More and More About Less and Less

As a writer and a former student of acting, I people watch. Sometimes I’m judgmental when I don’t mean to be. A lot of times I form stories in my head. And most of the time the stories happen on their own. Not sure what it is that makes me do this, but here I am. If you’ve read my bio, then you know how I feel about the martial arts school I’d come from. But in their defense they have worked very hard to become nationally recognized, especially under the Ed Parker name, and have good relations with certain officials in the Chinese community.

Uhhhhh...

Uhhhhh...

And in the great comedic words of Brian Regan: I don’t want to step on anyone’s beliefs…well…here we go.

I had received an invitation celebrating the head black belt’s 25th anniversary in martial arts, honoring him as teacher and master. The man has done a lot for the school and the discipline. And here’s where I have an issue: the discipline.

Da Man

Da Man

I had majored in kinesiology, study of human movement, at university. One of the fundamental principles in learning movement is repetition.

Ah...uh...it's an A!

Ah...uh...it's an A!

Take writing for example. When we first learned how to write the letter ‘A’, we probably traced dashed lines that formed that letter. The teacher then removed the training wheels and asked us to write the letter ‘A’ on a blank sheet of recycled paper. We learned how to sound out simple words like ‘see’, ‘dog’, ‘run’. Learned the basic structure of a sentence. Then we were taught what a basic paragraph looked like.

Whoppah!

Whoppah!

Learning martial arts isn’t too far from that. You learn what a fighting stance is, where to put your hands, learn defensive moves like blocking and attacks like punching and kicking. The teacher demonstrates. The student follows.

Once a student learns the alphabet (punching, kicking, blocking), simple self-defense techniques are taught. Someone grabs your shirt, you trap his wrists by grabbing them so he can’t hit you and knee him in the nuts, the balls, the family jewels. More properly known as the groin. (Why are all attackers male?) As the color of your belt changes, so does the complexity of the techniques, like learning how to write a paragraph.

There’s only one problem with this.

When a high school student is given an assignment to write an essay, she must come up with the words on her own. She’ll be given a subject, but she has to do the work.

Fighting is no different. When a person gets attacked, she must fend for herself. Her teacher won’t be there to help. And because people are different, so are their attacks. An attack on a woman will be different than on a man. A man attacking will be different than a woman attacking.

Now, if you’ve watched a boxing match, you’d know that a fight is very dynamic.

Fundamental principle in human reaction: When learning how to cope with two or more different kinds of stimuli, one must train in that similar environment. So if you want to play classical music, then you'll train to play classical music. Make sense?

The Greatest Ever

The Greatest Ever

Boxers work on technique all the time. Thing is, he can have the best punch in the world, but it’s useless if he can’t hit his opponent. So he focuses on accuracy through different drills like mitt and bag work, and, more importantly, he spars. Not only does he have to contend with his own footwork and where he is in relation to his opponent, he must deal with his opponent’s aggression, physical strength, etc. However, having one sparring partner can become stagnant. Often boxers will have several to mix things up. One person’s tells in poker will differ from another, as an example.

My former school did almost no partner drills or pad/bag work with their general student population. No physical drills in an art that is physical. So what did they do? Practice self-defense techniques in the air. Something Bruce Lee argued against vehemently. Below is a video of how most of the training is done but wasn't from the school I'm referring to. It's just a random video that showcases my point.

It was at this point where I’d realized their method of teaching was highly limited. Then came the straw that broke the camel’s back.

We had often made fun of other disciplines like Tae Kwan Do, Karate and such. That once someone gets a black belt, they learn more of the same stuff. They have a saying: You learn more and more about less and less. Clever, yes. Astute? Not so much.

In the school, once a black belt is earned, “new” techniques are learned. All of which are practiced without a partner, in the air, like a student learning to trace more and more complex essays. The value wasn't there. It's like a wrestler practicing alone on the mat. If he only does that, he's not going to fare well against a live person.

They teach: Think outside of the box but bring it to us first and we’ll let you know if we approve of it. My best friend brought them ideas, which they shot down, only to integrate them and call it their own. They gave no credit to my friend. Why? I'm not sure. I don’t think they know. Many of their teachers left, teachers whom I like to term thinkers.

So when I got the invitation, all I could think of was how little has changed there. Certainly, the head black belt has learned a lot. Knowing what I know about human movement, I am certain he’s learned more and more about less and less.

Way of Karate Do

Old fashioned martial arts schools are behind the times. photo-1

Recently in the past few weeks, people have asked why I think martial arts schools are behind the times.  Why I referred to the school I used to attend as crap in mybio.

Bruce Lee said it best:  "Learn the principle, abide by the principle, and dissolve the principle. In short, enter a mold without being caged in it. Obey the principle without being bound by it."

In earning my kinesiology degree, I learned something about human movement that not only undermined years of martial arts practice, but destroyed the basis of most martial art foundations.

Most schools teach by practicing patterns of movement.  There's nothing wrong with this, but eventually people need to move past this mode of learning.

I remember learning how to write, doing lessons in workbooks.  One of them required me to follow dotted lines for each of the letters of the alphabet.  Once we graduated from that simple lesson, our class moved to copying simple sentences my teacher wrote on the blackboard.  Then she wrote simple paragraphs that we copied into our notebooks.  The paragraphs we copied got longer.  As we moved up the elementary school echelon, we were taught the structures of the three paragraph essay, then the five paragraph essay.  We were given subjects to write about and we wrote.  And so on and so forth.

Now, imagine teenagers in high school, or students in college being given homework, copying dotted letters of the alphabet.  That is what you have in the traditional martial arts school.

Have you seen old English calligraphy?  All those swirls, extra lines, and decorations?  How inefficient would that be in everyday writing?  A lot of that is in traditional martial arts, as well.

In our particular school, we always made fun of Tae Kwan Do students.  They limited themselves to kicking, and when sparring they didn't allow striking to the head.  But one thing they did a lot was sparring.  Sparring is the key to truly learning anything.

Kinesiology taught me that people need to be in dynamic environments if they are to perform in dynamic environments.  If I taught you a martial arts technique to deal with a right punch, and I drilled that technique over and over again, all you would've learned was the technique.  What you wouldn't know how to do is react to the right punch.  To do that, you can't be told that a right punch is coming.  And sparring gives you that opportunity.

Yes, learn the technique.  Yes, practice the technique.  Then forget it.

The above quote by Bruce states exactly how I live my life.

When I first attempted my first three novels, I had no idea what I was doing.  Then my best friend suggested many sources that spoke on the structure and techniques of fiction writing.  I read them, attended seminars and learned so much.  But those lessons didn't sink in until I sat down and wrote.  By the end of my many revisions and writing myepisodes,I had to go back and do one last revision/rewrite.  I'd changed so much as a writer that I had to do a line by line examination of my manuscript.

I didn't want to at first.  I knew it would take a long time.  But once I dug in, I became more intimately engrossed with my story.  And something happened that was unexpected.  I fell in love with my story again.

I also realized that I'd broken some rules of writing.  I didn't do it on purpose.  That's just the way the story needed to be told.

Bruce Lee said:  "Using no way as way, having no limitation as limitation."  That has definitely worked out for him.

Karate Heah

Mr. Miyagi points to his head. "Karate heah." He taps his heart. "Karate heah." He grabs his belt. "Karate nevah heah." photo

I was reading an article in one of those karate or kung fu magazines. It was written by a practitioner. He was discussing how spirituality was missing from MMA, specifically targetting UFC fighters. That all fighters wanted was to be champions, to have fame, fortune, and busty ladies swarming around them.

Hell...what man wouldn't want that?

It's obvious there's a huge misunderstanding of how spirituality should be practiced, or that MMA fighters don't practice it. And it was also obvious this practitioner didn't watch MMA, read the forums, interviews, and watch post fight conferences like I do.

It's one of my many vices.

The wise practitioner, the writer of this wise article, full of wisdom, full of research, and full of shit harped on the lack of inner peace. Through his wise words I knew this person never fought, or if he did, then he approached it without inner peace. As wise and full of wisdom as he ascertained.

I'm a huge MMA fan. Watched hundreds of hours of interviews. And one thing that all fighters strain to get is inner peace. One of the most popular UFC fighters is former light heavy weight champion Chuck "The Iceman" Lidell. His monicker indicates that his nerves are as cold as ice before, during and after a fight. Every fighter praises him for that. Because if a fighter gets too excited, they'll waste energy, suffer from an adrenalin dump, or are prone to mistakes. And mistakes in a game where there are literally dozens upon dozens of ways to lose isn't a good thing. Keeping your cool is essential. And the current dominant fighters of the UFC and Strikeforce exhibit this without a doubt.

I get more nervous watching them fight.

Back to this all wise practitioner. His practice of inner peace is through meditation. I'm surmising here. But it's pretty common. And there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's pretty easy to reach inner peace when you're peaceful.  It's kinda like going into a room full of yellow balloons to look for a yellow balloon.

Now, if we place a fighter punching this all wise practitioner in the face, how well would he be able to keep inner peace? Not well. But MMA fighters do this every day. And their ability to keep this inner peace allows them to adapt to the fight. It's very common to see one fighter losing the fight badly, and with a slight change of strategy he comes up with the win.

This can't be done if the fighter panics because he isn't present enough to analyze what's going on.

MMA fighters also practice 6-8 hours a day. They have to love the process and love the journey to continue to learn and challenge themselves. Another principle of spiritualitism.

All fighters want to be champions. But as they climb the ladder to contention, they remain present and focus on their current opponent. They study tapes, go over strategy, hire fighters who can mimic their opponents, and rarely think pass them. The principle of being present is at work here.

MMA fighters practice inner peace, but they do it in an environment that doesn't elicit it.  So who's more skilled at inner peace?  Someone who practices in a peaceful environment?  Or someone who practices in a violent one?

I wrote this because it struck me as a huge misunderstanding of MMA fighters.  To be misunderstood is a sore subject for my main character in my book.  He's continually misunderstood by the people he's sworn to protect, but he pushes on because it is what he does.  What hero gives up?

Neverending Karate Kid

When I was a kid, I loved movies.  But there were certain ones that I've always connected to but never knew why.  Now, as I'm wiser, not necessarily more mature, I know why I loved certain movies, why I kept watching them over and over. One day I was rummaging through a fantasy book store and came across The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende.  The book was first published in 1979 in German.  Ralph Manheim translated it to English.  I must have seen the movie dozens of times.  I loved the characters, I loved the story within the story, and I totally loved the soundtrack.  So when I saw the hardcover, I bought it.

For parents and children, this is totally appropriate.  It's an allegory on life, and if you watch the movie with your kids, ask them what the movie means.  It's the one thing that I don't see parents doing is asking their kids what things mean to them.  Do it and you'll be surprised by what you find out.

When I mentor students, I always ask what things mean, or how they feel about the experiences they're going through.  It's also my main tool in getting them to open up.  Eventually, they spill the beans about anything that I ask.  I need to know what they're thinking, feeling in order to help them out.  Click here if you want to read more on talking to your children.

If you read to your kids, read The Neverending Story.  If not, then watch the movie.  Don't have the money to rent movies, well the whole movie is on youtube:  Part 1.

While I was perusing youtube at work, don't tell my boss, I came across the Karate Kid.  This is an interesting movie.  Not because of the awesome cat-like choreography.  To me the hero is interesting.

A normal underdog story goes something like this:  hero enters new world (town, school, wizard school), is overwhelmed by bad dude (love interest's ex, bully, the most evilest powerfulest wizard), gets a gift (learns the way of love, learns how to fight, learns he's a great wizard), and, voila, hero wins.

Most of the times, the bad buy is an actual bad guy.  Not in The Neverending Story or Karate Kid.  The antagonist is the hero's disbelief in themselves.

When we look at Neverending, Bastian, the hero, must follow his inspiration, his love for books, fantasy, and story.  It isn't until he fully gives in does he overcome the antagonist, self-doubt.  In Kid, Daniel must believe in himself.  He never got stronger, faster, or learned more karate then the bully.  The bully was never the obstacle, just the opportunity.  His teacher guided him to trust in his ability, to let go of his self-proclaimed weaknesses.  In doing so, Daniel prevailed, or what I like to term kicked ass.

I've always loved stories that have this undertone.  When I look at the characters I've written in my book, all of them at some level must deal with self-belief.  It's the one thing I hone in on when I mentor people.   I use stories to open conversations with children, to guide them toward their passions in life, their truth.