Keep practising – especially as you get older!

A few months back I did a martial arts session with my original instructor. It had been a long time and I was far from my best, so I paired up with a relatively junior student for some padwork.

He was young and strong and had been training hard for a few months.

Little did he know that I had trained since before he was walking. It began when I was 15, and I loved spending hours in the hall, relentlessly asking questions of my instructor long after the class had finished. So when I hit him, he was pretty surprised 🙂

When I step back into one of those same classes today, I remember most of the techniques but my skill level has suffered – perhaps more than I would like to admit. But I’m still not your average beginner.

In my first session back, it’s best if I just watch, or pair up with a beginning student. In my second session back, I can pair up with someone who has been training for a few months. And after a few weeks, I’ll expect to match it with the guys who have been training for a year or more.

But why? Why can we get so much better so quickly?

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What is “Genius” Anyway?

One of the challenges with writing about the meaning and nature of genius is finding an adequate definition. Let me identify a characteristic of a genius:

  1. Geniuses solve problems that novices cannot.
  2. Geniuses solve problems that novices can solve but much more rapidly and accurately.

We also observe that the thinking process used by genius to solve problems is briefer, reflecting that more subprocesses have been automated.

I have taught martial arts since 1998. Last week, I was doing some punching with one of my students, Kenny. I wanted Kenny to throw a left jab then a right cross. A novice would need to be told “left punch, right punch” – or something even more simple. Someone who had trained with me for a while could be told “double head punch”. However, Kenny had done quite a bit of boxing training; for him “one-two” was enough. Indeed, even after a few minutes, if I used the term “left-right” or “double head-punch”, he would internally translate that as “one-two”. Kenny is skilled, but he is not an expert or a ‘genius’.

My original fascination in genius came from the contrast between Jack and Barry. Barry studied hard. Jack didn’t. But they got similarly outstanding results.

When we were 16, they completed an examination in advanced mathematics. Here, they were asked to show a proof. However, the proof was impossible. Each identified that the question was flawed and so in a sense ‘solved’ the problem. To gain marks for the problem, Barry provided six pages of working. Jack only provided three pages.

At the time, we thought that Jack was smarter – after all, he had worked it out in half the time that it took Barry. However, while Barry was granted full credit for his six pages of working, Jack was only granted half-marks.

One more thing to remember (that has relevance to the self-help goal setting world):

  1. Experts work forward, noticing and reporting consequences of the ‘givens’ until a solution appears, at least on problems that are easy for them.
  2. Novices work backwards from the problem goal.

Make your life easier: Frame your questions. Through finding the right framing, you increase your chances of finding the models and strategies that can give you the answer you seek.


Don’t argue with angry people

Have you ever been in a fight?

Have you ever been really scared or really angry or really intensely aroused in some way?

Things get messy, don’t they. Our vision narrows and our logic gets lost.

Once your heart rate hits about 175 beats per minute, you can’t think and your body starts shutting down. It’s not your fault: People stop being able to think with our forebrain gets taken over by our midbrain – the part that’s the same as your dog’s (all mammals have that part of our brain).

Under extreme pressure, you might not even be able to dial the emergency services phone number!

You need to rehearse your key skills to the point that you are ‘hard wired’.

I am contemplating returning to teaching martial arts. And, as I looked at my potential group of students on Tuesday night, seeing their struggles and noticing their strengths, I was reminded of the fundamental parallels between martial arts.

We need to be present in whatever we are doing – totally focused on the task at hand – rather than thinking about the past or imagining the future. Planning is necessary and good, though the time to plan and the time to act are distinct; when it is time to plan, plan, and when it is time to execute, execute. Too many great plans fail due to sloppy execution and I have found that something that we can do – now – is to focus on whatever your task happens to be in this moment.

How do you perform under pressure?

Let conflict pass you by

An old friend is getting really good at finding trouble. He is not overly physically large, but his behaviour is as aggressive as it is provocative. It’s like he walks around the generally quiet and peaceful Brisbane looking for violence. This type of guy can be a menace for everyone around him, and you really want to stay out of his way; but the way that he projected his violent nature was interesting to me.

He was acting as though he could take on the world – that he was indestructible and violent and felt no pain. In short, he acted crazy! And by acting crazy, he communicated to the world that they didn’t want to rumble with him. Along the way, he was an obnoxious creep, but if you can choose to behave just a little bit crazy at the right times, you might manage to psych-out potential problems.

As I thought about it a bit more, I came across this article talking about how to handle bullies. One of the highlights is to be aware of what you communicate to a potential aggressor. To avoid a conflict, when the potential aggressor comes into your presence, you will want to be calm and focus on what you’re doing; don’t keep looking back at him (or her) and certainly don’t just steal glances before quickly looking down from time to time – that just makes you into a victim.

When you drop your ego down, you can effectively go into a ‘stealth mode’ that will make you less attractive to potential aggressors.

Still, when push comes to shove, you might want to make sure that you remember how to drop him with a punch to his chin, forearm to the throat or elbow across the jaw… don’t make a mess, but get the job done.

Resolving conflict

The end result of our martial arts training is to increase the amount of freedom that we have. We seek to eliminate the threats that may prevent us from having the world as we want it to be. We do not train to hurt other people: hurting others is sometimes necessary to maintain our own security…