Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's the Little Things ...

I am fortunate in that I have access to a world-class martial arts' teacher, Maha Guru Stevan Plinck. Fourteen or so years I've been privileged to study with him, and he just keeps evolving so I have to run to keep up. I'm not getting any younger, nor faster ...

If you are involved in the silat community in the U.S., you know how well-thought-of and respected Guru Plinck is. If not, you can take my word for it.

Here's one of those little things that can give you an indication:

As a senior student in the class, I make it a point whenever we get newbies to work with them. Yeah, I don't get to play as much with the more advanced stuff being shown when I do this, but I feel as if it is part of my dues. A newbie needs to be working out with somebody who knows the stuff well enough to make it easier to learn, and however inept I might be, I do have a little bit of skill in this arena.

One hand up, one hand down. Pass it along.

Most recent class, we had a newbie, a first-timer. A young woman, about to go off into the Marines, and Guru Plinck wanted to offer her a chance to maybe learn a couple things, and get a a few good workouts before she headed to basic training.

He has a fondness for people in the military. He was a green-hat medic when he was in the service. We have some Special Forces guys who cycle by when they are in town, and he makes it a point to show them close-quarters stuff they might have need for where they are going.

So I paired up with the new student and went over stuff that most of us don't even think about, we've been doing it so long: How to make a fist. How to strike without hurting yourself. The principles of hard-to-soft, soft-to-hard -- where to punch versus where to use an open hand. Relaxing, using your elbows to cover your ribs, not locking out a punch or kick, all like that. People coming from other arts know all this; newbies need to hear what a boxer's fracture is, and how to avoid it.

I showed her our first djuru.

She was an enthusiastic student. Class went fine, she did very well for a newbie -- no bad habits to overcome -- and I felt useful.

After class, as the students headed for their cars, Guru Plinck pulled me aside to thank me for helping out with the new girl. He appreciated it, he said.

This was not the first time he's done this. Virtually every time I've moved over to work with a newbie, Guru has noticed, and thanked me afterward.

I think it shows both awareness and great class. And is a measure of his attitude toward his students.

Always a new lesson for me to learn.


Viro said...

Lucky you. Whenever I help a newb, this is the feedback I get:
"...what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."

Stan said...

I enjoy working with new students...for short periods. It seems like it is hard not to overwhelm them with all the "new toys" and thoughts. I am reminded to focus on the most important things: breathing, balance and posture. The dances will come later!

Another group I enjoy working with is the brown belts and black belts who are preparing for their next "leap." Their interest in critically reviewing the arts helps me to refine my understanding and broaden my perspective.

One way I have learned to "rein myself in," is to think of myself as a farmer, rather than a teacher. Instead of feeling a need to "teach a lesson" to people, I like the idea that I'm "planting seeds," hopefully in fertile ground. Some will grow, some will lie dormant and some will wither and die...that's kind of the nature of seeds.

My largest flaw with this, is that I am not doing the physical conditioning which I need for my own training. Too much cerebral (teaching, writing, talking) and not enough "sweating with purpose!"

I think I'll have to do something about that...maybe tomorrow...some "tomorrow," anyway!

Thanks, Folki!

Steve Perry said...

Thing I find so interesting is that every time I work with a newbie, I get as much benefit as they do. By revisiting the basics, and having to explain them to somebody who might have no context, it requires me to understand the material and order it in a way to make it accessible.

Yeah, the other guys rolling around in the sand are getting to test themselves against each other, and the new stuff is fun, but when the situation goes south, I expect the basics will be what'll save your ass most of the time.

Stan said...

Thanks, Steve!

Those are pretty similar to my thoughts. Whether I'm working with a "newbie" or a black-belt, when we are getting "stuck" on an art it's almost always a flaw in our application of basic principles.

As far as self-defense (testing) is concerned, if I'm defending myself or others, the odds are long that I'll have more "skill" than the aggressor. The question, as has been posed previously, is which of us will be able to apply our arts, skill and training to THIS situation at THIS time.

The only good thing I have ever "gleaned" from those types of tests is that moment of clarity which you can damn near drink, smell, feel...because your entire essence is completely invested in THIS moment.

And that lesson / seed is very, very difficult to transmit to another person. So, we keep drilling the basics, in varying situations, to make them an integral part of our being.

Practice does NOT make perfect. Practice makes Permanent.

Thanks, as always, Folki!

AF1 said...

Steve, care to expand a little on how to properly make a fist? Also, does your guys' silat method favor punching with a verical fist as opposed to a horizontal one?

Steve Perry said...

I think there are several ways to make a good fist. I prefer what I learned in Okinawa-te, called a "sun fist." Basically, the pinky, ring, and middle fingers bend tight, and the forefnger bends at the middle joint and the thumb wraps around the index finger at just behind the distal joint.

But it's a personal preference, and no better than rolling all four fingers in. Tighten up just before impact.

We do both flat and twisted punches. The flat is structurally a bit stronger from what I understand.

Try to strike with the index and middle finger knuckles, wrist straight, hand in line with the arm.
If your wrist is bent, up or down, first time you hit a heavy bag or somebody heavier than a bag hard, you will suffer for it.

Boxer's fractures come when somebody throws a roundhouse and hits with the pinky or ring knuckles, usually against something hard, like a skull.

jks9199 said...

A black belt I know and respect once said that they didn't want to teach another beginner; they were only going to teach at least moderately advanced students from then on.

Never understood that thinking; to me, teaching a beginner is a privilege and joy. My basics aren't perfect, I still need to work on them, and teaching a newbie makes me review them. I'm always amazed by what I missed before... Though you do have to watch that all-too-human tendency to try to show the newbie EVERYTHING the first night!

Note -- this was not said in the same manner as a similar comment I once read from Bobbe Edmond - forgive if I misspell the name. As I read his comment, it was that he and his training group wanted to focus on material without the distraction of backtracking to bring a new student up to speed. The distinction is subtle -- but important. It doesn't seem that Bobbe's comment was one of "I can't be bothered" but instead "It disrupts everyone."

The other approach to that issue (as I ramble slightly) is the one that Hatsumi seems to be taking in the Bujinkan... He's pointed out the folks to learn the basics from. He's teaching his classes in a way that's aimed at the highest students... and those who aren't there quite yet can get something, if not all, of it.

Like I said, I enjoy teaching beginners. (Though I like having students who can push me, too.) My training focus is on the basics, with forays into some of the advanced stuff. It's amazing how much the basics develop the advanced stuff...

Anonymous said...

We get a lot of inexperienced newbs in our stunt-fighting class in Los Angeles. Fortunately, we usually have a pretty decent balance of experienced and inexperienced students, and switching partners is good in and of itself.

However, I admit to a little frustration in backtracking and drilling basics when we desire to learn cool new fights and techniques. And it's an investment that doesn't always pay off, as people disappear after a class or three.

At times my instructor will state he's done accepting newbs for a while, but he's got a soft spot for anyone with a background: He just loves fighters.

As the assistant, I try to be affable and go with the flow. I try to exercise patience -- something I can benefit from. It's never a bad thing to break down a form or technique to the point where you can explain it and teach it to others: "Hong Kong punch is like stirring a witch's brew." "Switching stance is not a jump, but a shifting of the hips."

Viro, don't think your Happy Gilmore reference went unnoticed.

William Adams said...

Classical good leadership:

It is by no means enough that an officer should be capable.... He should be as well a gentleman of liberal education, refined manners, punctilious courtesy, and the nicest sense of personal honor.... No meritorious act of a subordinate should escape his attention, even if the reward be only one word of approval. Conversely he should not be blind to a single fault in any subordinate.

John Paul Jones, September 14, 1775

I'm pretty sure Xenophon said something similar, but my etext of his writings is on my Sony PRS-505 which doesn't have search capabilities.