Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Educated Eye

In a discussion of teaching, it came to me to bespeak that how you demonstrate a thing, especially a physical motion, needs to be slowed down considerably for a newbie to comprehend it.

On the fact of this, it would seem a no-brainer -- if you can't see what somebody did, it's not a good teaching moment -- unless you are trying to teach them that if you move really fast, it's hard to see what somebody did ...

One of the sports under discussion was fencing, and I allowed as how that was a good example. At the Olympic-class levels, you have two fencers facing off. There comes a blur, the helmet lamps light up, and the expert announcer starts babbling on: "Wow! Did you see that?! That attaque au fer, ballestra, and liement were perfect! And the battement just not in time!"

No, I didn't see any of that, thank you, I saw exactly what I first said: A blur, some lights showing both guys got touched, and that was it.

It takes an educated viewer to see what happens with fencing experts moving full-out. I have forty-odd years of experience leaping at, or being leaped at by people, barehanded, with sticks, knives, and even swords, sometimes more than person coming in at a time, but even so, the specifics of epee or foil or saber fencing are not what I am used to seeing and it tends to look pretty much the same to me. Lunge wildly, and then cheer ...

First, I'd need to know what each of those moves looked like in slow motion. Then sped up a bit, and then enough times at full speed that I developed the eye to follow them. I believe that's how it works for most people. You might be one of those eagle-eyed guys who gets it first time, but if so, you will be the exception and not the rule.

Often in our martial practice, once things get rolling fast, I can't even tell you what I did in an exchange, much less exactly what somebody else did. Fun to watch the video tape later and get surprised -- Huh. Look at that ...

You don't start out teaching a newbie speed and power first -- not if you want them to have a grasp of basics upon which advanced concepts must be built.

For us, in our art, position is first. You learn the move in what we consider the right way to do it, then gradually, you speed it up and add power. We believe that trying to do it too fast and too hard without the foundation of correct motion leads to sloppy execution. Do it fast enough, maybe nobody notices you are doing it wrong, and you cheat yourself more than you do anybody else.

Lot of the MMA folks disagree -- they call this "dead training," and allow that you should practice at full speed and power from the git-go.

For us, once you understand the "right" way to do a move, then you advance. Like practicing with an empty gun to get the grip, sight picture, and trigger control, before going to live fire. If you don't have a good grasp of those things, you are going to be wasting a lot of ammo. If you are off-balance, the amount of power and speed you can load into a punch will be less than if you aren't falling down when you try it.

The hand isn't quicker than the eye, but the brain has to have the knowledge to interpret what the camera delivers.


Worg said...

MMA folks are the guys who think they can power through anything.

Let's be nice and give them the benefit of the doubt about all that when there aren't knives in play.

When the knives come out, what they think gets much closer to Darwinism. Maybe they're right and maybe they're not.

Tangentially: can you, great and worshipful master of the craft, recommend an agent who might take a look at a first sci fi novel? Not my first finished book and not my first publication but the first book that I'm sending out...

Steve Perry said...

I dunno who is reading new writers these day -- I haven't been keeping up. You can get a list in a couple places, but you need to query them individually and see if they are interested.

If you read Locus, there are usually notes showing who sold what, and for whom, and most of them are at least willing to look at query letters.

Worg said...


The comment verification says "topread."

Master Plan said...

Having done a fair bit of Tai Chi and some BJJ ("MMA" poster child) as well I think it's kinda strange that these things (speed\power versus "doing it right") are so often pitted against each other. Like you can only do one or the other some how. At least the MMA folks, on internet forums, seem to suggest this. But I think the Tai Chi style approach to learning those first few basic skills is totally applicable to MMA\BJJ and...basically any physical endeavor.

Since you're trying to keep a lot of little details in mind when doing something with the whole body by slowing down the speed you get more time, as a beginner, to let your mind pay attention to all of these parts of things, and as they become ingrained you can go faster and faster.

It seems strange to say that you can only do "alive" or "dead" training and that never the two shall meet.

I think that aspect (the "dead") training is missing from many teaching methodologies I've been exposed to in MA and that it's absence tends to encourage bad habits, patching, and such creep in from a very early stage.

Of course it goes the other way as well. If you only train "dead" then indeed a fully committed poorly structured "alive" exponent is likely to blow right thru you.

Escalating intensity, adaptive response, progressive resistance....these seem to be common factors in learning physical skills from weight lifting, to martial arts, and all the rest of them as well.

It's a very interesting issue and I'm often sad to see it reduced to a false binary choice of one or the other.

Certainly positioning and structure (or "internal" positioning) seem like the things to start with. If your structure is no good...where's the power going to come from? and if the positioning is no good what are speed and power going to do for you?

On the other hand I think that one reason to find a really "good" instructor in an art is that, personal belief, we learn best by feeling a thing done to us. Maybe not BEST, but certainly it's my opinion that mirror neuron activation is well obtained by this method. I say, "on the other hand", because this implies to me that you can learn structure and position from "alive" training providing you are getting your ass handed to you regularly by people who can emulate the motion. I don't know that it's the best, fastest, whatever, method of learning, but I do think you can go from either side (dead to alive, alive to dead).

I think an ordered progression, any kind of ordered progression, is probably the more important part in the end.

Jake said...

I don't know any GOOD MMA coach who would teach "at full speed and power from the git-go." (I'll grant that there are bad coaches who might, but there are bad teachers who do all kinds of dumb stuff).

"Alive" doesn't equal "full power". It just equals resistance. Just like anything else, resistance can (and should be) be built up slowly.

Similarly, I've met very few decent MMA practitioners who think that they can power through anything. A few minutes on the mat with a guy half your size who can choke you unconscious at will usually dispels those illusions.

So really, I think a lot of what you're saying in the post is right, I just don't agree that it doesn't apply to good MMA training. But maybe that's just my own experience.

Master Plan said...

Ah, well, that's the general crux of the issue. Internet communication polarization!

As we know ALL Silat students and teachers are all-show\no-go knife fanatics who are just waiting for a chance to ginzu-berzerko on some poor fool (Kali guys too) AND *NONE* of them train using ANY resistance. EVER.

And of course ALL MMA students and teachers are mouth-breathing jock 'roid monkeys who *exclusively* train full-speed'n'full-power 100% of the time, including the first intro session, further more they are ALL 100% convinced they can leg-kick their way out of a knife-fight with 100% success, every single time.

No, no middle ground, no rational discussion, no compromise, and both sides are completely identical in their practices.

Also of course YOUR personal experience is never biased and it's entirely indicative of that entire family of martial arts.

Furthermore if you're talking about MA or SD on the internet...it's an argument or debate, NOT, EVER, a discussion.

I think those are the basic rules..... ;-)

Steve Perry said...

Yeah, that sounds about right ...

Master Plan said...

No, you're wrong, you Silat guys don't know what you are talking about!

(sorry couldn't resist)

Steve Perry said...

It's true -- silat is a benign thing, useless, we wear skirts and all our talk about knives? We don't have a clue, really. So if you find yourself up against a silat guy, you can dismiss him out of hand -- he's got nothing. No need to even keep your guard up.

You can turn your back on him. Trust me.

I heard Eddie Murphy do a routine once, where he was talking about the time he hit his girlfriend. She made him angry, so he cuffed her. Said Murphy: "I'm sorry I had do that, baby. Don't make me have to do it again."

To which she said, "You're right. I shouldn't have done that. Why don't you just ... go to sleep now ... ?"

Murphy said he saw the look in her eyes and knew that he wasn't going to be sleeping any time soon. He had to get out of the house -- and it was his house ...

Jake said...

Hah. :-)

I have no illusions that silat players aren't dangerous. Some of the ones I've met are scary dangerous. Some aren't, but I've met some pretty not scary folks who studied all kinds of stuff.

I think Master Plan had it right the first time; there's a good balance somewhere.

Anyway...I was going for discussion, not argument. Apologies if I came across as hostile.

Steve Perry said...

Jake --

I didn't get hostile from your post.. Reason I mentioned it in the posting in the first place was because I have had discussions with some MMA and BJJ guys over the years in which they did get pretty snide. I always liked the one guy who told me it didn't matter if I had a barstool or knives or whatever, any purple belt BJJ guy would clean my clock ...

Master Plan said...

Yes, I too did not mean to imply that about you Jake. Quite reasonable really.

Having done Tai Chi I always preferred (perhaps even enjoyed..perhaps) telling people that indeed, we *did* do that slow stuff for old people in the park. Oh, no, definitely not a "real" martial art, not at all.
A guy I know, really excellent martial artist, worked in the use-of-force professions, etc, says he tends to avoid telling people at parties he does martial arts, just seems to cause more trouble than it's worth.
I think this is generally true, if it's somebody I don't know...happy to let them think I don't know much of anything (heck, that's mostly true) and that my style sucks and is totally ineffective. Doesn't matter at all to me what they think and I'd certainly much rather have them underestimate me than otherwise.

I can't remember now if it was here, Rory's blog, else where, the idea that martial arts work in part because they are a surprise. Better to keep possible opponents as in the dark as possible.

Speaking of, I think a advantage that gets overlooked at times by TMA (or "TMA" if you like) folks relative to BJJ (and boxing and such) is that you get to drill a (relatively, at first, insert other qualifiers as needed) small set of techniques a LOT, and so, naturally, the individual gains skill in those things more rapidly.

You could learn a Tai Chi form for a year, trying to get the movement right, and not have any functional techniques at the end. It's not terribly likely, but it's possible. Spend that same year rolling and beating on a heavy bag with the same 5 or 6 punches.....

This also doesn't seem to get much attention. There's of course nothing preventing that style of approach in any other system of choice but I think if you look at typical breakdowns, say 2 hours per session, twice a week, that it becomes harder.

If you warm up for 15 minutes, have say 10 white belt techniques, 5 or 6 one-step drills, 2-3 forms, some sparring, maybe stretching and cool down in there too, it's hard to spend as much time honing specifics as it can be in boxing gyms, BJJ places, and even some Judo clubs I've trained at.

This creates, all IMHO, the stereotyped "MMA" mindset that TMA stuff doesn't work, because, "A good plan violently executed, now, is superior to a great plan executed later".

I also think BJJ\Judo and boxing are often better fight training than many TMA classes I've seen because of the greater degree of force\contact and resultant pain. You really get hit or thrown, sometimes hard, and in (I'll admit I'm of course thinking of the equally stereotyped strip mall Karate dojo) some TMA classes there is almost no hitting at all.

blah blah blah

The main point is it's not the style it's the training and it's not the style it's the practitioner but for some reason folks like to argue about style vs. style as if *that* was the key factor (and the only factor).

I think this is very counter-productive to the state of martial arts discussion and training. I think ways and methods of (effectively) passing on skill and knowledge are probably more important than the content in many ways and the style superiority fixation tends to obscure that.

For instance you can find many many ways to lift weights, but the ways the weights are lifted are generally the same, and the end results are generally similar, differentiated by the intended end result\goal. This seems like a strong parallel to what (I think) is missing from a lot of MA talk I see on the web.

Dan Gambiera said...

I'll let you in on a secret. Even experienced fencers have trouble following fencing. And a lot of them find it boring to watch.

Jake said...

Sadly, every art seems to produce it's share of snide idiots. And the internet just brings it out in mass quantities (what's that line about the Internet being proof that a million monkey's typing on a million keyboards will NOT produce Hamlet?).

I too, hate talking about the fact that I do martial arts at parties, although, since I started making it my business, I'm sort of forced to do it.

A lot of MA talk, on the web and in real life, seems to mostly be about people wanting to reinforce their own egos. Kinda sad, really.