do something - from flipping a tractor tire, to swinging a sledgehammer, to striking or parrying with a sword, to applying a joint lock - You + an object + a goal.

The reason to learn how to perform these actions is that you want a skill that is repeatable, and useful for you in the real world.

In other words (when done right) a skill that  -

1) Achieves the goal
2) Is efficient
3) Does the least amount of damage to you (so you can do it over and over again)

Once you have this part, this optimum solution, you can repeat and practice to your hearts content .... But there seems to be something missing, something much more compelling to explore, perhaps something much more useful than just repeating the correct form ....?

Though it's absolutely reasonable to practice something correctly, absolute perfection is rarely attainable, and even more rarely repeatable in real life.

More likely changing conditions will alter the outcome - Perhaps environmental conditions, personal health and capacity, or mental focus/distractedness, etc - So would it not also be worthwhile to spend some time practicing at the edges of things? To understand the point at which things go squirly, and if they do, how to best to deal with them?

After all, there is nothing more potentially chaotic than a fight, and all the perfection and precision achieved in training gets thrown into the blender when stuff starts flying back at you (What's that famous Mike Tyson quote? "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth").

So how about spending more time looking at when things start to fall apart? How to mitigate errors, save bad situations, turn bad into good, and default strategies to resort to when things go severely south?

That's where I personally need a coach. Of course to tell me how to do things right, but absolutely to give me ways to deal with things when they go wrong.

Even in a controlled environment like a gym where I can practice flipping my tractor tire or lifting my kettlebell, I still have a limit, an edge, to my ability, and a coach that can show me how to fail safely as well as show me how to succeed I reckon will have me progressing far faster than one who only focuses on performing the action for the proscribed amount of repetitions.

If I feel confident in what to do if I slip, get unbalanced, start to fail, and that I can avoid hitting myself on the head with a 35lb weight, or avoid a sledgehammer landing on my toe, or tweaking my back when I fail at a tire flip ... the less likely I am to 1) Injure myself, and 2) To be afraid of failing and finding the edges of my capabilities .... And thus how to expand them ...

And definitely in sword play - The moments when all is in your power, where chaos is contained and a smooth series of perfect moves is all that stands between you and victory are few and far between, and if as Sonny said "It's the one you don't see that hits you", then practicing playing at the edge between success and failure surely gives you far greater aptitude in recognizing how to save yourself, and thus is a faster path to functional competence than purely practicing winning.

It gives you control of so much more of the game if you are comfortable with the unexpected as well as the expected ... And in the end it's all about having the option to continue .... For the fight not to be lost, for the limit not to be reached .... yet ..... Right?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


The gym where I work out has been hiring new coaches and they've been trying out some prospective candidates to see who fits in. Obviously they have their own ideas about what kind of person they are looking for, but it's made me think about my personal preferences regarding coaches and teachers.

I've written many times before about Sonny, his diminutive size, and his physical 'unfitness', and also mentioned some of his stories regarding fights he got into in his younger days, and others that he was witness to.

Much of the advice that still resonates with me, regarding how to read people and prevail in an encounter, came from these stories, and more specifically from the stories about when things went wrong -

"If you see a finger on the ground, do not look at your hands. If you know it is yours you will freak out. Pretend it is your opponent's, much better that way."

Yeah .... Anyway, the point is it's the negative stuff that seems to stick better in the memory. Pain and loss can be great teachers, as in - Don't do that again!

But back to the gym.

If have realized that in general the enthusiastic 20 somethings do nothing for me, and the reason is not their perky exuberance, which can be somewhat grating before the sun is up, but their complete lack of any injury. Now, this may seem a little counter intuitive, but the logic is this - My favorite coach has had to deal with many injuries from well over a decade of playing competitive team sports. He KNOWS what screwing something up looks like. He can FEEL it when he watches someone else move. He understands HOW injuries happen, and remembers all the things he did wrong to 1) Get the Injury in the first place, and 2) What he had to do to have it heal properly .... or not ...

Experience, especially of the debilitating, less glorious, type is enormously helpful when teaching others how to avoid having it happen to them. Whether it's a body mechanics issue, over training, or understanding what it is like to be smaller and weaker than pretty much anyone you might have to cross swords/hands with, I'd vote for it every time.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Spaghetti Western Lesson

See the gift. Control the range. Control the timing. Control the OODA. Understand human nature.

And here's another clip with the same idea. Note the fact that he never repeats anything 3 times. For some reason 3 things repeated in the same rhythm is catchable .... 2 is not, and 3 of the same thing but with a break in timing also works .....

Thursday, September 12, 2013

'Words Cannot Cook Rice'

I don't speak Chinese and Laoshi speaks heavily accented English which is possible to understand when combined with gesticulations and alongside years of deciphering meaning from attending his seminars ... but still not 100% clear.

His body language is very expressive as are his facial expressions which really helps, yet still sometimes certain questions and ideas are hard to get across, and the answers often don't seem to directly match up with the question ... which is always disconcerting because one wonders ... Is this the real answer underneath what I was asking? Perhaps I am just being a little stupid in not getting it? Or is this the answer to a different question? How did he hear what I asked?

Of course, all he has to do is SHOW what he means, physically - "Not like this, like THIS!!" and the meaning, the point, the purpose, become much clearer.

One of the things Luo mentioned this year is that he has been writing a book about all the years of research that he has done into Martial Arts. This is very cool news and I look forward to reading what is sure to be a fascinating work. He said that one of his wishes is to demystify the classic terminology of the so called 'Internal Arts' into something more modern and pragmatic, alongside sharing his personal journey to discover what he knows and to become who he is.

I asked him how he had decided to convey these ideas - because truth be told, I do not think there are enough words in the universe to guarantee understanding ...... though I did not exactly say that.

His answer was this -

He said he wanted to translate his work into English, and he figured it would be no problem as he has many friends and students who speak both excellent English and Chinese AND train martial arts, yet he said he still found many errors of understanding despite his best efforts to be clear.
He said he believes these misunderstandings can only be fixed through sitting down, talking through, and physically demonstrating the concepts with the translator, in the same room, to get the actual meaning connected to the right words. That this is the only way to understand what THEY do not understand, and work until he knows they do.
Once he knows they understand, he knows the translation will be what he means, and not what they think he means. Using a different language means that errors in understanding are more obvious and show faster.

Humans have been preserving knowledge through writing and reading for a while now, though certainly not for as long as they have apprenticed, tagged along with their elders, and sat around camp fires listening and watching ... So how big an issue is this whole misunderstanding business (And I'm talking about physical arts here, not intellectual or philosophical arts)?

If words are so prone to misunderstanding why write anything down at all, especially in this day and age of video?

So far the best reason I can come up with is that writing and reading serve to inspire practice, and perhaps more importantly to provide a confirmation for results experienced by the student. They can really do no more - Inspire and Confirm. That's it. Oh, and expand the imagination, that's very important too.
Words go to the mind, not the body, so to have worth in the physical realm, they need to effect behavior, and perhaps this is why great books can be felt on a gut level and resonate for a long time.

Have to say though, the more I personally attempt to convey the concepts inside of me in words, the more the earlier methods seem far more reliable .....

Sunday, September 8, 2013

This is for You

There is an inordinate amount of video footage on Youtube demonstrating what to do when momentum and angle are put into a framework ....

This force vector comes ... I can do this, or this, or that or this. If they step in with their right I go here, if left, then here, here, here, etc etc etc.
All the smooth techniques come out, breaking down the opponent's structure and transitioning into the finishing moves ..... Lovely.

But how did this wonderful straight right, say, get thrown? ..... With you knowing it was coming .... In fact not only that but WHEN it was coming too?

It's like someone walking up to you and extending their hand with a gift in it, a flower perhaps, and you taking it. They even smiles as they walk up and present it. You saw them coming, you saw the flower, you saw the smile ... they owe you, you know what will happen next.

So where's the back story? Who is this person and why did they bring a flower and why did they decide to give to you?

Did you ask for it or did you make them hand it over? Did you hint that you loved flowers or was it just your birthday?

Those are the videos I want to see, along with the ones where they poke you in the eye with it, or they pretend to give it to you but don't, or when they merely use the flower as a distraction to pick your pocket.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

3 Teachers

I have studied with quite a few martial 'arts' teachers over the years, some for just a single seminar, others privately once or twice, and some in classes over time, but out of all of them, there are 3 whose ideas and methods have held my attention.

Each of the 3 who I consider to be my primary influences, grew up in completely different countries and cultures, came from varied socio-economic backgrounds, and followed pretty different career paths. They had different life experiences, moved in different circles (on both sides of the law), and learned their skills in different settings, through different methods, and though each practiced some kind of traditional martial arts, none of these arts are shared between them.

The arts each of them studied (and each studied more than one) do not overlap ..... at all .... at least in name or culture of origin, yet there is really nothing to separate these teachers in their understanding of strategy and tactics. The terminology might be different, but each found the layer below (above?) the material itself, in the principles and patterns behind the 'stuff', and each learned to see these principles as dynamic expressions of the human condition without the 'story' of the art clouding the picture.

This is really not that strange ..... After all, Martial Arts are about human beings (minds and bodies) their capabilities and their hang ups, but what is more remarkable is the effect that discovering these principles and these patterns has on the one who sees them. It's like the urge to codify and to gain certainties goes away and the urge to force particular answers into equations becomes unnecessary.

And these guys all got to this place and see the world from there, regardless of system or style, language, personality, body type, or technique.

I suspect the commonalities stem from a shared pragmatism, of wanting to understand, and experimenting until a logic was found.

All share a great understanding of human psychology, anatomy, and geometry, of the opportunities in every moment, and how to manipulate the game in their favor whatever cards end up on the table.

Whether they call these cards - gifts, set ups, or never running out of angle, whether they call a superior position - holding neutral, having a good situation, or the golden move . Whether they 'eat the whole chicken', 'take something home', 'fight emptiness', think 'human beings very funny', or that smiling is a great tactic .... it's all the same ......

But I guess a more interesting question than contemplating why these guys got here, is why so many do not?

Monday, September 2, 2013


This would totally set me off to find a fencing class if I did not already practice. Nicely done :-)