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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Virtuosity

During his talk at the Combatives Camp, Greg Glassman spoke a bit about the concept of "virtuosity".

Glassman borrowed the term from the sport of gymnastics, where it apparently means “performing the common uncommonly well.” He described it as looking at someone performing an l-sit (a basic gymnastics movement), and saying something to the effect of "yeah, but that's a damn good l-sit."


Glassman goes further with it: What will inevitably doom a physical training program and dilute a coach’s efficacy is a lack of commitment to fundamentals.

I see this a lot, particularly (somewhat strangely) in intermediate, not beginning students. Partly I think because often, beginners are struggling so much with the basics that they can't be wooed away by other things as easily. But once they've achieved a point where they feel they've "got it", they stop worrying about silly things like jabs and crosses, and start wanting to learn spinning backfists and flying knees. They want the flash, but it is the substance that wins fights.

You can see this in the great fighters. How solid was Muhammed Ali's jab? How diligently did Mike Tyson work on his left hook? A good friend who spent time studying with Rickson Gracie told me that Rickson's entire guard game consisted of a guillotine, a kimura, and a hip bump sweep. Fundamentals win fights, over and over, but because we see them so often, we forget how extraordinary they are.

One of the biggest breakthroughs I had in my ability to perform the physical drills in the PDR/SPEAR system came when I spent a solid year and half doing just the SPEAR strengthening drills for an hour or two every week. Sure, I did BMFs, and Weapons Protection Drills, and all kinds of other stuff, but I always got those fundamental drills done first. Guess what? It made all the other stuff way easier.

I think there's a synergy between this idea of virtuosity and the concepts of minimalism that I've been exploring. If virtuosity is a mastery of the fundamentals, and minimalism is the elimination of everything inessential, then coordinating the two should leave you with a focus solely on mastering the only things that really matter.

I suspect this probably ties into some of the Gung Fu/Qi Gong concepts that Maija has been throwing at me as well. But I have not delved into those ideas nearly enough to know if there's a connection.




15 comments:

Maija said...

OK - So here's one for you -
And I'll use a quote from my Bagua teacher as we have been talking about Gong Fu. He said something to the effect that complicated forms practice exactly what you think they do - combinations of weird angles say, and the transition between them. Beware of the 'simple' forms however, there is more in there to learn, which is why the basic choreography is easy.
Whether you think that is true or not is actually unimportant, but I think it's interesting, and at least related to what you are talking about.
Thing is, I think it's hard to define 'simple' or 'minimalist'.
Don't you find that simple things work because you have developed better timing, or understanding of range or ability to recognize opportunity?
I suspect you might be doing something 'simple' yet all the stuff that surrounds that simple thing has taken a bunch of experience surrounding it to get right and have it be spontaneous and natural.
I also think that the 'Intermediate' phase of learning is the expansion of imagination and experimentation, and is a very key part of the whole picture ... which eventually, hopefully, comes back to an appreciation of the simple.
I think I said in a blog post that my teacher said once - "It's very simple, there's only left, right, high and low". That's how he saw fighting.
It's kinda true, right? Just takes alot of work to see it that way .... and you have to stay fit, healthy, curious and motivated to find that place.

Jake said...

Maija,

Definitely sounds related. The two systems that I practice right now don't really have forms (okay, we have one form like thing in the PDR/SPEAR system, but there isn't a "more complicated" version), but at least in Muay thai, there are more advanced tricks or tactics.

I think you're right that part of the reason the "simple" stuff works better is because I have more experience applying it, versus the "advanced" stuff...but I suspect that the advanced stuff also requires more specific timing, opportunities that don't show up quite as often...it isn't as universally applicable.

You're probably right that the intermediate phase requires that kind of exploration of the weird and esoteric in order to get back to appreciating the simple. On the flip side, I wonder if the weird stuff wasn't there, if students wouldn't feel tempted to play with.

Or they'd just go on youtube, which is what seems to happen these days.

Cool stuff. Still thinking :)

Maija said...

Thought this might be interesting to add here: Here is Mick Coup's take on the whole thing from a reply to a question -

"The best short reply I can give, before I get in front of a real keyboard, is to change the perception of what is actually 'basic' and what is 'advanced' regarding techniques and tactics, etc.

I've been guilty of this misconception over the years, and used to categorise everything as most tend to, into being 'basic' or 'intermediate' material, leading up to that most vaunted 'advanced' level.

When I've really scrutinised this state of affairs - critically, objectively and with no bias to a style, system or personal preference, and crucially without letting a more stereotyped perception of what fighting 'could' be according to martial arts and/or media representations, I've arrived at altogether different conclusions.

In reality - actuality - you have fundamental material - and then variations of it.

These days I try to steer away from using the term 'basic' wherever possible, since to most it carries something of a negative connotation, something to rush past in order to get to the 'advanced' stuff. This is a complete nonsense in my opinion, for all these 'advanced' techniques are simply the endless lower-percentage variations and adaptations of the fundamental essentials.

You could even say, and have a very strong case in doing so, that the fundamental material is the most advanced of all.

Consider what the term 'elegant' really means - it actually refers to something that is simple, to the point of being profound perhaps, yet superbly effective.

Mick"

Josh K. said...

In my experience, and this is outside of MA, is that we humans over complicate things. That is we get bored or think that something plain is boring. So we take it and add some flashy doodad, a bell and whistle and go looky here I've improved on a 'classic.' But it's the form and function of the original that makes it all work.

I've always believed in "K.I.S.S."

And, I'm about to find out if it works in the the world of MA.

Jake this is my thought; and, if I came into your dojo, what would your response be as a trainer be?

1. I'm not interested in advancing through a system and collecting belts.
2. I just want to master the fundamentals And, I'm not sure if I know exactly what that intells, but maybe kind of only in a superficial way.
3. I don't want to learn prescripted movements. To butcher a term Maija uses, 'to be able to "flow" in the moment.'
4. I want a place to work through Rory's drills.
5. Basically I just want to Keep It Simple Silly.

What do you think,
Josh

Josh K. said...

Ps. Maija I really like Micks take on it.

:-)

Josh K. said...

Correction -

3. Should read this way: "I don't want to learn prescripted movements. To butcher a term Maija uses, 'I want to be able to "flow" in the moment.'

Jake said...

Maija,

Very cool. Thanks for sharing!

Jake said...

Josh,

1. Yes, you are right, people do tend to overcomplicate stuff.

Re: Your questions

First, it is worth clarifying that I don’t actually own a “dojo.” I coach Muay Thai out of Sityodtong Muay Thai Academy in Somerville, and teach the PDR…well, pretty much anywhere I can find to teach it.

The responses below assume that you come to me as private or semi-private PDR client. My responses as a trainer at Sityodtong would be somewhat different.

1. I'm not interested in advancing through a system and collecting belts.

Actually, nothing I teach has belts, so you’re clear on that one.

There is a system to the PDR, in the sense that certain drills and concepts build on each other, but I’m not going to make you do a drill “just because.” If I’m having you do something, it will be because I believe it is genuinely moving you toward your goals (you can disagree, and that can be a discussion). But I will not tell you that you need to learn a drill because the system says so.

2. I just want to master the fundamentals And, I'm not sure if I know exactly what that intells, but maybe kind of only in a superficial way.

There’s a big disconnect between your two sentences. You can’t master something superficially. What is it, exactly, that you want to be able to do?

For the record, I’m not sure what mastery entails either, not having achieved it myself.

3. I don't want to learn prescripted movements. To butcher a term Maija uses, 'to be able to "flow" in the moment.'

That is fine and doable, for the most part. In some of our fundamental strengthening and sharpening drills, you will be working on dealing with specific movements, and the drill may start out feeling somewhat “proscribed”. Its how we establish a baseline. As your comfort grows, we’ll get more free form.

Similarly, if I’m trying to show you how to do something very straightforward, like throw a palm strike, that is going to be a bit “prescribed”. Those kinds of things don’t necessarily require a lot of reps, but reps are needed.

4. I want a place to work through Rory's drills.

That’s fine. I like Rory’s drills, and am happy to add them to your training. Understand that I am not an expert on his drills (basically, I’m not Rory), but I’m happy to play with them.

5. Basically I just want to Keep It Simple Silly.

That’s fine. We can keep it as simple as you want while working towards the goals you have. If at any time you feel like we’re veering off course, or that I’m taking your training in a direction you don’t want to go, say so. I’ll tell you why I’m asking you to do whatever it is, but, as said above, it can be a discussion.

Josh K. said...

Cool, thanks for the reply. Trying to Gage if I'm being realistic in my expectation and goals.

:-)
Josh

Jake said...

Josh,

Glad to help (and I'd be curious to know what your reaction to my answers would be), but understand that my answers probably aren't representative of what you're going to get in a typical martial arts school. I offer a very particular service, and it isn't exactly what you find in your average dojo.

Josh K. said...

Jake sounds good. To bad your in MA and I'm in TX. I guess you could say I'm looking for an elegant, efficient minimalism in my journey from point a to b in my SD adventure.

The learning dynamic as I see it.

1st the teacher needs to know what they know.

2nd the student needs to know what they know.

3rd they both need to be able comunicate(discussion) and combine what they know into a whole. A shared vision.

If I tried to learn a 'style,' I would have to buy into someone else vision, and I'm not sure if I could do that or even if it's wise for me to do so. I'm not a joiner. To independent. To questioning.

Hmmm...,
Josh

Jake said...

Josh,

It's a challenge, no question.

Honestly...I don't think that you will find a lot of teachers who will answer your questions the way I did. I could be wrong, but I don't think so. Your average "Kroddy" instructor will probably look at you a bit cross-eyed if you suggest what you're suggesting. Maybe not though.

Where in TX are you?

Josh K. said...

Austin.

I know, but I can dream.

:-)

Jake said...

Ah. I know there's a PDR coach in TX but I don't think he's near Austin. You could check though.

(I also don't know how he runs things, so I cannot promise you exactly what you're looking for, but he might be able to help you out)

Josh K. said...

Cool I'll look into it.