Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Perfect Storm

"The Perfect Storm," by Gazdapavo

The subject of teaching and learning arose on Rory's blog, and another spirited debate cranked up. I spoke to it there, and thought I'd add a couple thoughts here.

Doing and teaching are related, and now and again, you get a world-class doer who is also a world-class teacher, but I suspect that's fairly rare. They aren't the same skills.

Why, the question was, did world-class martial artists seldom produce students who were better than their teachers were?

It seems self-evident to me -- if you are at the peak of the pyramid, there's not much room there, and if Einstein expected to see many of his students blow past him, he might be disappointed. And if you are a better doer than a teacher?

If you paint the Mona Lisa, what does your student have to do to top that?

The road to world-class is long and hard and while many start, few will make it. The nature of the journey.

Physical skills by a doer aren't always easy to transmit to a learner, and, as I pointed out, genetics matter. A guy who is six-four and two-ten isn't going to ride a winner in the Kentucky Derby no matter how much he wants it and how hard he trains -- unless all the other horses drop dead in the gate.

Watch the video in the posting just prior to this one. The Ross sisters doing their singing and contortion act in the 1940's. Outside of the Cirque de Soleil, I've never seen anybody do anything like this. I expect you haven't, either.

My chances of learning how to do that are zero. Your chances are zero, too, unless you are six or eight years old and you start working on it now. That level of flexibility is almost impossible to achieve if you don't start training before puberty, and even then, the amount of work and dedication to achieve it will be a herculean task. Injury can derail you at any time, and you don't see many old contortionists still active in the business. And it helps to be female.

To get world-class at anything physical usually requires a perfect storm -- genetics, dedication, skillful training, much practice, and good luck, because world-class anything tends to self-select those who are capable of it. Certain body types predominate. Yeah, you can be a five-seven basketball player in the NBA, but they are rare enough to have it mentioned every time they step onto a court. And you will be a guard, better have a three-point shot from anywhere, and never miss a free throw. Most of the players will be taller because it offers an advantage. No matter how hard you train, being a five-seven center jumping off against one who is seven feet tall? I know how I'd bet that one.

So I'm thinking that world-class doers are usually of the perfect storm variety. And if your teacher has her ten thousand hours in when you walk through the door, and she keeps training and learning, by the time you get your ten thousand hours, she will have twenty thousand hours.

Surely that makes it harder to catch her?

World-class teachers? Same deal. So to have a student who surpasses you requires, essentially, two perfect storms.

There is, of course, a point of diminishing returns, and past it, you don't get better. And old legs tire easier than young ones, and eventually, all flesh is grass, before which it sags and gets less elastic and not as strong as once it was. You can compensate for age with skill, but the fit thirty-year-old outruns the fit ninety-year-old in a race based on speed and power.

The comment Rory made was, why do creatures who should be lions leave footprints like rabbits? And my answer is, most creatures aren't now, and never are going to be, lions. When they grow up, the tracks they leave will be what they had the genetic potential to be. You can be the meanest, bad-ass rabbit you can be, king of the rabbits, but that won't make you a lion.


Travis said...

I didn't think Rory's q's/ideas were directed at, or at least not principly at, top-level instructors. I know my comments weren't. I'd say that the better the instructor the less likely to see the sort of things I commented on at his blog and the more likely it is that your comments here about only being so much room at the top are in force.

Steve Perry said...

Sometimes, I'm not precisely certain what I'm thinking until I hear the words come out of my mouth. I have a general idea of things, but the act of speaking or writing them down sharpens the notions: Ah, yeah, that's what I mean ...

I think Rory does that. He tosses out an idea and revises it as he goes. He's a better doer than a talker. I tend to be a better talker than a doer. I look for precision in language. The discussion on Rory's blog about "systems" versus "styles" comes to mind.

Lot of words we all commonly use sometimes don't mean what we think they do. One of the first rules of debate is to define terms, so that we aren't debating apples versus oranges.

And the written word is one step removed from face-to-face conversations with body language and expression and gestures to aid in understanding the conversation.

Face to face over coffee, Rory and I get along fine. I have a great respect for what he knows. On the page, he sometimes seems less than crystal clear, and I prod him to do better. Part of my job ...

Travis said...

I get that and, being a frequent reader at both sites, I think the dynamic plays out well.

Only thing is you've been training with one of the top of the pyramid guys for a long time (based on what I read here and this not being the only place I've heard of Mr. Plinck). But the top pyramid guys don't constitute most of the instructors out there.

It's a good reminder for all of us that perspectives change a lot of what is percieved as the main cause/effect/motive. I agree with your 'perfect storm' thoughts about creating the true top level performer but that's not the place my mind goes to right away when the topic is brought up.

This whole topic spawned about 10 streams of thought for me and I had to self-edit to only one or two but, man, I could discuss learning theory/teaching theory and MA all damn day given half a chance.

It's probably for the best that my son is tuggung at my leg- I'm gonna go play outside!