This material has been made public in 2021, the full series with reading notes is here:
This week’s reading group had me talking a lot more. Chapter 3 reminded me of a line from the series “Kingdom,” about a retired fighter who is running a gym and trying to juggle his two (very different) fighter sons. One episode ends with an interview, in which he talks about why he loves being a fighter so much more than a coach. He says there’s point when the mind gets quiet, “not still,” he says, “but quiet.”
There is a huge difference between these two, and yet the first is often the phrase used. Learning to quiet Self 1 is how we achieve being focused without trying. It’s also something that is able to be practiced through Vipassana meditation, “unlearning” to be judgmental and dividing everything into “like” and “dislike.” When I was at the meditation retreat, I didn’t like when my mind would wander, because it felt like a distraction from what I was trying to do: meditate and watch the body. But the monk assured me that this state of the mind, called nama foong, is a natural state of the mind. It’s what the mind does. So you just don’t follow the story and bring it back to the present moment. The example to draw from training is being pissed off that your foot keeps coming back to the wrong position off of kicks. Instead of deciding that you don’t like that and it must mean you’re a terrible person, you just note where the foot is landing. Kevin and I have a bit of a discussion about the difference between “observing” and “seeing.” We kind of decide there’s a difference in investment and interaction.
Yvonne added a great post to the reading group on Facebook about caring for house plants. Knowing a plant needs to be watered every other day is useful, but getting all bent out of shape if the plant ends up needing water more often, or less often, is useless. Just look, see if it needs water, and then either water it or not. Your information isn’t “wrong” if it needs less water. You’re not a terrible plant parent if it needs more water. There’s nothing wrong with the plant if it does okay with water every 3 days. Same with how you learn, how your kick is good today and not on Tuesday. Just look, then adjust accordingly.
Something I learned from Niyi Sobo (imnotyou.com) is that no matter what question you ask your brain, your brain will answer it. It cannot be helped. So what you do is make sure you phrase the question in a way that gets you a constructive answer. For example, if you ask “why” your foot keeps coming back to the wrong position, your emotional baggage about that particular habit will answer for you: “because I suck;” “because I can’t kick;” “because I can’t do it right.” None of that helps. If you ask “when is my foot coming back to that position?” then you might get a more productive answer: “when I’m not keeping my opposing hand up;” “when I’m slightly off balance;” “when I think I’ll be punched back.”
Observation without judgment and without trying. I noticed I was getting kicked on the forearm, all the time, after doing something to my sparring partners. It was a counter kick at the end of a flurry or something. I couldn’t figure it out, but I was sure I was getting kicked with my arm low. I didn’t ask “why” am I dropping my hand, I had to ask “when” am I dropping my hand. Simply observe. So, then I noticed it was after a teep. I’d throw punches and get my opponent turtleing, then I’d teep when they tried to counter, but I’d drop my hand and leave it down after the teep and get kicked every time. So I told myself to keep my guard up both during and after the teep. Problem literally solved in 1 second.
Asking “why” you do something, your brain will answer any question you pose to it. So unless you ask it in such a way that it’s going to illicit a positive answer, be ready to have the mental answer come from your inner coach: because I suck, because I never keep my hands up, because I can’t focus, because I’m terrible, etc. If you ask “when” you do something, the answer is pretty neutral, “when you teep.”
“Learning how to trust Self II” in chapter 4 is entirely why you learn so fast as a beginner and then seem to slow down or even plateau as you develop. Because going from nothing to something is without expectation. You learn very naturally because you see something and imitate it. The learning process is very natural. Once you’ve got some time in, you have expectations. You think you should be able to do something already, or more easily. I suspect that a lot of this is also to do with how much we can feel techniques before understanding them as beginners, but then we lose that as we try to fine-tune it all. So, I give some examples of how imitation helps return that more natural learning process. Imitating how Karuhat’s “float up” kick feels, versus how it works. All Dieselnoi ever wants from anyone – anyone – is for you to be trying to destroy your opponent’s will with every movement. It’s all feeling, the technique is so secondary that you’re doing it wrong unless you’re trying to rip someone’s heart out. Because that’s Dieselnoi.
Mark brings up a great example of how he and his brother would kind of create full motives for sword play, rather than just going through technical practice. Kevin brings up that this is exactly what Joe and Gen Hongthong (twin fighters/trainers) as kids. They’d watch Golden Age legends on TV, then go to training and play the part, “okay, today you’re Kaensak and I’m Lamnamoon,” which gave them incredibly vast technical awareness and fluency. Not breaking it down, but mimicking it.
We finish on a reminder that just looking at where your body is, what it’s doing, where things are landing, etc. is far more productive in keeping Self 1 quiet and letting Self 2 make adjustments. Unlearning the automatic judgment of whether something is “right” or “wrong”, whether you or your coach “like” or “dislike” the move, just look at it. See it and go from there. Don’t ask “why” questions, ask “when” questions. Just try it for a week, see how that goes.