Friday, May 1, 2015

A Big To Do

Teaching basic cuts the other day I fell into one of the teaching traps I try so hard to avoid - I taught a fixed step set of strike angles. It's part of Sonny's older system from before he transitioned into flow teaching and he had left it far behind by the time I started. I learned it from other students mostly because it was an interesting part of his history, and we ended up doing it the other day because we were talking about solo practice and striking ideas. It's an engaging little set with many parts to it, and indeed is a great way to put sword, body and feet together .... Well, sort of ....

As a rule, I don't like teaching 'perfection' or taking actions out of flow. In fact, I much prefer having the skills come from giving people problems to solve than doing them as stand alone, repetitive, exercises. It means that there is nothing 'intellectual' being added, just the simple process of seeing a target and reaching out to touch it. Something even babies know how to do.

Of course, strikes need to cut, not just touch, so you need good targeting, accuracy of cut angle and blade angle, along with correct range. Of these, I would say that range is probably the most important, because if you miss, nothing else matters.

But how do you teach the dynamic quality of range from standing still?

Well, generally what happens is because you understand the range issues and thus footwork that the student can't, you start talking and fixing things for them. And before you know it, you have a student trying to keep their hands, their foot placement, their grip, their blade angle, their hip turn, all coordinated in their brains. And if that's too hard, you break it down even more to help students 'remember' all the parts that need to fit together.

*face palm*

How much easier would it be to invite the student to dance, and just say "Can you cut me from there? OK let's move around and only cut when you can reach me". "Oh, you just scratched me - too far away'. "Where were you aiming?" "Try the belly cut". "Ah, you plowed the blade into the target instead of cut it. Feel that"?

Doing the cuts in context makes all the parts that need 'remembering' unnecessary to remember! If you can do a good, clean, cut (blade angle and cut angle the same) from the right place (reach the target and use as much of the cutting edge as possible) and recover the blade easily. You are doing all the bits of blade manipulation, grip, hip movement, stepping, foot placement, and weight shift you need to!

Flowing DOES feel more hectic though, more difficult than the piece by piece version, and it's hard to feel so clumsy and uncertain, or deal with a the high failure rate that is inevitable when learning in real time trial and error.

But we know that it's far more productive to physically 'DO' than loop through 'THINK and DO' when actually in the fight, so if you can leave out the 'think' part in training, surely it can only be a good thing?

I think Sonny thought so, and this is why he changed how he taught. All the same cuts are still there, he just cut out the meaningless step of doing them without connection to purpose.

Flow training may cut out the certainty and the feeling of achievement that doing fixed step or patterns gives you, but that's a bonus too. There are no downsides to becoming familiar with uncertainty, or learning to keep a calm mind in the midst of the chaos of swordplay.


The European Historical Combat Guild said...

I agree. Though how does one do that with larger groups of students. The mindset, as with all training has to be right, but when dealing with a less... Rigid form. The mid set is harder as you say... To get that in there from the early stages is a challenge...

Maija said...

A challenge indeed, but one that needs facing I think.
It's too easy to fall back on the patterns and repetition model ... which is why people do it again and again.
The drills I wrote for the book are my first attempt at finding this alternate path. Though mostly stuff I got from Sonny, there are modifications, progressions, and in-fill drills to hopefully ... hopefully ... work for people training remotely or when neither knows what the 'end product' looks like.
We will see how they go.

Scott said...

I agree with everything you said but I disagree with the conclusion.
The solo forms are the set up for the cadenza, and that has a lot of value. But the pieces need to be there:
1) a violent world, where nearly everyone has experience with violence
2) music
3) offerings to the gods/spirits and the dead, and whatever shamanic or trance-medium empowerment fits the person
4) an audience

Dumbing things down, makes them harder to do, and harder to understand.

Unknown said...

I have learned through out the years that there is a progression. You might spend 20 min on teaching a beginner student a dead pattern or a stagnant technique( as we call it in my circle ). We do this because the student is a beginner. However as soon as the student learns what we taught them , we train it with them " ALIVE " = real timing, real energy, progressive resistance. In my opinion when training beginners this is the most efficient and productive way. When training advanced students with " NO " ego ( Monkey brain ) the training method is " ALIVE " right away. By the way ! I've been using monkey brains for over ten years, as in don't feed the monkey. I don't require compliments sister. Also I learned years ago that all our " ALIVE " training can be done without injury. Most of our daily training occurs at about 5 - 20% percent intensity = " SELF PERFECTION " . When we want to test our technique under pressure we push from 20% percent to 100% percent = " SELF PRESERVATION " ( in my circle, we call that the laboratory. I got to meet Maija Soderholm this past weekend. Maija helped me with the particulars of Sonny's pendulum footwork. Funny thing we walk our path in search of the truth and along our journey we meet folks along the way who share with us. This sharing is what we as human beings are on the planet to do. I wish you the best in your journey " Lady Blade "