Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dimmer Switch

I think it has to be done.

A new training step has to be designed that sits between forms/drills/applications/patterns ..... And free sparring in traditional martial arts.

Something that happens before push hands or san shou or any of the other interim pieces already invented to bridge the gap between 'what' and 'when'.

Something to help grapplers and throwers learn faster, keep their partners safer, and from big folks relying on muscle to make things work ...

Something for strikers to help them to notice escalations in speed and power and how to control their level of force.

A dimmer switch if you like, that spans the gap between on and off, 1 and 99, rigid and limp noodle, mindless inattention and mindless flailing.

This idea has come up before, for instance talking with Jake about teaching Muay Thai sparring (I'm not sure if I can find the link, but it had to do with using your 'adult voice' on his blog) ... And then again this morning with my Japanese sword teacher who also teaches Aikido and Jiu Jitsu.

We were actually talking about San Shou as it is taught in my Bagua system ... and I said something to the effect of ...."Well yes, but you learn fastest when your partner can give you good questions to answer".

We both laughed, both at how obvious the comment was, and how hard it is to teach people how to BE this person.

Just like it's mentally very hard to choose to stand in the slowest line at the check out .... on purpose, or pull into the slowest lane of traffic ... on purpose ... It is really really hard to not try to win, to dominate .... OR alternatively, become it's dim witted opposite and become sloppy and unengaged.

ON or OFF seem to be the default settings.

We need to teach people how to be great training partners BEFORE they do partner practices. They need to learn how to calibrate to the person they are working with, how to give just enough structure or resistance for the other to learn something, but not too much as to make what they are learning ridiculous. A form of an audio and/or kinesthetic conversation with both parties learning how to push and pull, touch and grab, resist and unbalance, at modulated speeds, accelerating, decelerating, at varying powers and intensities .... with feedback.

Folks should learn how to give tactile or visual clues as to the right options for their partner to try at that moment, and how to throw believable spanners into the works to help one's partner improvise ...

I think the random flow training format would work here .... just need to make up some ways to do it empty hand ....

Basically learning how to Wait ... Listen .... Judge .... See ......

I am not averse to some help .....

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

2 Unrelated Thoughts


I was asked to do some decorative painting for my friends' new community acupuncture clinic, something to soften the hard edges of the space with a Chinese type theme. I had done some bamboo for them in their old space and so this was suggested again.

Paintings of bamboo are found throughout the history of Chinese art, as are birds, mountains, various blossoms and pine trees. These classic motifs appear with such frequency because the Chinese like to see the 'spirit' behind the technique of a particular painter, and comparing the techniques of various people paintings the same imagery makes noticing the differences in personality, in spirit, much easier.

It's been a while since I have painted bamboo, but it's pretty straightforward ... as far as I remembered at least .... so once I placed the elements on the wall, I started right in to paint.

It looked awful. The leaves I thought I was painting in a natural, bamboo-y manner looked like spiders, or badly drawn hands. Not good.

OK ..... Step away. Find the book (I could have looked at real bamboo, but there was nothing close by and I had brought a book on the history of Chinese art with me).

Look. Really look. Study the paintings.

OK, back to it - Paint what is actually in front of you ... not what you think bamboo looks like .... And lo and behold, painting what WAS real, exactly - size, shape, angles, overlap, each piece distinct, careful and precise  ..... LOOKED real.

Funny how that works ......

Mild cross over to martial arts .... DO the thing for real, and it will LOOK real. Do what you THINK the real thing looks like, and it will not.


I've been watching an older BBC TV series - Inspector Morse - on the internet. I've always liked him as a character, but never really watched a whole slew of episodes before .. And there are quite a few - I think I'm at episode 20 at this point.

What I have started to notice having watched so many are the recurring themes that seem to run through them .... Biases and viewpoints of the author and the era. I would not have noticed them through 8 or even 10 episodes, but now I can't watch an episode without seeing them reappear.

I won't bore you with what these themes are, but I reminded me of a conversation on the radio recently about how the music world has changed.

Nowadays it's all MP3s, shuffle mode and playlists .... Nothing wrong with that - I spent hours and hours back in the day making compilation tapes of my favorite songs ... But always listening to your favorites means your music is all about YOU, and rarely about the artist and who THEY are.

Having spent my youth listening to albums, without the ability to easily skip over the tracks I found a bit dull, I think I gained a greater understanding of the artists and their vision than perhaps people who live in shuffle mode or Pandora land today.

Some things really only comes out in a body of work ... and really do not manifest in snippets mixed together with other artists.

It's why retrospectives are so interesting, it tells you about how someone else thinks, sees the world. How their thoughts have changed and evolved over time, matured or fizzled out.

Someone who designs something 'whole', complete, whether it's their perfect one hit wonder album, a series of paintings, a lifetime of film making ... or perhaps even a martial system ... is worth spending some time with to understand WHY they think an album is complete when it is, or a painting finished, an ambition attained.

Where is it that they see the balance as correct, that nothing is left out that needs to be in? That to me is fascinating ....

Though as a down side, I would also say that familiarity can also breed contempt ... like me for the dated values in 80s television ....

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What Do You Want?

I'd like to think that anyone who learned swordplay from me would have a better chance of defending themselves if they ever had to fight for real with swords, than someone who had not.

It seems ethical, despite the lack of necessity in our modern age, to give as worthy advice as possible that would hold true if tested 'for real'.

It's the point of martial arts after all, isn't it? It's meant to have some basis in stuff that really happened, and is meant to be something that folks who had experience back then wanted to pass on to those that might need it in the future.

Obviously, this 'reality' is bounded by historical context, geographical context, and cultural context. Most martial arts were created to solve specific problems, whether they were designed for the individual, the group, the battlefield, the deserted alley, for entertainment and gambling, for particular terrain, sometimes for limited access to weaponry, and often as ways to bolster group identity and loyalty.

But still, the 'what' to do of most systems seems pretty easy to grasp - In a duel, for instance, the ways to draw blood remain as constant today as they did a 1000 years ago - Our anatomy has not really changed, and neither have the laws of physics

So if the 'what' is relatively straightforward, why is there so much controversy and debate regarding 'the truth'? I suspect it is because of the HOW to do the 'what', and also the WHEN to do the 'what'.

Turns out that how to make stuff actually work is a complex field full of individuals, their motivations, the immediate environment, and the emotional moments they live in. It is not that easy to navigate, and because of this most systems of knowledge fall short - Just too many variables to calculate, and too many innate human glitches, like our love of patterns for instance, that can create misunderstanding.

And really, how would you know if you could actually 'make stuff work'? ... Unless you actually had to make it work!?

I guess you could challenge someone to a duel ......

And then, how do you know if you were just lucky/unlucky in your single sampling?

Answer of course is that you don't .. and can't.

SO how do you choose how to learn something arcane that grabs your fancy? How do you pick a teacher to teach you things there is no real formula for, and no 'real' way of testing how you and 'it' work together? Can you be happy just learning the 'whats'?

If so, there is no need to test anything ... But a couple criteria come to mind if you do want more:

- After training with your teacher, when you test out their ideas in friendly, or not so friendly swordplay, you 'die' less often than you did before.

- You can't beat your teacher.

These parameters also give the relationship meaning (I want what you do), and it keeps true to the idea that the knowledge is FOR something (prevailing against your opponent).

Any other ideas?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Nice People

Jake wrote a post on his blog about the hate wars that flame up with some regularity* targeting anyone with a known opinion, in this case, about self protection.

He makes the point that trolls are basically assholes, not interested in a debate, in 'truth', or in resolving any issues, and that they just troll for self aggrandizing purposes.
He also wishes for respect and politeness as a given. Reason even .... as the arbiter in adult conversation. Shocking ..... ;-)

His point is well made, and his wish for respect and polite behaviour cannot be faulted ... 'Do as you would have done unto you' ... and all that.

But ..... I think there is another angle to this, something that does not occur very often, and caused by an actor much rarer than the common or garden variety troll out in the interwebs, that is actually of benefit to us all.

As much as the common troll, looking to gain status from posturing, and with arguable no skin in the game (trolling as they do far from the reach of any repercussions), is a pointless waste of oxygen. The chaos monger, the angry, vitriolic, hater that comes from a place of fearlessness and purely a wish to 'see the world burn', should not be denied their game. Sometimes one needs an enemy, an advocate of the devil, an abyss, to stare into ....

Locking horns with these folks is rarely useful and best avoided, because, of course, they are not there to debate, or to come to an understanding, or be convinced they are wrong, BUT ...... being occasionally reminded of the walls of opposition that can be thrown across one's identity, one's ideas, one's work, is not a bad thing.

True, unselfconscious, not-for-the-benefit-of-others, push back, can sometimes be far more invigorating (like jumping into an icy lake) than a bunch of polite people, respectful, yet maybe thinking the worst behind curtained eyes.

At least with these crazy people you get to practice believing in your material, your self, your words, and your actions, perhaps even reevaluating if necessary, or testing where the robustness fails .... Not something that comes up as an issue if you are surrounded by decorum all the time. Trick is not to care about changing the mind of the person doing the hating. There really is no need or purpose to that.

Anger and rage focused in one's direction can be a gift ..... All true motivators are.

* - Perhaps the interval is predictable ...? 
See Catastrophe Theory: As an aside, I first heard about this watching a wonderful BBC TV programme called Open University, which was usually on at weird times of the day, late at night, or early on a Sunday morning, for those that wanted to study and get a degree at home. That particular morning's programme featured 2 guys with afros and heavy framed glasses, plaid flares and nylon shirts standing in front of a blackboard ... because it was the 70s and they were talking about mathematics. 
I was absolutely fascinated, and seeing as I remember it to this day, 40 or so years on, well I guess it left an impression.