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?


Kamil Devonish said...

Great post. I was thinking along these same lines recently. With respect to karate, I saw it in terms of lines. The line between assertive and aggressive, the line between aggressive and assaultive. But I like the edge analogy even more. People who are good at things play at the boundaries of those things and push themselves to the edges of what is known.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

I have also considered those elements where a "system" trains within the system and even if the systems aims to be broad in approach one is still dealing with that broad base from the same pool. Also as you say the aim for "perfection" and dealing with the perfection.... and then getting hit by the poor attack because it is outside of ones experience...