Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The never ending path...

Are we ever done learning?  The short answer is, No!  No matter how good you are at something there is always more to learn.  It is arguable that one could still reach mastery of a topic without knowing every facet of that topic.  I think this is also possible in that our level of understanding allows us to make an educated guess on how to proceed through new circumstances related to our mastered topic. 

Bloom's Taxonomy is a model of cognitive development and is an essential concept used in learning.

 By understanding this model we can determine where we stand in our journey toward mastery.  Examining this model, several things stand out to me as they regard the martial arts.  First, several of the martial arts many schools I have studied with require nothing more than the lowest level of development which is simply remembering the material.  As you can see by the chart above that is simple not enough to demonstrate a complete grasp over a subject.  Especially something as complex as the martial arts.

It is my opinion that the goal of any martial artist is to reach the highest level of cognitive ability and according to this chart that is creating.  For example, in Karate we study Kata as part of our art.  Kata is performed until it is remembered and that is usually the end of our study of that Kata.  However, that means we are not even on the threshold of understanding. 

Kata requires that we remember each movement, mechanic, and transition.  Once we have that information it is time to understand why those moves are arranged the way they are and how each part works together.  Once we understand it is time to apply those lessons to a partner in a controlled way so that we can see maybe why they do what they do.  Once we have applied we need to analyze what we have done, our mistakes, successes, uncertainties.  Taking the information from our analysis we evaluate it and we might even bounce between analysis and evaluation for some time before coming to conclusion and being able to take all the parts we have learned to creating our own movements.  Perhaps even our own Kata.

So the next question, is creation the end?  Again.  No! I don't think so.  There are centuries of man hours in the study of the martial arts.  When you get to the highest level of study a difference of even an inch can be monumental in its effects.  Plus, as an instructor, their is always more material to learn about how to teach more effectively or new information on exercise science that could help avoid injuries or maybe even help to improve the performance of a student. 

I have met instructors that were too prideful to be willing to put a white belt on again and admit they didn't know.  In Japanese the word "Sensei" means one who came before.  It implies but does not mean master to many people in the west.  I am happy to take this title but also realize that it means little more than I am the guy who knows just a little bit more than the other guys in the class.  When I am no longer the guy who knows more about a topic then it is time to step aside and let someone else teach. 

So let us pretend that one truth is discovered about the martial arts every generation and a generation is roughly 20 years.  How far back do the arts go?  The martial arts have been around since...people started fighting.  Jujutsu first recorded exchange in Japan was about 11 B.C.  Sumo goes further back than that at roughly 22 B.C.  So 2009 + 20 / 20 = 101.5 generations of a single truth each.  Take each of these 101.5 truths and run them through Bloom's model above.  Taken further lets say that is take a year to completely run one concept through Bloom's taxonomy.  No problem.  Only 101.5 years before we have mastered each truth.

I would say these are fairly conservative numbers and that all of them are made up but they go a long way to demonstrating my point.  We will never be done.  So all you so called masters and grandmasters out there that say..."Ha! I already knew that..."  Congratulations for having done the impossible.  I say, keep studying.

I close by making some suggestions.  Read one or all of the following books.  I have posted reviews over most of them on my website:  Guinnmartialarts.com

Of those that I have not posted reviews they are coming.

The Way of Kata
The Gift of Fear
The Little Black Book of Violence
The Book of Five Rings
The Way to Black Belt
Martial Arts Instruction

All great books and there are plenty more where those came from...


Friday, November 6, 2009

Master of the Martial Arts

"Choosing not to follow in the footsteps of the masters, but rather seeking what they sought." - Matsu Basho

This is one of the most profound quotes I have ever read.  In the martial arts it is the nature of the study to be very comparative.  When we learn we generally watch the instructor and maybe listen to a short lecture but then we get to work and try to compare what we do to those with more experience.  Not the most efficient of teaching styles but a very traditional approach for Karate over the last fifty years or so.  To emphasis this point, almost everyone and especially martial artists know of Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, perhaps even Jackie Chan and Jet Li.  Each great martial artists in their own right.  (Perhaps masters and perhaps not but that is irrelevant for now.)  Many times I have heard of martial artists comparing themselves to these people or acknowledging to others that they have studied this style or that.  We idolize some person of renown and in doing so we work against the things they represent.

Masters are not the people who have become the pinnacle of average.  We do not measure their accomplishments by saying they are exactly like all these other people.  Bruce Lee was a great martial artist and it would be great for someone to claim to be as good as he was in his prime.  However, even that sentiment would have made Mr. Lee frown I think.  Shouldn't it be our goal to seek perfection.

Their is nothing wrong in learning from the masters but we also need to blaze our own trail.  Each of us is a unique person and therefore capable of different things then the masters we might idolize.  Our abilities, accomplishments, even our failures shape who we are and how we are going to move into the future.

Several years ago I had a discussion with one of my instructors.  He was a great martial artist and a really good fighter.  Overall he was an average teacher but had tons of information to share.  It was very interesting.  However, during the course of our discussion I decided that he was wrong about some particular point.  I respectfully removed myself from the conversation and went on about my business.  I studied with him for a while longer.  Probably about another six months or so and then I had a falling out with the schools office manager.  I still have the utmost respect for this instructor as a fighter.  The interesting this was that when I realized he was wrong it was very liberating.  I began to inspect the other areas of my life where I had taken what others have said at face value and realized that some of these assumptions were wrong too.

I was then reminded that people are human.  As such they are all fallible and could very well be wrong.  That is not an excuse not to stop listening to people but it is a very good reason to investigate what they say.  Or at least run it through the ol' BS filter to see if it holds water.  I have sense caught many things as false that I would have simply believed and every once in a while I still miss the occasional issue.

I love how Mr. Rory Miller put it.  Paraphrased from the book "Meditations on Violence" (you should read this book).  You have permission to succeed, to survive, to fight back."  And from me, you have permission to not believe until you find a way to prove any claims truth.

Give all this, it is our job in the martial arts to seek what the masters sought.  To test, inspect, and consider everything we are taught.  To make sure that every path we choose is one that will help us progress to the best, most perfect self that we can attain.  It should be our goal to one day have people say I want to be like him.  We will then turn to them and in a firm but caring way say, "No! Seek your best self, the martial arts only have need of one of me."

Curriculum development - when to begin...

I have been in the process of developing my rank requirements for Karate in my martial arts school.  I have the benefit and curse of not belonging to a ranking organization that demands particular criteria.  Although some days I think it would be nice to have that and others I remember what it was like.  The material I have been studying on education and other martial philosophies would dictate that the key is deciding where I want the curriculum to take each student.  What are my objectives for the sum of all lessons. 

Once I have this model or sum of all material in mind I can start to work backwards.  Making sure to balance each level with a good progression.  The problem I keep having is that I continue to do research and with each new book I find more paradigm shifting material.  This requires that I go back and re-evaluate the entire curriculum. 

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." - Confucius

Well I have taken many single steps and I think it is time to just begin walking.  Even if I go the wrong direction at least I am making some progress.  I think the fear of failure has me stopping and going a lot.  So does that mean I should stop or go?  Well I have another quote.

"I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward." - Thomas Edison

This to me means that I have a better chance of success by failing then by standing still.  Cause at least failing is a way of eliminating practices that do not work.  Now I think the next step on that path is to start tracking the things that work and the things that don't.  What better place to leave those findings but here on this blog.  Hopefully others will benefit from my experience.  And perhaps even reduce their number of needed failures.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


A good friend of mine made this graphic and I think it is very funny.  Although it does have a very good point that I want to point out briefly.  Gravity is usually a good thing, however, at the end of a throw where you are the inverted one (called Uke in Judo and other styles) and the ground is rapidly approaching, it is a harsh master.  I paraphrase one of my instructors by saying, "Your environment is a far more dangerous weapon than fists and feet."

Food for thought.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Controlling your emotions

There have been times in my life where I was able to control my emotions pretty well.  Bottle them up, ignore them, shut them off, I am not sure which analogy is going to be best.  As a martial artist it is implied and in some school outright expected that you control your emotions.  No anger, fear, happiness, etc...

So is emotional control possible or is it more of an illusion?

Importance of loss?

Loss is defined as: detriment, disadvantage, or deprivation from failure to keep, have, or get. We feel loss when we lose an object. We also feel loss when we lose a person. However, I think the feeling of loss is much more acute when we lose people as with things.

I have seen people lose houses and every possession they own in the world. I could see the loss in their faces. They were certainly not happy, perhaps even devastated. However, the look of loss was worse when people are lost. I remember when my father passed away and the feeling of loss was very strong. Much more than any single item I have ever misplaced or had stolen.

So what does that mean to us. If the sense of loss is greater between people then relationships must therefore be much more important to us in the long term. Remember as we approach the holiday season how much higher a priority our relationships must be over the things we might buy each other.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Where to start...

This blog is going to be a journal for me to get the things in my head out. For example, I was listening to a song this morning called, "Running just to catch myself" by Mark Shultz.

Apparently Mr. Shultz has lived this life or is an incredible researcher. His depiction of my life in his song was so close it was scary. I am a martial artist trapped in corporate America. For some reason I told myself that I wanted a career in I.T. and not a career making a little money as a martial arts instructor. Which leads me to one of my favorite quotes.

"Find something you love to do and you'll never work a day in your life." - Mark Twain

That said, I love the martial arts. A LOT. I have read every book I can get my hands on and am still finding and reading more daily. So why did I choose the corporate work rather than the martial arts. I am still not sure. Perhaps some day I will know but for now I will save that for another article later.

Anyway, this is a stream of consciousness writing and I hope in the future I will be able to get some more organized thoughts out of my head. Again this is just a way for me to get some thoughts out of my head. Eventually this will also be done in a way that will allow me to look back on my writings and reflect on what I have experienced.