Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Brittle Plasticity

There are some drills that everyone should do but no one should do too often. The kind of boxing that teaches the most eventually leads to permanent brain damage. There are some of the drills where you challenge social conventions, which is very important when it is necessary. People who challenge social conventions constantly, just to feel special, are assholes. Some of the drills only have a valuable lesson the first time. I have a variety of exercises to see if the students are fighting to the goal. If you repeat the same drill, the students will do the right thing, but maybe not because they understand the concept. Maybe just because they remember the answer.

The ability to fight to the goal is based on the student's ability to correctly identify the goal in the moment. Once they have been told what they should have done, they may learn something but many do not get any closer to learning to choose for themselves.

The plastic mind exercises are the same thing. There are variations of them, three 'stages' that I use (though Edwin insists on three-and-a-half). The purpose is to introduce the student to the reality that the self is malleable. That a relatively small shift in attitude or point-of-view can profoundly impact how the student moves, thinks and feels. Sometimes doing more to improve fighting efficiency in a two minute game than the student will get in a year of physical drills.

We know the mind is that important in fighting. Ask any cop whether he would rather fight a 200 pound black belt who was afraid of getting hurt or an untrained 110 pound housewife who didn't care if she got hurt as long as she hurt you.

We also know the mind is malleable. Sleep deprivation, dehydration, protein, blood sugar can all profoundly affect how we think and act. So can the first cup of coffee, or even a good or bad pep talk. We know this, but our little monkey mind feels all of reality shift into terrifying gray at the thought that "I am not who I think I am, the center of my reality, myself, is not stable."

If the thing that senses the world is variable, then the world itself must be terrifying chaos...

Yadda yadda yadda. We know we change. If we think about it for a minute, we start to realize how small whatever stable core there is might be (the old koan of how much can be taken away and still have you be you.)

Working with this change is powerful. Consciously controlling it. Not just finding the motivations that let you slip the leash-- you can actually practice what you will become when that happens. Many martial artists have played with their bodies, pushing limits of strength and flexibility. Then they play at another level, soft or structured and find new concepts of flexibility and entirely new ways to be strong. Right there, they are on the edge of playing with their minds as well... but I can't think of any that expressly take it into that territory.

Even knowing that fighting is more mental than physical.
Even espousing the critical role of mindset.

I can be a bastard, I can be a saint. I can be happy or sad. All as choices, simple choices. And I can be a trout. Or the wind. Each of those choices will change how I move, how I relate to the people around me, friend or threat. How I think and how I feel.

The danger is that something that can be expressly designed to help teach a form of flexibility can quickly become a thing of right and wrong. I tell you to fight like fire, it should be the archetype of fire in your brain, not mine. There are a hundred ways to differ from my archetype, but there is no way to do it wrong. But the minute it enters your head, whether from your insecurity or a bad teacher's words that there is a right and wrong way, what was meant to be flexible becomes rigid. An exercise meant for you to discover and delight in your own plasticity, becomes another brittle breaking point, potentially.


Kai Jones said...

You're asking how to teach flexibility without the teaching itself becoming dogmatic. I think having students teach each other is one way to expose them to alternatives, to thinking in different ways.

Josh Kruschke said...

Is this where the conservitism of a system fails us? Are systems, generated buy us, inherently geared toward finding the "answer?"
Are we as thinking human beings geared towards finding the one true answer for every thing, instead of finding what works in the moment?
Is this a failure on our part for not understanding our true goals for what we are trying to learn or understand?
Something I've been working on for my self is I wrote out, what I believe, is my code of conduct. I call it "The Tao of Josh" it is my way of keeping my self in check. If I'm tired, cranky, just do something inhast or thoughtlessly, it forces me to quickly evaluate is this the correct action I want to take and is this who I want to be.
Some will say if you have to think about it it's not who you truly are. Maybe, but are any of us who we think we are. I choose to be the person I want to be.
I think before any of us are ready to except or learn anything from someone else we need to first look at ourselves, and understand where we are at now in our lifes journey.
Do we understand our gouls and what we want to acomplish with the things we set for ourselve to do.

Just some thought,

Josh Kruschke said...

I want to look at what you wrote here:
"The ability to fight to the goal is based on the student's ability to correctly identify the goal in the moment. Once they have been told what they should have done, they may learn something but many do not get any closer to learning to choose for themselves."

In stead of telling the student's what they 'should of done.' How about telling them some of the things they could of done. Maybe chalnging them to come up with something new for next time. One implies a correct answer, and the other opens up the thought process to inovation as the student might think new and outside the box.

This might keep the drills from becoming stale.

What do you think?

Rory said...

Josh agree on your first post- who you are can be at least as much a decision as a discovery. The second post, I don't think you know the drills. Your assumptions of what happens aren't quite on. and if I give specific details it will ruin the drills when you get a chance to play them.

Josh Kruschke said...

I don't know the drills. Waiting for the book, and that is why I was trying to keep it as a general sugestion if its not applicable then its not applicable. I was think after the first time you go through them blind, then it becomes a mental drill after that.

I guess if there is very specific principles being learned than than it wouldn't work.

I guess I'm just going to have to go through them the next time your in Austin.

Josh Kruschke said...

Also from you just said I guess I shouldn't read about the drills till I'm able to go go through them?

Drew Rinella said...

He means he yells at you for not pulling the weapons off the wall.


That was one drill that had impact on my life far beyond the jujitsu matt. I believe it is the same reason for reading "Steal This Book." Except Abby Hoffman definitely qualified as an asshole.

Josh Kruschke said...

Drew I remember him writing about that in the book (MoV) and in the blog, and about when ever you a rolling call freeze and your delve of I need to end this now what could I do. Rory also you have mentioned drill or demonstration where you pummel someone with as closed to full intensity as possible. This from what I understand is give you an idea that a violent encounter will be nothing like sparring. There have been other clues but nothing concrete.
So I'm trying not to read into anything, but I'm probably failing at it.

Maija said...

I think you indicated one of the variables which can generate progression, or lose it, when you said 'bad teacher's words'.
Who you play WITH is important.
Someone who is already familiar with, and can alter themselves plastically can help people who are unfamiliar with the feeling by generating spontaneity in the flow - situations to be explored, qualities of movement to be experienced - in the moment, with no preconceived answers.

I think spontaneity/chaos/unpredictability are keys to really learning something about this ability to not be who you think you are /should be. But that feeling has to be created (and sustained) in the play, or else the learning can become rote.
A more 'plastic' player can also learn from the less so, obviously, as they often come up with unusual 'answers'.
I'm also not saying that 2 players incapable of changing themselves cannot play together, it's just that in my experience at least, I learned the most by playing with someone with the ability to change themselves. It opened a bunch of doors that I would not even have 'seen' otherwise.

kenpokiwi said...

I guess the part that interests me is "The Goal". Looking at history, everybody had a different goal in combat. The Leader, win the war, the General, win the battle, the foot-soldier, win the privilege of staying alive. Whose goal is more relevant? One of the greatest teachers I have ever known goes by the name of Pain. His classes are never pleasant but I attend at every opportunity. While far from the experience of those such as yourself, Kenpo has saved my life on three specific occasions and kept my relatively pain free in a dozen others. I have never really considered goals as line items but in more general terms. As an AKKI guy, my goals were to internalize the "Master Keys" and develop my weapons to be as efficient and functional as possible. I've been running Scenario Drills (what I have called Gauntlet Drills) for sixteen years and while they do prepare the student to deal with the stress and suddenness of combat, they don’t develop the physical weapons required when the drill goes to “hands on”. If the student hasn't developed the tools to hurt someone (punches, kicks, etc..) he's still behind the eight ball. When you run the drills, are you assuming the student knows how to kick without falling down or punch with authority? My instructor, Paul Mills, has been bouncing for over 40 years and at 63 still puts naughty young men down in his bar. His experience has changed the way I learn and teach. You on the other hand, have gone into those dark places that men such as Mr. Mills or myself will probably never see and that gives you insight that only a handful of people in this country possess. Without giving anything away, I would like to better understand your idea or concept of “goal” as it relates to your drills.

Mac said...

Self-actualization is for the comfortable. Reality is for people who aren't comfortable. Perception is knowing the difference.

Kai Jones said...

Mac, I don't know what self-actualization is (and I'm too lazy to google it) but I'm pretty comfortable with reality.

kenpokiwi said...

Not sure I agree Mac but am open to further clarification. My experience tells me that right or wrong, and individual's perception IS THEIR reality. Not everybody strives for self-actualization and are very comfortable just having all their base needs met. I don't give a crap "why" I'm here. My only concern is "what" I do while I'm here. My actions define me and as a career martial artist, I strive to increase my knowledge, improve my skill, and to become a better teacher for my students. My morals and values are pretty much dictated by the society I live in. If I had been born in a hooch on the side of hill in the Korengal Valley, I'm sure my morals and values would be significantly different but as long as the base needs are met, I bet I'd be happy little goat herder.

Scott P said...

I believe that the Daoist term/practice known as "Daoyin" actually means "plasticity." This hermit/performance practice is one of the key roots of Chinese martial arts. ("Do-in" in Japanese and Korean, I think)
More precisely Daoyin refers to any idea/practice which acknowledges that there is an inside which "pulls" and and outside which "pushes"--if you can experience the separation or distillation of the two, it will leave you some wiggle room. Some emptiness to dance in.