Sunday, May 29, 2011

Children of Blood and Brain

I've got at least four things I need to write about, but first...

Athens and Bruno and his crew have been a blast. Good people and good fighters, mostly from an MMA background-- and these guys love to wrestle. Enough of them working high-risk professions that we have a common language even though we didn't, for the most part, have a common language.

But it has been four hard days-- if I wasn't training I was hiking around Athens or being stuffed with fantastic food. Asleep late, up early. It has been great, but it will be good to wing it on home. Really missing my K.

The ideas I need to write about (placed here for reference so I don't forget later):
1) One of the students went into full trance in the Plastic Mind exercise. Some interesting observations and ties in well with some mystical practices.
2) "I'd rather be tried by twelve than carried by six" and specifically why it is a nonsensical platitude.
3) Turning into a fortune cookie.
4) "Is there a curriculum for this?"

Okay, now to the thought about children of blood and brain.

If you don't have children, you at least have been a child. Almost all biology and all of mammalian history has been about children. Your children are more like you than a stranger's child. In any given population, some traits work better than others. Those with the good traits have more children and slowly, ever so slowly, the species drifts to look more like the successful ones.

(Nota bene: One of the things people screw up is trying to bring the teleological fallacy into this, assuming a plan or assigning personal values to a natural process. Sure, being smart and strong and fast are good things, from our point of view. But if you are smart and strong and fast and opt to have only two children and your neighbor is a vile, lazy slug but has fathered fourteen illegitimate children, nature is valuing what he has, not what you have, not what you might think nature should value. And this process never stops.)

So we have children of our blood and we are children of someone else's blood.

But we also have ideas and we teach. The ideas are children of our brain, or rather a form of what the old naturalists called the 'germ' (like sperm and ova or pollen or seed). Spreading the germ transforms all of your students and many of your friends into your children. Progeny, rather.

There are a lot of parallels between ideas and genes, or children and students. Some ideas die out, others thrive. Some spawn a huge number of variations and create a complex web, others are monolithic and simple. The ideas that survive aren't necessarily the best by our human standards (of course we all believe that our ideas are the best or we would change them. Really sure we would. Sigh). And ideas, and those who hold them, will battle for survival.

A powerful idea can create millions of children, for good or bad. Shakespeare's words have spawned immense creativity. Or go back sixty years to find a demagogue who started a war and slaughtered millions.

I see another pattern here, and I see it in teaching and parenting both. Some people raise their children to be good children. To know their place as children: "You'll always be my baby." It makes them manageable and a comfort, and sometimes it seems a very healthy, safe and pleasant way to grow up. But teaching a child to be a good child is very different than teaching them to be a good adult. "You won't be a little kid forever. You need to learn how to handle this."

Teaching the way I do makes sense to me. In the last two days I've been called LSD ("That Elements drill changed our minds, for Kostas it was just like beer but for Thanasis and me it was like LSD.") Lucifer ("Not in the bad way, like the devil. He also brought the light.") And a contagion (I'm pretty sure that was a mistranslation and he meant "affected," not "infected" but it was funny anyway.) I think it is hitting some people hard because in this context they are used to being taught like children-- doing what they're told, cautioned not to break anything...and careful not to get their feet wet.


zzrzinn said...

The plastic mind and element drills really resonated with me as well.

Weirdly they were the only time I felt like I was able to let go and actually fight like me, instead of what I thought I was supposed to be doing.

The only thing I can compare it to is the shock of working against someone much bigger than yourself and having to "think small", but even that pales in comparison.

Joe Callahan said...

Interesting post. Richard Dawkins called those children of the brain "memes", transmitted cultural ideas. We may give our offspring our genes but the people who teach them may end up shaping them just as much. I don't have kids but have done a fair amount of teaching in different roles and I really believe its true. Good thing for a MA/self-defense instructor to remember. They have a lot of impact.

Unrelated note: I'm about a third of the way through the new book and liking it a lot. Hopefully one of these times you come to Boston I'll be able to make it to a seminar.

Anonymous said...

ok, have you done LSD?..if not it is very easy to make irrelevant generalisations about it..............if you have then it will affect you deeper than you to children, mine are fiercly independent.and they don't rely upon me.and I reaqlly wish now that they did

Jim said...

I had a conversation with a student of mine following a tournament. He did well in terms of bringing trophies home -- but he didn't do well in terms of applying what I'd taught him. At one point, I told him "you have to learn the rules to know how and when to break them."

It's easy to play games with ourselves, and to coast along letting someone tell us what to do. That's what's at the core of prescriptive training (use response X for attack Y). And it's a necessary starting point, I think. I need my two year old to do what I tell him, and not demand I explain why he can't run into the street or off the ledge or grab the hot pan. Martial students start by drilling sound principles in a fairly prescriptive mode, whether that's a paired kata method, drills, or whatever. The whole point of both is to instill sound principles so that the student can eventually break free of the prescriptive mode, responding freely.

Lots too think about here. I'm not 100 percent sure where I'm going with it.

b said...

Rory - there are a couple of great lectures on TED on memes I think you will enjoy.

Joshkie said...

Jim -

Why can't we start of training the why from the beginning?
I think it's just laziness on or part when we go, just do it because I said so with out the why.
Is it so much more difficult to go, do this and this is why?

Just my thoughts,

Kasey said...

"Really missing my K."
Awwww, thats sweet. I miss you too. Oh, you mean Kami. Never mind

Jim said...

Josh --

Some people do. But it's hard for both teacher and student. My personal opinion is shaped by my own training. My teacher drilled us extensively on fundamental techniques; he taught us that "creativity is built on sound principles; principles must be applied to the rules; the rules are shaped by the environment (includes things like self defense vs. arrest vs. tournament, icy ground or mud, and lots more...)"

I start with prescriptive drills: attacker throws a punch, defender responds with a particular combination of step/block/counter. As they develop confidence and skill, the attackers can change the attack, and the defender begins to find different options within the same framework. So where the first time it's step forward, up block & counterpunch, as they work, it might become lean forward, deflect and use work into a choke/takedown. The same principles are at play, even if it looks completely different.

To reach the same goal without that patterning/prescriptive stage... Well, the only way I can see to do it involves getting hit a hell of lot while trying to figure it out.

Kasey made a good point in a recent blog entry about this. In trying to paraphrase it, I'm messing it up a bit -- but the end as it applies here is that giving the students time-tested, proven techniques as a starting point should allow them, if they're also given the freedom down the road, to surpass the teacher.

Joshkie said...

What I have seen as an outside observer is a lot of the time we make things overly complicated for no reason.

Question is there no way to teach the principles (the why) with out teaching the technique or the box. You spind enough time learning something you build up a bias toward it. You lose some mental flexibility the ability to think out side the box.


Jonny said...


It is important to give people good fundamentals and basics (not the same thing) and build from there. There are no short cuts to training and this is a logical progression for a student with no experience.

The problem is not with the method but when it is the only thing the teacher provides. Many just teach you enough to pass your gradings and stick to the letter of the curriculum. This is lazy and won't do the student any good in the long run. Creative thinking and mental flexibility needs to be taught to most people.

Joshkie said...

My point of view is from the learning and training of the mind. I tend to assume, right or wrong, that what will work mentally will work in with the physical learning proccess.

"You lose some mental flexibility the ability to think out side the box." Does this work in the physical?

What I noticed from reading "Drills" and from some other clues in Rory's writing like when he talks about us already knowing how we move, "We've been doing it all our lives," is if we know what is possible and we see something that needs doing we can just do it. We won't need to think, what technique do I use in this situation. We can come up with something even if it's dealing with something we never come a cross before.

It's a short step from this is one solution that has been found for the problem; to, this is 'the' answer to the problem. It has been my experience that the more institutionalized a learning proccess becomes the more rigid it becomes.


Joshkie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joshkie said...

Johnny -

I think we're attacking the problem from a similar place.


richard grannon said...

Rory Miller must be one of the most intelligent, insightful instructors out there right now. Great post.