Blog Archive

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Hard Way

Had an interesting exchange (both physically and verbally )with a Muay Thai student the other night.

The physical exchanges were in sparring, where I kept getting into a clinch with him, and he kept trying to do something that A) we don't teach and b)doesn't work (which is why we don't teach it).

After the session, I asked him why he repeatedly was trying to do something that was completely counter to what he had been taught.

"Well, you've got to learn the hard way, right?", he said.

Which is just wrong (and I said as much).

There are certain things that really can only be learned through experience, but they are limited, and frankly, don't need to be repeated a lot. If you have never been punched in the face by someone with bad intentions, no amount of description will convey way that feels like. On the upside, it only takes one punch for you to understand what it feels like (it's not pleasant).

However, it is pretty intuitive to all human beings that getting punched in the face is unpleasant. You may not understand exactly what it feels like, but you can understand that it will hurt, and that it should be avoided if possible.

Fortunately, the greatest strength of humanity is that we can pass along information to each other, from generation to generation. That means that if I've figured out a way to not get punched in the face, I can show it to you. And you can learn it, without getting punched in the face nearly as much as I, or those who came before me, had to.

Oh sure, you can go it alone, and just try to figure it out for yourself. But that method is, as this student observed, hard. It is also inefficient. You will waste a lot of time experimenting with stuff that people generations ago realized didn't work. You will get hit a lot of times that you didn't need to. And there's a non-zero chance that you will come up with something that someone else already knew, and could have shown you.

Am I saying you should never test things out? That you should never challenge your teachers? No, of course not. That would be stupid. Sometimes you have to put stuff to the test. There is nothing wrong with that.

But to just start from ground zero, ignore what you've been taught, and decide to try something else on your own? That makes very little sense to me. Especially if you are in a setting where you are supposed to be learning something.

Yes, you can learn the hard way, but try learning from your coaches first. It's a smarter way.


Maija said...

We humans are odd creatures. I get what you're saying absolutely, though as you say there's no better lesson about not touching fire than getting burned ... thing is you then gotta move ON ...
In dueling it's fairly easy to point out the 'why it won't work' stuff.
"Sorry' I just cut your hand off, so I'm afraid that won't work" is popular :-)
Honestly though, the same move will happen many, many times before it sinks in that it REALLY doesn't work ... but what get's me more than the repetitive trying, is the weird excuses I get when I say "Look at that, didn't work ... again".
Things like - 'well I'd take that cut' (REALLY!!) or 'my timing was just off', or 'you speeded up/cheated' or 'it was different this time''.
Hilarious how the mind wants to hold on to something that I guess 'feels natural' and that the brain wants to make work .... despite the evidence ....

Jake said...

Odd is a pretty good word for it.

Particularly, as you say, with a dueling system. I thought that "dude, I keep hitting you in the stomach with my knee" was a pretty convincing argument. It's even less theoretical than "I just cut your hand off" (unless you're really de-handing your students, which I assume you are not).

What I found really weird in this particular case was there wasn't even a weird excuse. I get attempts a rationalization, but this didn't even have that.

But yeah, the excuses do get weird sometimes. At some point, I resorted to telling people "okay, do what works for you", in the hopes they'd get the message. It at least saved me the trouble of repeating myself.