Blog Archive

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Taking the Long View

This is another idea spurred by Easy Strength. Yes, that book gives a lot of food for thought; it's good like that.

One of the cases that Dan and Pavel make in the book is that many people fail to take the long view in their training. The book is talking about strength training and fitness to a lesser extent, but I think the same issue appears in the martial arts. People focus on the short-term goal, the short-term training event, without really thinking about where it's supposed to lead them.

On one of the DVDs in his Functional JKD III set, Matt Thornton talks about a process he uses with some students that essentially involves asking "and then what?" Matt seems to be using the question as a way to dig for underlying motivations in the students training, but I think it's a pretty good question just from a training perspective. Where is your training going to be in five, ten, twenty years? Will you even still be training? If so, what will it look like?

Of course, there are a lot of people who have trained in the martial arts for decades. Some stick with a single art, and others transition from one are into another. But it's not clear to me that those transitions (or lack thereof) are really planned or thought out. They seem very organic, occurring not as the result of a carefully thought out process, but as the result of shifts that happen without any real forethought. Those shifts could be good ones, but I wonder how much more productive they would be if they had been planned first.

I think this resonates a great deal with me at the moment for a couple of reasons.

One is that I'm at a transition point. Heavy sparring went from being a thrill ride to a pain in the ass to a source of mild to moderate concern. I don't really want to get smashed in the face anymore; I'll play technique all day long, but my days of heavy sparring are certainly on hold, and they may well be over. Which means I'm now looking at how I want to develop for the next several decades and realizing that how I'm training is going to start to diverge more and more from how my athletes train.

The second is that I work with a lot of people who are relatively young--I was an "old man" in the gym when I crossed thirty. I look at how the 18-20 something year olds are doing things, and wonder if they're thinking about what they'll be doing when they're my age. Or even older. I suspect not---I wasn't thinking about it enough at that age either.

Dan John mentions somewhere (maybe in Easy Strength, maybe elsewhere...actually, I think it was in his latest fitcast interview) that he spends as much time with pen and paper as he does in the weight room. That might be an approach worth trying.


strikingthoughts said...

Interesting post. Planning looks good on paper but sometimes it's dictated by location and availability. If I count I've bounced around in 4 martial arts and dabbled in two.

I now have an idea of where I want to go. However, location and availability are making things a challenge.

Wes Tasker said...

Speaking only for myself - I've found that the transitions happened from more heavy, physical type training (FMA, Kuntao, Silat, boxing, grappling) to the Bagua and Xingyi that I spend most of my time on now and will continue to do so. It's also a matter of being integral to other aspects of my life as in my pursuit of learning Chinese Medicine and the 'transpersonal' practices of Buddhism and Daoism. Now I still do practice Kuntao, Pekiti Tirsia, and Qi Lin but much differently than I used to. Now I do have some students in those arts in their early 20's and they do go through the harder training - with each other.

I'm very grateful for the harder type training early on. It's supposed to be that way. My Xingyi and Bagua teacher has a previous history in Pekiti Tirsia and Kajukenbo. But eventually one has to move to a different type of training. I heard it said once that if your training injures you more than an opponent does then your best bet at self-defense is to stop training.

I think also the different transitions might come with a subtle (or not so much...) change in telos in training.

Wes Tasker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maija said...

Interesting that this post should follow the weight loss .... both deserve similar consideration I think.
Is what we do sustainable? should it be? What should the transitions look like?
Oh, and I have 2 words for you when considering what to train successfully into very old age ... Sword Dueling :-D

Maija said...

forgot to check e-mail box so had to write something ... please ignore this comment :-)

Jake said...

@Bob -- I agree, planning can be difficult, and any good plan ought to have a degree of flexibility. In my case, the odds of my changing locations is pretty low, so that's not an issue in my planning. But yeah, life can get in the way...I'm sure it will again, some day.

@Wes -- 1) Thanks for adding a new word to my vocab bank ("Telos"--had to look it up). I mean that quite sincerely, for the record.

2) The transition to more "internal" systems makes sense to me.

3) Yeah, the hard training I've done was absolutely necessary, and I am very grateful for it.

4) The comment about making your 20-somethings go through the hard stuff is interesting. I think part of what I'm dealing with right now is the realization that I cannot keep training like the 20-somethings. I'm at peace with that, I think, but it's a transition.

@Maija -- Sword dueling is on my list of three martial practices I'd love to study (Judo and the Chinese Internal Systems are the other two). :-)

Sustainability in all things is worth considering. All of this stuff should tie together, right? It's just making all the connections...

(Speaking of which, I stumbled across this article the other day, and thought of you. I'd have Tweeted it to you, or something, but not having such a it is.

Maija said...

Thanks for the link, Jake.
I will say that I learned from a chain smoking Filipino guy who weighed about 110lbs soaking wet, who lived on a diet of coffee, coca cola and candy, and occasionally ate a some KFC or fish and rice. I never saw him eat a fruit or vegetable, or drink water, and the only exercise I know he got outside of training was riding his bike down to the donut shop.
Of course he was dead at the age of 58, so I am not advocating his lifestyle, but he trained students probably 5/6 hours a day, just taking breaks to smoke, and ran us all ragged. He could spar 6 people in a row and not get tired or winded. Even weeks from his death, after brain surgery to remove tumors, he would work out in his bed slippers, barely moving his feet, and I could not find a clean entry on the guy.
There are many kinds of 'fitness'. and in the end his skill outweighed all of our youth and strength.

Jake said...

There are definitely those outliers who seem to defy the odds, but as you say, I'm not sure we should take them as an example.

How much better and more dangerous would he have been if he had taken better care of his body?

Fitness certainly isn't everything in a fight, but it can't hurt :-)

Maija said...

Ah .... but that's an interesting thought isn't it?
Would he have been 'better' had he been fitter and healthier in the conventional sense ....?
See, I don't know if he would. On some level we are incredibly adaptable creatures and as necessity is the mother of invention ... perhaps his skills were so good because he was a skinny, chain smoking guy with no 'natural strength, and no willingness to be 'fit'?
Sometimes I look at guys (and I will be gender specific here) who have always relied on their strength and fitness to 'win' .. and they always plateau because they never had to look any further as to how to prevail without those things ....
Sometimes when you have no choice, you get far more focused and creative than when you have natural 'gifts' .....

Jake said...

That's an interesting perspective. Maybe, maybe not? It's hard to tell. Certainly jives with the BJJ legend that Helio Gracie developed his skills because he was small and weak.

So yeah, maybe being less fit made him a better fighter? Not sure...I'll have to think on that one.

Yes, there are guys who rely completely on their physical attributes and stall out. Of course, the ones that have great physical attributes and DON'T rely on them are really dangerous...

(Side note: A camp counselor many years ago once told me "Necessity is not the mother of invention. Necessity is the mother of improvisation. When in doubt, improvise." -- Stuck with me for over two decades)