Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Important things often happen suddenly.
Most people tend to think that things happen gradually – things like skill acquisition for example – but this, in my experience, is not the case at all. I think that when conditions are right, we undergo experiences that I like to call ‘emergent events’. Think of it like this …
Say we think of numbers – small numbers – they do logical things, they follow rules, and it’s all pretty simple and fairly predictable. We know that two times two is four, six plus four equals ten, etc. So it seems perfectly logical that huge numbers should pretty much just do the same thing as small numbers but on a larger scale – right – wrong!
Let’s apply this idea to say, brain cells. To paraphrase Dan Gilbert (excellent author and psychologist) – if we take a couple of brain cells – neurons - and we connect them via an electro-chemical circuit, we get something not any more powerful or remarkable than say a pair of walkie talkies. In fact it can be easily argued that the walkie talkie’s are more powerful. But what happens when we wire trillions of these neurons together (a very large number) we get something rather unique – we call this thing – CONCIOUSNESS – self awareness. That’s a pretty amazing thing. So obviously, when we got enough of these connections, some kind of critical event occurred and something new EMERGED – namely, we did! So two or three neurological connections cannot be deemed as ‘conciousness’ – not even two or three hundred connections – but something (or things) happened between those small numbers and the astronomically huge numbers that we actually have that causes us to BE! And be aware they we – BE!
So what is the point of this blog – well, it is my view that a similar thing happens when we undergo a learning process. People start out on the mat, in the world of BJJ, wrestling, boxing, etc – and they learn a bunch of independent techniques and theorems and they gather and collect as they steadily increase their experience and understanding – and if enough of this happens, something remarkable occurs – something that seems larger than the combined sum of that which they have learned – and they experience an EMERGENT EVENT. That is to say, suddenly, they are markedly better!
So, for any beginners that are reading this – or anyone else for that matter – never despair - steady practice, more and more connections and you can expect your own emergent events to take place. The interesting and uplifting thing is that this can also occur in all other areas of our lives.
I enjoy thinking and developing these types of ideas – they help me with my teaching process. So please let me know via the comments facility of you want to hear more or less of this sort of brain-food. When I weave these sorts of thoughts into the training during my seminars, most seem to enjoy it – but every now and then I see a pair of eyes glaze over - over to you …
Monday, March 30, 2009
When asked this question, most BJJ practitioners I know, would probably answer ‘no’. Advanced, secret, cool, hot-off-the-press techniques – oh yes; that’s an easy one – but basics – ummm. Kind of boring right? Well, before you answer that question – I would like you all to consider this …
What if I asked you whether you wanted to eat spaghetti for dinner tonight? A pretty simple question – one that I bet all of you could answer without to much need for consideration. But let me pose a few more questions – (fear not – I do have a point) – was you IMAGINED spaghetti straight out of a can as you slumped on the couch watching Seinfeld; or was it a plate of angel hair pasta served up in the best restaurant in Tuscany, with the love of your life sitting across from you; or was it a hot and hearty plate of rosemary and basil pasta accompanied by a glass of your favourite beverage?
Whatever it was that you initially imagined, when I posed the question ‘do you want spaghetti for dinner tonight – I can probably safely bet that your mind leapt straight to n answer, and didn’t consider the infinite number of possibilities of how this spaghetti dinner could be presented.
And so it is the case when presented with the question on whether you would want to devote an entire day to the practice of BJJ basics. If you have been training for a while, you probably have a skewed idea/picture of what basics consist of. But that’s – like the spaghetti problem - just one single point of view. What if when I say ‘basics’, I am referring to the ten most important and game-changing concepts that someone like Rigan Machado considers to be the foundation of high-level Jiu Jitsu – would that change your mind? One would hope it would.
I love studying and training the ‘basics’. After all, the basics, from a total novices point of view, and the basics from the virtuoso’s point of view – may be more than a little different. I love looking deeper – rather than broader. Remember, the virtuoso’s of the world are doing things, and sometimes (understanding things), that others are not. They have become masters of nuance – masters of the basics – when asked if they want to eat spaghetti for dinner – it’s worth pondering the possibilities.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Some things I do very badly – like speaking French.
Some things I do just plain badly – like mathematics or eating without getting food on my shirt.
Some things I do with average skill – like driving my car or rockclimbing.
Some things I do with above-average skill – like flyfishing, navigating in the wilds – or writing (funny that – barely passed English at school) – or noticing things – and teaching. I enjoy the process of analysis, synthesis, distillation, organization and delivery of information to people who want it. I seem to have a knack for ‘cutting to the essential idea’ of a thing, breaking it down into digestible bits and finding novel and interesting ways of delivering it to people that produces real results in short time.
My sister, a high achieving psychologist, says that by any psychological standard I would be diagnosed as mildly sociopathic, with OCD tendencies – but that in my particular case, it seems to work.
Certainly, from my own perspective, it does seem to work. I enjoy my life and what I do for a living. I really enjoy working to develop my teaching skills – in fact, it is probably one of my favourite pastimes. Part of the reason I enjoy it so much is because it irks me to see others endeavouring to achieve things in ways I know to be less than efficient. My wife concurs with my sister in that she says I am a little OCD at times. Perhaps she is right – although it may be worth mentioning that she also wishes I was OCD with regard to taking out the garbage on Wednesday nights … or is it Thursdays?
But from where does my enjoyment arise? Well, I’ve thought about this, and it seems to me that I have what my sister would probably describe as ‘a mosaic of minor control issues’. But I see nothing wrong with that – I do like to exert control over my future, my world, the things around me and, whether right or wrong, I like to help other people have more ‘control’ in their own lives and more ‘power’ over their own sets of circumstances. After all – who doesn’t want more control?
In fact, I think that the facility to gain ‘control’ over our environment – and our future – is the greatest achievement mankind has ever made. The development of the frontal lobe of the human brain has only happened in the last two million years or so. It accounts for the fact that our brains now are nearly three times larger than what they were back in the days of Homo Habilis. What does this new architecture do? Simple – it allows us to think about the future – to ‘imagine’ things ahead of time. Why do we want to ‘look into our future’ – so we can make predictions about it – and why do we want to do that? – simpler still – so we can have a measure of Control over how the future plays out.
In my view, many people take up martial arts training because they want (sometimes obviously - sometimes so deeply within themselves that they are unaware of it) more control over their physical world. The physical world, as it turns out, is inhabited by other people who also want to feel they are in ‘control’ – and some of those people, even want control over YOU – and some of them, want physical control over you! Martial arts training is a very effective way of wrenching some of that control back from others; and this, in a basic and fundamental way, leaves us feeling we have more control over the physical world we live in.
As youngsters, before we can even fathom that there is a future (to exert control over) we tips things over, throw things around and make strange noises. When our mothers reacted to these things, we simply loved it – why – because we ‘caused things to happen – we exerted control’ on the external world.
I love seeing people become more and more empowered through their martial arts training. I love seeing people gain more control over their physical worlds –but I love, even more, seeing people gain control over their internal worlds – but more on that later.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Consider the amount of bad instruction we are assailed with every day.
One of my favourites – the sign we see on the side of the road that states – “Avoid Windscreen Damage”. Well, thanks for the great advice! Avoid windscreen damage – no kidding! HOW?
How do I avoid windscreen damage – don’t state the bleeding obvious – tell me WHAT TO DO! The sign, in my view, should read “SLOW DOWN”.
I remember being stuck under side control in my earlier training, hearing my coaches yelling, “GET ON YOUR SIDE”. I also clearly remember thinking, ‘I know what I should be doing, but PLEASE tell me HOW to do it!”
In coaching/instruction, I like to put the focus on HOW the students should achieve things – rather than merely on WHAT they should be doing.
Buy property – save a million dollars – have a great marriage – be happy – GREAT ADVICE – but without the HOW, it’s about s helpful as reading the astrological columns.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
We should all take self-responsibility for the building of our own safety nets. As mentioned in my previous blog, we can do this on the mat by developing better escape and recovery skills. Imagine – you have the best escapes on the mat; what would be the result of knowing you can always recover from an inferior position? This would mean that you would have no fear of the consequence of failing in attacks – simply put, you would just go for more attacks, more often, and with more confidence (read: less hesitation).
But remember, there is a lot that we (as instructors and students) can also do to make the entire mat a safety net of sorts. If we can construct an environment where it is OKAY to try and fail – then we have all the benefits a real safety net can provide. By building, and encouraging others to help us build, an environment where we reward and encourage creative experimentation, we enhance and fortify the ultimate safety net. Remember, if we can try new things, with little or no consequence, then we build a culture of experimentation. This is exactly what Thomas Edison did in his laboratory – he rewarded and praised experimentation – NEVER punished or ridiculed for failure – and look at what he and his team achieved. We are surrounded by evidence of this every day.
Imagine you had a billionaire friend, who encouraged you to go out and start a new business – if you succeeded, you made money – if you failed, your billionaire friend would cover all of your losses – what would this mean? Obviously, most of us would leap at such an opportunity and rush to try our swag of crazy new business ideas … we’d be opening up yoyo stores – drive through dvd depots, etc. Why? No real consequences of failure – that’s why! Make it so on the mat – we fail with our sweep, our armbar our choke – so what? What are the consequences? What are they really? They really add up to nothing.
Instructors should play the role of the billionaire benefactor and make it okay for students (or fellow students) to try new things – irregardless of how it turns out. Remember – everything we have ever done, was new at one time or another. Don’t play it safe … give it a go. Life is short ….
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Fear of Consequence
This is what holds us back from trying new things.
Fear stops us from trying new things – or to put it more accurately, it’s the fear of the consequence that stops us from trying new things. This is why trapeze artists use safety nets; it allows them to try new tricks without fear of consequence should the new trick fail. Imagine if they took the net away – what would the result be? Answer: to stay with those tricks that they know with absolute certainty, they can get right 100% of the time. Living without a safety net makes for ‘safe and conservative practise’ – living with a safety net makes for creative experimentation.
So the question becomes: How do we build ourselves a safety net? Firstly, we need to get clarity on what the consequences actually are ... more often than not, we have a tendency to build these consequences up into something they are not. The things we are afraid of have a way of appearing larger and more menacing than they actually are – so step one is to see the consequences of failure for what they actually are.
Further to this, by building the right culture on the mat; one of mutual respect; one that encourages experimentation; one that rewards rather than punishes failure; one in which people work together as a team to get a better result than one could achieve by his or her efforts alone – this builds a strong ‘safety net’ that benefits everyone.
The there is the ‘personal responsibility’ that each of us should take for the construction of our own ‘portable safety net’. When I watch people wrestling on the mat … I see lots of chances for the students to go for armbars (for example) – and more often than not, they go for them, only when there is a better than 50% chance of pulling it off. This, on the surface of it, seems like a good strategy. Ie: Only bet when there is a better than 50% chance of winning. But here’s the problem, this is training – not gambling – in gambling, if you lose, you lose hard-earned money; in grappling, if you go for an armbar and fail, at most, you lose the fight – perhaps you only lose position – in which case you will develop ‘follow-ups’, combinations, recovery skills, etc. So what is the actual consequence of going for an armbar and failing? Probably, very little! In fact, you will almost certainly develop skills that you would otherwise never develop. Developing recovery skills and follow-ups (combinations) is one the best ways to make a start on weaving our own safety net – one which we take with us wherever we go.
Start building …
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Over the past 2,000,000 years of evolution – the human brain has evolved to nearly three times it’s original size. This dramatic increase in size can largely be attributed to the development of new structures – mainly, the frontal lobe, or pre-frontal cortex.
This begs an obvious question – what advantages does this new bit of equipment give us – over the original design? Well, it does lots of stuff – much of which I n=know little about – but one of the main things that it does, is to provide us with the ability to ‘take our thinking beyond the present’. So I see it as a kind of biological time machine.
Going back in time – is pretty easy to understand – we recall previous experiences, and can make intelligent predictions about outcomes in certain situations, by recalling outcomes of previously similar situations that have happened in our past. Memory – experience – this allows us to make guesses about the future.
Going forward in time – is a little more interesting to me – and it is perhaps easy to think of our pre-frontal-cortex as a kind of simulator. That is – we don’t have to actually experience something to build an idea of how it might unfold in reality. For example – we don’t need to make and eat a prawn and chocolate pizza to know that it might not taste the best. We simulate the idea – and in less than a second, we know that it just isn’t worth doing.
I don’t know how animals think – but I can make a pretty strong guess that this time machine-like capability that our pre-fontal-cortex gives us, is one of the ways in which we really and dramatically differ from them.
Experimenting on the mat – provides us fuel for the backward journey in time. It gives our brain the necessary pieces of the puzzle to re-visit the past and based on what we remember (on the mat) make better decisions the next time we train. But our remarkable time machine also allows us to simulate new and novel situations that we may never have actually experienced – and make determinations as to whether they may work or not in real life. This is all a part of the creative process.
Fuel for thought –
Saturday, March 07, 2009
The thing that’s lacking most in the world, my father used to say, is THINKING. He was a thinker – my dad - that’s for sure. One day, when I was six or seven years old, I arrived home from school to find him having a royal argument with my mother. She was hurling eggs at him, from across the lounge room (they weren’t cooked). The reason for the argument was that while she had been away for a day or two, he had painted a map of the world right around two walls of our lounge room. I thought it was fantastic – there it is – a map of the world, each country a different colour, depicted in spectacular style.
The thing about the world, my dad told me once my mum had run out of eggs and calmed down, it is really just one, big, interconnected place. The map he drew on the wall, strangely, didn’t correspond to the maps I had been shown at school. My dads map, did indeed depict the world as a kind of single-large-island. Instantly, my view of the world changed. But I was still troubled – ‘This isn’t the map my teachers have shown me” I told him – he told me that most people, teachers included, have a very small view of the world – and that one of the most important things I could ever learn to do, was to learn to SEE THE BIG PICTURE. And that was why he had painted the map on the wall – so that my sister and I could SEE THE BIG PICTURE.
This, of course, was a powerful lesson. Seeing the big picture in things, is the first step to a larger understanding of things. Thinking about things from every possible angle, and then some, can lead us to deeper insight.
As it turned out, my dad’s map of the world was based on Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Skymap – shown here. When we cut up a GLOBE in this fashion, unfold it and lay it out on the table, we see things in a slightly different light. The world is indeed, more connected that most people believe – and THINKING about things in new and interesting ways – helps change our views on things and helps us to integrate new ideas.
Train Hard – Train Smart.
Monday, March 02, 2009
This weekend has been a weird one.
When I do my Tasmania, Adelaide and Perth seminar run – I do them all together over a four-day period; so it’s a pretty hectic schedule, even when it all goes to plan. This weekend, although there were some outstanding highlights (like Steve Stevenson, Adam Newton and Oliver Murray receiving their black belts) there were some definite challenges.
The first hurdle presented itself when I turned up at the airport in Tassie and tried to make the flight to Melbourne to connect on to Adelaide. My itinerary (booked online last year) showed that my flight took off in 2007. Apparently, it’s now 2009! Why don’t people keep me informed of these things?
Fortunately, there was another airlines that was running an hour behind schedule, so I threw my itinerary in the trash and bought a fresh ticket with them (they ripped me royally, charging me more than three times what I had already paid). So money aside, at least I made it back to Melbourne, where I waited five hours at that airport to catch my next delayed flight to Adelaide.
The Adelaide seminar, like the Tassie seminar was a great success. I grabbed six hours sleep before getting up at 5:45am to head to the Adelaide airport to catch my 7am flight to Perth. Upon arrival, the smiling check-in attendant told me that I had missed my flight. I pointed out that I was an hour early – and was on the 7 am flight. I showed him my itinerary. Without glancing at it, he (smiling) told me the flight leaves at 6:15am. Sorry! He says (smiling still). I ignored him and ran to the check-in counter (apologizing to those I pushed in front of). I showed the check-in staff, who said ‘too late, it’s leaving now’. ‘Please ask your supervisor ‘ I requested. He shook his head but wandered up to the supervisor and promptly came back with another ‘sorry, you’re too late.’ I then ran up to the supervisor and put my case forward, showing him my Qantas itinerary, which clearly said 7am departure. He said, “sorry, there’s just nothing we can do’. I put t him that I was prepared to leave my luggage with them and run to the plane. He looked momentarily puzzled, then asked if someone could pick it up for me that morning – I replied in the affirmative – he got onto his walkie-talkie for a moment, and then said. You’ll have to run.
I had just enough presence of mind to pull Steve’s shiny new Black Belt out of my luggage – (forgot my toothbrush!) – and I handed him my suitcase as he handed me my boarding pass and I made my last sprint for that morning.
My alarm clock at gone off at 5:45 am in my hotel room – and by 6:15am the plane was taxi-ing down the runway.
I also realised, that my flight home from Perth was booked for 3:15pm, instead of 6pm. So I am hoping that friends and Black Belts Troy Flugge and Adam Metcalf can do a last minute ring-around and re-schedule tomorrow’s (Sunday) seminars for slightly earlier time-slots.
Al I can think of is that there must have been some major glitch in the on-line booking process the day I booked this weekends travel (sometime last year).
On the positive side of the things – after dumping my luggage at the Adelaide airport, I am now travelling light. Just need to buy a toothbrush and underwear. I’ll borrow a spare t-shirt and soldier on.
I have just called the strength and conditioning coach for the Geelong Cats, who have just won their football game in Adelaide today. the team is on their way back to the airport to head home, so they will be picking up my abandoned luggage and will deliver it to me home for me. Go Cats!
So there it is – a slice of my travel life. Simple message here I guess – don’t take NO for an answer! Not when it counts!
Now … what kind of toothbrush …