Sunday, April 28, 2013

The House is on Fire

The pitfalls on the path to understanding are well known, warnings abound from scientists, philosophers, teachers, in fact from anyone that has ever been wrong and learned from it.
Here are a few:
1- All beliefs in whatever realm are theories at some level. (Stephen Schneider)
2- Do not condemn the judgment of another because it differs from your own. You may both be wrong. (Dandemis)
3- Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. (Francis Bacon)
4- Never fall in love with your hypothesis. (Peter Medawar)
5- It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts. (Arthur Conan Doyle)
6- A theory should not attempt to explain all the facts, because some of the facts are wrong. (Francis Crick)
7- The thing that doesn’t fit is the thing that is most interesting. (Richard Feynman)
8- To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes even better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact. (Charles Darwin)
9- It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. (Mark Twain)
10- Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong. (Thomas Jefferson)
11- All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed, second, it is violently opposed, and third, it is accepted as self-evident. (Arthur Schopenhauer)

My friend Russ shared a quote recently (was it Buddhist ..?), about a person in a burning house trying to work out who started the fire ... The teacher in the quote pointed out that instead of 'Who started this'? A better question for that moment would have been "How do I get out of here"?

Asking the right question is indeed a skill, but so is context - It might be important to find out how the fire started, but if trapped inside, it is somewhat more pressing to locate the exit. Knowing the former will not help with the latter ... though knowing the latter will make finding the solution to the former possible ... and both may play a part in how to put the fire out, or if it is worthwhile to do so at all.

What is important? What is less so? 

What are just tangents or distractions?  

What are the keys? What are the corollaries?

And the pieces that many miss

How is the problem a problem? 

How many answers are there? 

In solving it, what are the consequences? Intended? Unintended?

.......... But what if you run out of questions to ask? Your imagination dries up? If you have no more loose ends in your mind, does that mean that the question has been answered? 

Maybe. Maybe not .......

To get past this impasse, you will need 2 things - Play and Adversaries, 2 catalysts that create a place where mistakes can be made and accidents can happen. A place where nothing is preordained and you have purposefully rescinded control ......

If the linear and rational have stopped yielding returns ... it's time to embrace the random .....

Everything has edges - It's important not to assume you know where they are ....


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Me, I'm Just a Lawnmower ....

Everyone moves in their own, individual, way - A combination of personality, experience, injury, and training.
We all have a way we walk, run, dance, and if you train a martial art, it's quite easy to see which one, sometimes even who your teacher is, by the way you move when you do something, even if it is in a different art.

Put a sword in someone's hand and all their previous movement patterns will come out. Some will be useful - We already know how to dodge, fade, and run away from playing games when we were kids (though of course freezing when faced with a sword may prevent this, if one are not used to playing with one).
All the rest of the stuff that has been trained in from other martial arts may or may not be as useful, especially if the conscious, trained, stuff overlays the subconscious, 'kid', stuff.

Add to this that you then have to train IN a bunch of overtly counter intuitive stuff ... and it becomes an interesting process.

It seems that the only true motivator to change ingrained habits is from repeated exposure to moments when they fail. If these moments do not occur, these tendencies seem very hard to work with, as the person doing them does not seem to have conscious control of them ..... and with no incentive to change, they repeat.

Even with failure on the table, there often seems to be huge resistance to change these familiar patterns to something smarter, and even those that intellectually might want to change ... find it hard to actually change.

I guess our brains hold on to movement patterns at a pretty deep level, and as they are connected to our self image, our identity in how we present ourselves to the outside world, there has to be a mental shift, and perhaps emotional too, before the physical can also free itself to be new things.

Addendum: After I wrote this piece, I read a study that may point to another reason why:

Here is a quote:
"The problem," says Bjork, "is that if people confuse the current sense of ease with learning, they'll tend to prefer training conditions where things are kept constant and predictable--conditions that act as crutches to prop up performance without fostering learning."

Once again, thanks to Steve Morris for the link, and his eternal quest to find the science behind movement and learning.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Primordial

This clip was on the Ross Training website.
One of Marcelo Garcia's points, that got picked up on Ross's site, is that if you want to get good at wrestling, then spend time wrestling ... In other words, pretty much everything that needs to be trained can be found within the sport itself - including strength training and conditioning .... not that you can't do other things ... but perhaps the main focus should stay on the thing itself. No argument there.

Interestingly, I saw something else in the video, something that struck me as even more useful ...

I saw 2 guys practicing the part of the fight that happens the most - the part where both are vying for position but no one has succeeded in finishing. No one has won yet .. or even gotten the opportunity to do so, but both are working on finding it.

Their random flow drill is simplified into one guy trying to get the sweep, the other the pass.
MG demonstrates it 2 ways - One low risk way, playing it safe and giving nothing away, and the other more active way, where he is taking greater risks (because he is putting more energy into the system that can be used by his opponent) but seeing where he succeeds and where he does not.

This is a fabulous pairing of drills in my opinion, spent exploring a place where many spend the least time. The tendency is to practice what works, the win, the score ... and not spend enough time here, in the 'soup', practicing having things not quite work, and finding a save, or the recycle, into the next try.

The fact that he separates the two tactically different mindsets is fabulous ... See what 'playing' safe gets you ... and then check what not playing safe does ....
The two parts could also be thought of as conserving energy using only what the other guy gives you (closing doors), or creating movement by putting energy into the system yourself (opening doors).

The physical experience of this training, like any random flow, gets the information drilled into the body until the parameters of possibility, and the risks worth taking, become understood.

It is easy to see how these drills are possible from contact, in a grappling format for instance, and Sonny's Eskrima has variations on this also, empty hand, and with weapons ... But it is also possible BEFORE contact. Perhaps this is harder to see, but it is exactly the same stuff - It is testing how to set the opponent up, and to make openings that one can take advantage of without putting oneself into a losing position ... all my favorite stuff, the 'chess' of the game - faking, baiting, freezing etc

I reckon the lack of time spent in the soup is one of the greatest failings of many traditional systems. I have seen enough clips on Youtube of sport fighters wiping the ground with traditionally trained guys, to know that this is the piece that is missing from the training.  This has led to mistaking the material and techniques for being at fault, but I reckon it's more likely the lack of soup in the training itself.

Bagua, for instance, has great fighting strategies, and ways it understands timing, power generation, traps, locks and throws .... but a tiny minority of folks that can pull it off against a trained kick boxer or similar .... Not because the ideas are bad, but because the practitioners have never learned how to insert the cool things they know into chaos .... especially from pre contact distance. They don't understand why or when things work ... or do not, having always been GIVEN the opportunities to 'win' in training. Real opponents are just not that generous.

Kick boxers and others who practice ring sports do that kind of training all the time. They know how to avoid telegraphing their strikes, how to test and harass the opponent, how to break their timing and to jam their techniques. They also know how to avoid giving opportunities away, so the person who has spent all their time practicing against GIVEN opportunities can never find them or make them happen.

Of course there is context ... many trad systems were not meant for sport fighting ... but still .... it is obvious that there is a hole in the method, at least in my opinion, and chaotic and random drills, like in the video, can work to bring the 'when' and the 'how' in alignment with the 'what'.

Time to create some soup recipes ....

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Constant motion holds the beginning, middle and the end of all fencing according to this art and  
teaching… Motion, this beautiful word, is the heart of swordsmanship and the crown of the whole
matter... – the teachings of Master Liechtenauer, c1389

So over 600 years ago they knew this, wrote about it, and tried to impress upon students of swordsmanship how important it is ... In fact I'm sure there are even older texts saying exactly the same thing, yet, why is it, SO many hundreds of years later, that this still seems to hard to ingrain?

Intellectually, I'm pretty sure that it makes total sense that avoiding getting cut by a lethal edged weapon is a good idea, but put one in someone's hand ... and immediately they seem rooted still, and if not that, then compelled to only bounce up and down on a line, going forward and back.

We all know about getting out of the way of things, about stepping out of the path of something hurtling towards you, so why is it that we forget it when facing another human being?   

Rory Miller had the idea that it is related to the Monkey Dance paradigm. As a game of dominance, it assumes that the challenger must be absolutely sure who the person is that they are trying to beat in the status game .... and they can only know that if they are standing face to face.

Also, status fighting generally involves someone giving up, losing, running away or saying 'stop, enough', so these fights are technically not won, but lost.  I think on some level we are constantly looking for the other to give up, not at ways of taking them out, and this has the side effect of tying our feet to the ground. Gotta 'show them who's boss' - literally.

However ... as teachers of De Fence have known for hundreds of years .... swords are unfortunately lethal ... which means that fighting with one in hand has far more serious consequences than a brief bumping of chests or trading of fist blows. Technically it is much harder to choose to lose in a non lethal manner when death is so close, and you certainly can't be blase about trading a few blows as the price of your own victory.

History is littered with the corpses of duelists, despite the best advice of their sword masters. The subconscious tribal behavior runs deep and, more often than not, trumps the training unless a mental shift is realized.

Gotta stop trying to be the strongest Zebra and start thinking like a Tiger.