Sunday, July 5, 2015


Rob asked -

1)As someone with what seems to be a very good 'student' mindset and experience teaching, do you prefer (as either student or teacher) the direct approach of taking a specific problem and 'solving' it? Or do you like to "go down the back alleys".? Does this 'faith' based approach have more potential to ingrain concepts that can be applied to a range of situations?

First off, I don't really think of the long game, as I call it, as 'faith based', though I guess on some level the student has to have 'faith' that the path is actually going somewhere useful for them.

I do think that some problems need to be faced, looked in the eye and taken on. Seeing one's own faults in an example. You have to admit to yourself that you have a gap in your practice, or something that does not work, and only then can you work on getting rid of it. Where this approach falls down is when you really don't believe you need to change. And remember, belief is an emotional response and not a rational one, however much we try to rationalize it into being logical. Examples of this would be "Well I hit you too (even though I am dead)", or, "I expect to be cut (but I got you too)", or, "Why would I need to practice this dance-y stuff (just because I got cut)"?

"Well I hit you too" really means - I do not need to change.
"I expect to be cut" really means - I'm good enough as I am.
"Why would I need to practice this dance-y stuff"? really means - My imagination is too small.

So how do you show someone a reason to change? How do you create the space in their brains to entertain the idea of change? And how do you get them to actually change?

My thought is that the body knows if something is useful or if it is not, to a much greater degree than the brain. So you have to bypass the resistance by speaking to the body directly, and somehow keeping the brain distracted or busy so it cannot resist.

None of this stuff is instantaneous, so you need to entertain/keep busy the resisting part of the brain for enough time for the material to sink into the body and become useful. The body can then tell the mind to switch tracks.

As everyone is different, this involves some experimentation and calibration by the teacher, and must engage the student to inspire them to continue.

The alternative approach is to say - Do as I say. No questions. No thinking. Absolute obedience. This can work, but it shuts down the brain in a way that I don't think is optimal. The way I learned, and try to teach may be more difficult, and more subtle, but the engagement of the mind in confusion and uncertainty is in itself a far more useful state in which to learn to adapt, because if you think about it, you are actually learning about engaging in a chaotic environment which is what dueling, or fighting, is! It's inbuilt, unlike the rigid way, which is absolutely controlled and thus non transferable.

So yes to the last part of your question too. If training this way can show you chaos, uncertainty, and how to keep a calm focus and less ego ... it absolutely spills over into all areas of human interaction and life in general.

2)As someone that has been training and playing for quite a while, had meaningful teaching relationships with at least two different people and has a wide/eclectic experience within martial arts, how exactly have/do you identify people you want to learn from? How do you analyse and judge what they do? After all there are plenty of people that can move in ways that you can't but I'm guessing you don't necessarily want to be able to move like all of them. On a practical level are there any games or exercises you use for baseline testing when exchanging with someone?

'Identifying teachers' happens differently depending on your skill level.

In the beginning you don't know what you are looking for, or at. There's no real way to gauge what is 'good' or appropriate for you until you try. For me it was a case of seeing stuff and thinking 'that looks cool. I want to do that'. So, I started fencing because I watched Errol Flynn movies.

It can also happen because someone you know says 'you should try this'. So, I started doing Tai Ji because the guy I worked out with at the gym said it improved his lifting form (and I had watched Kung Fu the TV series when I was a kid).

Conversely, I never took up Judo because my first class gave me such a headache from learning how to fall and roll, I never went back.

Later when you start to see levels of skill you had not seen before, you might feel something is missing from what you are doing and start to experiment with going to workshops and seminars and dabbling in stuff that comes your way. Perhaps you read more, or watch videos or other stuff. I started watching Samurai movies and took a year of 6am classes in Aikido Jo because you got to wear a Hakama and I'd always wanted to wear one.

Note that I still did not KNOW what I was looking for, but just by doing, I found (in my opinion), better and better teachers - for me. Or at least I found stuff to do that I thought was totally fun and kept leading me onwards.

I knew I wanted to train with Sonny when I saw him video footage of him. I probably would not have understood his movement had I not already played with both western and eastern sword styles and studied Bagua footwork. However, I saw it and knew. I mean I KNEW that is what I needed to do next. The fact that he was difficult to find and he did not take on many students made it extra fun and exciting to try.

So what guiding forces do we have so far?  
Following someone I thought was cool.  
Elitism coupled with super badass coolness.

Not exactly a role model of rational sense and virtue am I?

So ARE there any guidelines? No, not really. It's a very organic process which will probably have a fair few dead ends as part of the path. But that's OK, and as it should be. Often we need negatives to point out the positives and I really don't think they are anything to avoid or worry about.
If anything, the only red flags to watch out for are systems that are rigidly closed, secret, and obsessively cultish, and ones that do not 'allow' you train elsewhere. Also best to avoid teachers that are self titled, or who abuse their status, and especially ones who you never get to actually touch or move with.  Another good tell is if the senior students are assholes. If they are, all you will learn there is how to be one too.

In a nutshell, if you let go of the idea that there is only one 'best and only truth' you'll never make a 'wrong' choice.  Just keep an open mind but believe nothing. Do, but do not take too seriously.

Be an explorer not a consumer. But whatever you do keep going. It's all intel the system can use to improve if you engage with it that way. The only certainty is that if you do not practice, you will never get anything.

As to the very last part of your question. Can you give me some more detail about what you mean by 'baseline' and what you are trying to find?