Sunday, October 07, 2007

Refinement and Nuance

Competence is quick, nuance is slow. Going from zero to sixty, metaphorically taking a completely new student from no skill to useable skill is relatively easy and relatively quick. Everyone makes huge gains when they start a new study- the learning curve is steep, and that can be addictive.

It takes a different kind of teacher and a different mindset on the part of the student to take that competency to a higher level. Perhaps yet a different one to increase the skill still more.

Some go into 'refinement' and that can be rewarding or a trap. You can look at anything through steadily increasing powers of magnification and find endless variation and information. The rock at normal sight is a rock with a given shape and substance. At ten times magnification there are previously unseen cracks, stresses and topography. At a hundred there are many different crystals in complex matrices.. and on and on until you are dealing with particals at the edge of comprehension, or dealing with things that can only be experienced indirectly (aside- this also happens in long-term relationships with spouses or coworkers: things too small to notice in the early months and years become glaring in the selective memory as the easy parts become unnoticed, taken for granted).

Refinement is rewarding in that it is a life-long endeavor of improvement and discipline; a trap in that these details can become more important than the basics and the original reason for studying at all can be forgotten.

I separate nuance from refinement. Refinement can be achieved merely by looking harder. Nuance requires looking in a new way. An example is 'fighting emptiness'. At close quarters it is usually instinctive to attempt tp match strength with strength and a lot of skill training goes into maximizing the use of leverage or exploiting subtle vagaries of momentum and balance. Fighting emptiness is learning to see where the opponent _isn't_, where he has NO strength and begin working in and from this space. It usually requires no new skill, but opens up a vast world of application. Nuances can jack up the learning curve (especially as measured by successful application) back to a beginner's learning speed.

In fighting and martial arts, your competence can be my nuance and vice-versa. If you have studied a system based on delivering crushing power, manipulating the threat's balance and momentum may be an advanced study for you, possibly almost mystical. It is right there and always has been but is invisible until you are taught to see it. Conversely, if my style centers on balance and momentum, the application of crushing power may be a mystery. Both competencies work, both nuances increase the effectiveness.

You will find advanced nuance in many things, some are the same with different names. The concept of fighting emptiness is familiar to me from judo, jujutsu, aikido (thanks SOL), Chen Taiji (thanks, Ted), Japanese swordsmanship and even once in a karate class long ago. Searching for nuance is one of the big advantages of cross-training. There are only so many ways to move a human body- but there are an infinite number of ways of understanding, explaining or teaching the ways. And there are a near-infinite number of ways of prioritizing them, often based on what the skills were dealing with: your village worries about being unarmed against a sword? Better not be there. Your tribe carries out duels with knives on sloping muddy hills? Better learn to slice while crawling. Your culture has hundreds of years of unarmed one on one duels? Gonna have lots of nuance and refinement in those systems... but the nuance will be different than the clans who have spent hundreds of years in a perpetual civil war.

The hard part, when you quest for nuance, is integration. Refinement can be hard too. When you are playing with atoms and crystals it is easy to forget that the problem is human sized. Nuance, though, must be integrated.

It can be hard. The most common example is teaching grappling to strikers. They immediately stop striking the second they hit the ground. They create an artificial separation of these skills: in this situation, these skills; in that situation, those skills. It happens with cops, too. They take a "tactical groundfighting course" and completely forget weapon retention, available force options, radios, the environment and sometimes the mission, going for the submission instead of either the escape or the cuff.

The skills must be played with, the insights allowed to play off of each other with gentle reminders from the teacher when an area of nuance is missed. In most arts, going from zero to sixty, the instructor is teaching you to move. At sixty to eighty, the instructor needs to teach you to see.

1 comment:

Kai Jones said...

I need somebody to run along beside me whispering, like the Romans did with generals having a triumph. Only instead of whispering, "You're mortal," they would say, "There are no rules."