I was honoured to be requested by Ajahn and his wife Yiola C to open the 2014 Muay Thai expo with a talk about learning Martial Art.
Public speaking really scares the crap out of me, so I really wanted to come with something useful and relevant.
Here is the talk, in full. Hope to see you all next year!
Last week, Ajahn requested I speak for 90m and teach everyone how to learn. I was hesitant. 1). I didn’t want to talk for 90m and 2) I would feel very condescending teaching people how to learn. I think everyone already knows how to do that, in their own way.
So I decided to do two things: 1) Not to speak for 90m. Instead I’m gonna speak an effective 15-20m. And 2) I think maybe I’ll just share my observations of the challenges that make Martial Learning difficult.
There are three main recurring challenges that you will come across in your Martial Art/Muay Thai career:
1. Listening to understand, vs. Listening to reply.
2. Organizing vs. Authenticating
3. Context vs. Content
Let’s start with the first:
1. Listening to understand,
Listening to reply
If you’ve ever gotten in an argument with a significant other, this is typically the challenge. We are listening, only to assert our own view, not necessarily someone else’s view.
Which in relationships is natural, but in martial art is useless.
Simply because Martial Art is physical education. It’s kinetic learning. It’s more than just about ‘shutting up’–it’s about resetting motor patterns so that new ones can be acquired.
In that sense, ‘listening’ isn’t really done with yours ears, it’s done with your eyes. It’s done by copying and mimicking without any comparison, critique or skepticism happening in the background. It’s about doing first, and understanding later.
Let the question and prodding happen after during reflection time.
2. Organizing vs. authenticating
As martial artists, we always run into the dilemma of authentication vs. organization.
We see a respected/renowned individual teach/perform a move a certain way, only to see another respected/renowned individual to do in another. We then spiral into a ‘whose correct’ rhetoric. This is the process of authenticating. Which can be detrimental to the learning process of a kinetic subject.
I instead suggest seeing Martial Art simply as movement. By that I mean motor patterns. That’s how we read kinetically. We then take those patterns (because they are not always taught in levels) and organize them into hierarchies. Hierarchies of movement.
A teachers instinct is to always give as much as they can. And often, that zeal to share can sometimes become information overload. This to me is a good thing, because it gives the student a chance to actively participate in their learning–not by refuting/ throwing away certain pieces of knowledge, but rather understanding how they fit.
Students, to me should always have a hierarchy, a prime movement, secondary movement, and optional movement. This is consistent in all sport.
A prime movement is jumping. A secondary movement is dunking. An optional movement is reverse dunking. All of them, are jumping and a relative of that master motor pattern.
We understand this in mainstream sport, the challenge for us in the west is to accept the same process in understanding Eastern sport.
This weekend, we are exposed to Ajahn, Coban, Matt and Simon. All different body types, different movement patterns, different expressions of those movement patterns, different experiences and different lessons from those experiences. The challenge for the student, this week therefore is to find the common physical movements that unite them all.
3. Context vs. Content
One of the challenges I’ve encounters in owning a gym and school, is creating a positive and productive training experience in a classroom of people with polarized athletic abilities and polarized internals.
People are all sorts of sizes, shapes, strengths and coordination. To add to the complexity, they all come in with different attitudes, learning styles, intentions, and comprehension.
How do I teach them all and improve their skill with all these differing directions?
I focus on the why, and less on the what. And so do they.
Why we learn, as what makes what we learn, stick.
Look at the internet–you can look anything up. It’s a wealth of information–but what do we access? Only the portions that interest/matter to us.
There is representation here from at least 7 different schools–are all your classmates here? Statistically we should be at about 7000 in attendance, but were not, are we?
That’s simply because you represent the most curious, of your respective academies, and I applaud you for that. Now my challenge to you is, to know why you train, it’s benefit to you and your life. If you know these things, you will know how to appropriate what you are about to be shown this weekend.
Information is not enough on it’s own. It requires practice to become knowledge.
Knowledge isn’t enough on it’s own either. It requires purpose to become wisdom.
That’s the goal of all learning, isn’t it? To acquire wisdom. All wisdom, should tell us about ourselves. Which is why context is important. This weekend, you must supply your own context. Our great instructors will supply the content.
I do appreciate the time, and hope I’ve offered something useful on your lives.
Sawadee Khrap :)