Sunday, May 28, 2006


Muscles grow through exercise, I am told, because the effort causes tiny tears in the fibers. They don't actually grow during exercise but through the healing process during periods of rest. Learning is like that too- under good instruction and through dedicated effort there is a growth process composed of microscopic acts of destruction.

A punch is not perfected by doing something 'more'- it is perfected by removing every motion, every tension anything and everything that is not a punch from the motion. The hallmark of good fighting is simple efficiency- if my line is simpler, my distance shorter, my power generation cleaner, my targeting more efficient... I will win.

Teaching, at least for what I teach, has more in common with a sculptor chipping away at any piece of marble that doesn't match her inner vision than at a mason building a rock wall.

Those are the minor acts of destruction. Teaching, at the edge of life and death, involves major acts of destruction. Since part of the skill of real confrontation involves internalizing risk and fear, the student must be exposed to real risk and real fear. Whether it's at the high end of two man kata training where a slight lapse in concentration shattered a collarbone or boxing and breaking ribs or a drill with safety equipment and rules that still sent a third of the participants to the hospital, it had to be faced.

We make training as safe as we can, but for the few for whom this is not a hobby they eventually need to reach the edge and spend some time there. Still, the destruction that arises here is peripheral, accidental. Injuries happen when you play hard, but the injury isn't the point.

But sometimes the injuryIS the point. Usually it's a psychological break, not a physical one. A good instructor carefully brings a student to the edge of this cliff, gives them all the tools they need to fly, and pushes them off. Some fly. Some don't.

It's important to be clear here, but very difficult. For every physical inefficiency that slows and weakens a strike, there are psychological issues caused by history or inclination or false information that can cripple you before you even move. Illusions that must be faced and shattered. Once he has them to a certain skill level, Mac puts his students through a multi-man drill with the intent of immobilizing them to helplessness and then to continue the beating. For a young, strong, male fighter it is psychologically crushing... but the only thing that is crushed is a stupid illusion of invulnerability. Some learn, dropping one of many illusions. They fly at the edge of the cliff. Others never return to class, imagining what they will and should do to prevent it ever happening again, rescuscitating their illusion.

I remember some of my breaks- when my judo instructor showed me the old follow-throughs, turning a fun sport into a frightening art, I thought about quitting... but chose to accept the responsibility. When my shoulder dislocated in a match, I learned that pain and injury weren't that big a deal. My first Bull-in-the-Ring I learned that my instinct, even when I was too tired to lift my arms, was still to fight. My last Bull, just after knee surgery I learned that I would rather be crippled than let the team down. And I learned that if I was scared enough I would pray.

They were shattering, but shattering an illusion is like shattering a constricting shell. It's not like breaking a bone, something structural. But when you, as an instructor, push it to this level you don't know who will fly and who will fall. Whether what breaks is a shell or a bone isn't up to you. The student decides. That's scary.

1 comment:

Mac said...

I remember a phrase from one of Bruce Lee's movies; "emotional content" - without it, true power cannot be realized. The mark of a truly great instructor is to guide a student to emotional release, first creating situations where the student will feel the negatives like fear, anger, envy, frustration, disappointment etc., and then, in this most receptive state, almost treating them like a new puppy that has finally gone to the door to be let out to pee rather than peeing on the floor, supplant the negatives with the positives of confidence, composure, love, success, and satisfaction. Then whatever they need to learn will sink in deep, and form bonds with people that you can trust on your six.