Sunday, February 03, 2013

Three Things

Some of you are working on your list of Principles.  Cool.  Refer back to that link to see where I'm going next.

I'm sure there are more, but for my purposes, there are three distinct modes of teaching and learning:

  • Conditioning
  • Training
  • Play

To make this useful, we have to define them.
For our purposes, 'Training' is verbal teaching, explanation, patterns and repetitions.  Almost anything that you learn as a step-by-step process.  Practicing basics is training.  Going over the mechanics of a particular submission is training.  Kata is training.  Shadowboxing a specific pattern is training.  Whiteboard lecture on SD law or violence dynamics is training.

Conditioning is pairing a stimulus with a response.  Through immediate reward (punishment also works but can have some side effects) it can bring action up to nearly reflex speed.  It has limitations-- it's very difficult if not impossible to condition a complex response. The stimulus must be realistic, etc.  But conditioning is what you need in very fast situations.  And (proper) conditioning does come out under stress.  Responses that have only been trained seem to require experience before they can be accessed under stress (the 3-5 encounters that Ken Murray mentioned in "Training at the Speed of Life").

Play is getting into a chaotic environment with the fewest possible restrictions and getting a feel for what works.  Randori, sparring, live training and competition.  But there are also a lot of games in different things.  And nothing beats reality.  No one has become a good driver just through classroom lessons or simulators.  You can memorize all the vocabulary and grammar rules but until you can bargain and argue and flirt, you don't really know a language.

Conditioning is limited, but it has a critical aspect that is invaluable.  It is not only effective under stress but it is fast when done properly.  How many reps does it take to learn to throw the perfect reverse punch?  That's training.  How many reps did it take for you to learn not to touch a hot stove? That's conditioning.  It is powerful.  And conditioning is always on.  Your hindbrain is constantly learning lessons, getting a feel for what works and what hurts.  It is incredibly common for an instructor to teach something different than he is conditioning.  You teach pulling punches, you will yell at the student who makes contact.  Punching is taught but missing is conditioned.  The student will miss under stress.

Playing is critical because not just improvising but improvising subconsciously (the conscious mind is too slow) is possibly the most critical skill when things go bad.  Playing is how your skills become 'nothing special.'  Just a normal way to move.  Playing moves what you have trained from your too-slow neocortex to a deeper part of your brain.

Training is the aspect I find myself questioning.  Some stuff is complex and almost everything interconnects.  Your higher brain is the only part that can grasp that, so training is critical.  But almost by definition, training wires skills to the part of the brain that is least effective in a crisis.  Critical.  Especially critical for talking about, challenging and improving your stuff.  You can't share information easily or clearly by the other two methods-- so without training everyone is in the trap of their personal experience and personal lives.  I believe it was Kano who said, "We must learn from the mistakes of others because we will never live long enough to make all the mistakes ourselves."

So is training necessary?  How necessary?  How much?  When and how is it counterproductive?  Does rote repetition actually make you worse under stress?  I know it does if the environment is too different. I know it can get you killed if you don't recognize when you are staying on a script and the world is changing.  So is training good?  Sub-optimal? Bad? A necessary evil?  How necessary?  And do most people spend most of their time with that aspect because they believe it works?  Or because the other two are too simple to satisfy our monkey minds?  Or because we all know, on some level, that training is easier, more controllable and often safer than conditioning or play?  And humans love control, safety and ease.

Real quick, the next step in our program, as the students identified the principle became:
Is there an aspect of the principle that can or must be conditioned?  How?
What needs to be trained to understand and apply this principle?
Can we come up with a game that relies on the principle so that it becomes natural, easy and fun?

Note- Play includes conditioning.  Instant feedback to what works and what doesn't; immediate reward and punishment.  And play also provides 'teachable moments' where you can, with a few words, evoke a principle and increase efficiency.


David said...

I really like the "I Method" as a model, and think it helps with the training/conditioning/play issues you bring up.

The introduction phase is training, for sure. It's short, and doesn't need to be long. For most techniques, it's 5 minutes or so. In the isolation phase, when you're drilling a technique, which is a form of training, you can always pair a stimulus with a response. So "isolation" can be a combination of both training and conditioning. Then, the integration phase = playing. And as you said, you're playing and conditioning, and're also training.

So I think the key to minimizing the problems associated with pure training is to go through the thinking portion of it as quickly as possible, and then do most of your training through conditioning and playing...isolation with a stimulus + integration with consideration/thinking through after you're done.

Some people may question the value of training primarily existing inside of conditioning/playing. But I think form is nothing without function. When does a person REALLY learn how to punch? In the air? On a pad? Or against a live opponent? Of course, there are degrees.

Scott said...

Consider the barbell, the heavy bag, and the gun. The novice progression will quickly and efficiently take a male teenager from small to big and weak to strong; works less well if you're older and or female but probably always the best approach for a healthy beginner. After the novice progression the marginal utility of more strength is much less, the cost is more, but do the novice progression for sure; training.

The heavy bag isn't just training, it's conditioning; lotta feedback about how to hit quickly, safely, hard....

Best gunplay I know is paintball. Thoughts?

RXian said...

Play is the most fun for me. I think the biggest advantages are learning to adapt and improvise. It also shows where and how certain skills are lacking. The drawback of play is that many techniques are too easily discarded. Here's what I mean: a class that's learned certain "moves" together learns to look for them and knows how to counter them. So many end up being ineffective in sparring (and perhaps conditioned out of our arsenals). And of course, sparring isn't life or death, so we might get too comfortable.

Teaming is great as it can take many forms and can be worked easily solo. But unintentional conditioning can occur too easily.

Just a few thoughts.

RXian said...

A few more thoughts: conditioning can be incorporated into daily matters.

When approaching someone on a sidewalk, instead of doing the "dance", pick a direction and commit to it.

If you carry a knife, carry it in the same place and use it for everything. A "knife problem" (a bad guy, prying a nail loose, cutting into drywall, opening mail) calls for deploying that knife in a number of positions and circumstances (squating, seated in car, etc.)

Removing firearm at end of the day, draw and move or aim. Don't just pull from holster and set on nightstand (or wherever).

If opening a door, check high w one hand and push low with another while simulating a crash or blast

RXian said...

One more: while having conversations w friends, coworkers, etc., practice moving while speaking (to avoid the habit of being rooted in place while talking) and prepositioning. Work some of what MacYoung calls "shadow-dancing". Might be useful if you find yourself in an "interview".

Quint Oga-Baldwin said...

So much of what you said here applies to what I try to do in teaching foreign languages, it's kind of frightening.

Rory said...

Scott- Did you notice that your progression also mirrors simple to complex skills? Really complex skills, like living or language or fighting have to be played.

Rxian, and others. You can't NOT condition. That part of your brain is always on. As an instructor you have to be constantly alert for when your training accidentally conditions the wrong thing.

Clint- I'm of the opinion that language is probably the closes corollary to fighting. Complex, personal, it has technical and emotional components, connects with different parts of the brain (fighting versus hunting compared to singing versus reciting a math problem...)

Mike Panian said...

Seems to me that there is a dance that goes one between these three ways. Its when the dance doesn't occur that people get stuck or limit understanding and applicability both.

So for example in teaching a punch or push with a "drop step", you create a generalized basically tell people what its for and how to do it generally speaking and then people do that and sometimes folks just stop there or condition themselves without responsive feedback so they create habits that are not functional. If the process of conditioning has lots of feedback its different. If the understanding is tempered with testing and then you constantly return to the drawing board then you keep figuring out things that make it work better, what the context is, how to pull it off in non ideal conditions...

Also, Tim Ferris, in his blog somewhere pointed out that what teachers teach and what they actually do are often not the same.

Part of the feedback is to look at folks who can really pull off what you are wanting to do and actually figure out what they really might be different than what they say they do. And there are often a finite and demonstrable set of commonalities that the successful people all have, and some of those folks don't even know what those features are.

By moving back and forth between theory, working on the approach, testing and then refining we keep moving between training, conditioning, and play.

Mac said...

Be Aware
Be Compassionate
Be First