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?


Jake said...

"You can't beat your teacher."

I'm never comfortable with this one. It makes more sense with swordplay, I think (since the sword can serve as an equalizer), but still...

Cus D'Amato couldn't beat Mike Tyson, but he could out coach him.

I feel like "I can't beat SOMEONE at the school" might be a better marker. Maybe it's the teacher. Maybe it's the top student/disciple/whatever.

Maija said...

I was thinking of the 2 ideas as both together, or as 'either/or' .... But yes, agree that sword play might be a special case (... Judo/BJJ too perhaps ...?)
And yes, senior students, their skills AND demeanor are always good gauges of whether a school is good or not ....

Kami said...

Maybe you can beat your teacher, but not 'surprise' them. Part of any style of combat is chance, including the student getting lucky, or the teacher being distracted and not on top game, or the teacher has a bad knee .... But I think a sign of a good teacher is that s/he has done and seen so much of the art, that it's very unlikely the student will do something that is completely outside the instructor's experience.

I'm also wary of teachers that have to 'win' to prove that they're worthy to be your teacher. I have much more confidence in instructors that are willing to not only acknowledge a point a student makes on them, but doesn't get excited by the contest (is in observation mode rather than dueling mode). I'm even more impressed by instructors who constructively lose. "I'm going to create an opening for you so you can take it and learn what it feels like to take advantage of an opening." Because if the instructor is always winning, that means the student is always losing, and never learns how to win.

Maija said...

Kami - Yes! Agree with you comment, all of it!

I really was not thinking of the 'winning' as a training method, more an occasional test, or an 'interview'.

In training, for sure, the 'taken by surprise' nuance is perfect, and the intentional 'losing' is key ... This is how I learned and how I teach ...

However I was talking about something a little different, and thank you for helping me refine what I'm trying to say -

This post was inspired because someone I know inquired about training. This person already knows how to fight (for realz yo!) and it got me thinking - Why do they want to train? ..And why with me?

I understand an interest in culture and history, I also understand the motivation of learning something different, new, fun, and that probably takes care of most of the people that ask ... BUT my train of thought did not stop there ... it lead me towards a belief that I have, that sword training can enhance any other martial art. It does this because lethal weapons necessitate superb evasion skills and elevates the importance of being able to really 'play' your opponent on a psychological level - The risks are just too high otherwise.

Thing is, this stuff really is not 'necessary' for many (most?), especially empty hand practitioners, and only really useful for those that are weaker and smaller, or those interested in refining their ability to avoid taking damage.

So, perhaps as I looked to validate the 'why', I realized it's actually easy to find out.

Can you beat me at this game?

If the answer is no, then it seems I have something to share that is of use, a gap in your practice. If you CAN ... then there is nothing I can teach you, you have it already.

Does that make sense?

Jake said...

"Can you beat me at this game?

If the answer is no, then it seems I have something to share that is of use, a gap in your practice. If you CAN ... then there is nothing I can teach you, you have it already.

Does that make sense"

Hmmm. Still doesn't track for me. Granted, I'm coming from having spent a lot of the last decade working on/in unarmed striking combat sports (Muay Thai/Boxing), and to a lesser extent, MMA.

I've seen plenty of boxing and Muay Thai coaches who couldn't beat the people they are coaching. They still had lots of knowledge to share.

I suppose, again, you could sub out testing yourself against the fighter to decide if the coach has something worth sharing...

Maija said...

Well, like I think I said - The other test would be if you can beat others easier using what the coach has taught you ...

I think the disconnect here is that in a sports context, what you are learning, and how well you are doing it is pretty easy to test ... you fight/spar/compete. So the first option I mentioned in the post covers it .... Did what the coach told you to do improve your game?

I understand that there are many precedents of coaches being able to teach and troubleshoot from the sidelines, a third party perspective is very valuable for sure, and a good coach is a good coach if they can see your flaws and fix them, regardless of personal prowess ....

It's also ridiculous to think an old guy can box some fighter in his prime .... but that's because they cannot take the damage, do not have the speed or the power necessary within the confines of the game to win ..... Muay Thai, MMA same same.

In sword play it's a bit different perhaps .... someone could teach you by sitting in a chair and talking, sure, BUT ... I still maintain that in dueling, and perhaps BJJ where skills and subtlety grow with age, if I can't handle what you are throwing at me, on some level I don't have an answer to a 'problem' that I should be able to solve to add to your skillset.

Perhaps it's a personal need to know that I can do things you don't understand, can't see, get surprised by, to feel I have something to offer? If I can't demonstrate what I mean .... can't prove the ideas work ... what am I teaching? And what are you learning?