Thursday, August 05, 2010


Lise Steenerson (her link is down there on the side) is a student of Kasey Keckeisen. On paper, Kasey is the complete package. Respectable ranks in multiple arts, including sport arts (no, it's not combat, but if you don't DO combat there are things you will learn--mainly about yourself--in tournament that you won't get other places) and traditional arts. SWAT leader on top of that. On paper, Kasey is the complete package.

Turns out he holds up on the mat, too. And on the street. But you don't look at an instructor to see if he is any good. You look at the students. And even with the students, technical skill isn't really the best indicator, either (I've seen too many instructors whose 'display' students were trained by other people or had a talent despite the instructor rather than because of). I look at the attitude.

Lise was my first real exposure to Kasey, and it was wonderful. She played. She wasn't afraid to pick a play fight with her instructor, even in public. As a relatively small lady, she would roll with the biggest guys she could find. It was all fun.

I noticed that with Jason and Bill's students as well. They were serious, but they didn't take things seriously. No one, including the instructors, was the least bit afraid of looking silly. No one sat on the sidelines with arms crossed. Every last one, even the very new or very ill, played.

Dinner with Wes Tasker, Mike and Lisa last night. I love talking to all of them, but Wes is special. Things I have only dabbled in he has studied. In a lot of ways it is like talking to Marc MacYoung- we share similar insights and experiences but view them from different enough perspectives that the synthesis is incredible. Except Wes tends to expand my philosophical and moral sensibilities instead of my thug awareness.

He's helped me, immensely, to narrow and define what I am actually doing, and I'll be thinking about it for a while. (Wes was able to draw out that my dissatisfaction with martial arts is almost entirely based on the disconnect between the stated goals and the teaching methodologies.)

Kids learn fast because they are having fun. If you play with something, you come to own it. From the first time that a baby realizes it can move the blurry thing (which is the baby's own hand) everything is about increasing ability to control the world...and it is fun. Moving is fun. Knocking over things and making a Big Noise is fun (spanking from mommy afterwards, Not Fun. Note to toddler self: find a compromise.)

Increasing your power in the world sounds like some kind of Machiavellian plot, but it is really simple and natural. Victims are victims because they have no power. Choosing how we will live and gathering the resources to do so is increasing our power. Gathering the strength to stand up for our beliefs is increasing our power (and, unfortunately, so is forcing them on others... unless they develop power of their own.)

It is a very adult thing to work now for things you will have later. You may have to search for the element of play in that, but it is there.

Knowledge is power. Understanding is more power. Understanding comes from experimenting and questioning and wandering in the unmapped territory, and those are all aspects of play.

This post has wandered, so here's a rule of thumb:
If you are training, anything you do should either work or it should be fun. If it's not fun and it doesn't work, why are you there? And, because things that work increase our power and gaining control over the world has been fun since the first time we moved our own hands on purpose, things that work are fun.

Play. You will learn faster.

Rory's first rule of not burning out in a high-risk job:
"You can take yourself seriously or you can take the job seriously. Never both at the same time."


Elinor said...

Sure. I would love to increase my power. But the nearest school charges me $200 a month for about five minutes of grudgingly given time with an instructor. It's not fun, and it's not learning. I would love to go play, go learn more tai chi, but I just don't have anywhere available to me that I can afford, and is provided by an instructor who is willing to teach their students.

Mac said...

Criminals feel powerless; builds frustration; frustration leads to anger, etc. But mainly, they feel powerless over themselves. We've all encountered (but few so fortunate to have to deal with) the bellowing males beginning the monkey dance. The posturing is due to fear(s) as you have so well said before. Give a criminal (or someone out of control) a little piece of sweet self-power candy and most (not that small percent that are just plain dirt dog mean - although a case can be made here about them also feeling powerless; but they have grown so used to, and successful at, applying violence to make themselves feel good, that there is no 'rehab' strong enough to counter their emotional 'engrams') could be rehab'd.

Maija said...

You 'Play' Eskrima - Always loved that about it.
Also, I was very lucky that my teacher believed that the mind was most open to learning in a play state, so lessons were always fun ... not that they were not challenging and nerve wracking ... but somehow he always managed to ply the fine line between intense focus and flowing play.
I suspect there is an element of chaos and uncertainty that makes play such a great place to learn (and teach) from, and also sometimes hard to maintain, especially as we grow older, and the temptation to seek order and certainty creeps up. (Is that fear?).

Toby said...

Hi rory,

Of course I enjoy all your blog posts as you know, but this resonates deeply....nice...

Thanks for sharing your current journey, it is minimising, to an extent, my need to travel ;)

Mark H said...

Seems like all the great minds in the martial/combat arts come to understand this concept of play. I've read "Understand? Good. Play!" by Masaaki Hatsumi and Benjamin Cole and this just reiterates much of the same thoughts.
I believe the concept of playing to learn works because of doubt. Doubt causes us to hold back, hesitate, and or not fully invest. Play allows us to suspend doubt or at least become distracted from doubt's effcts which gives us a chance to experience the full experience of what we are trying to learn.

Tiff said...

Well said. Baby lions have to learn somehow, right?

Dan Gambiera said...

J. C. Freidrich Schiller Letters upon the Æsthetic Education of Man Letter XV

There shall be a communion between the formal impulse and the material impulse—that is, there shall be a play instinct—because it is only the unity of reality with the form, of the accidental with the necessary, of the passive state with freedom, that the conception of humanity is completed. Reason is obliged to make this demand, because her nature impels her to completeness and to the removal of all bounds; while every exclusive activity of one or the other impulse leaves human nature incomplete and places a limit in it. Accordingly, as soon as reason issues the mandate, “a humanity shall exist,” it proclaims at the same time the law, “there shall be a beauty.” Experience can answer us if there is a beauty, and we shall know it as soon as she has taught us if a humanity can exist. But neither reason nor experience can tell us how beauty can be, and how a humanity is possible.

For, to speak out once for all, man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays.

Rory said...

Very nice. Thanks, everyone.
Swallowtail- one of the things I am working on is the perceived need for teachers. If you want to learn something specific, like Tai chi, then someone who knows Tai chi is important. If you want to learn self defense or how to fight or how humans are on the edge, then you may be better off teaching yourself than relying on learning from someone who is skilled in something that you only perceive to be related.

Special thanks. That's beautiful.

Maija said...

Wow, Dan - That Shiller essay is great. Thanks for sharing that :-)

Here is a quote from Steve Morris on the same subject:
"My personal practice is never fixed. There is no clearly defined way I go about doing things. Everything I do is exploratory or experimental, almost like a kid playing with a new toy--even if it’s something I’m already familiar with. (In fact, I would say that it’s important to be able to look at old ideas from a new perspective.) And although I have an idea of what I’m going to work on within the practice, I’m not absolutely certain how I’m going to go about it.

"My training is about creating experiences from which I have learnt to extract some valuable information. That’s why what I do can’t be systemized: it can hardly be described, let alone broken down into a syllabus of neat and tidy bite-sized chunks. It’s a new experience I’m looking for in the practice, not the religious repeating of an old one or replicating someone’s idea as to what I should be doing."

The complete blog post is here -
"We don't need no education"

jks9199 said...

Regarding teachers...

The advantage of a teacher or proven method is that they can save you the mis-steps and mistakes in finding a method that works.

Of course, that's also the disadvantage because sometimes there's a lot of learning that happens by mistake.

And finding a good teacher or really proven method -- especially for fighting -- is not as simple as it sounds!

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