Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Get UNComfortable.

     As an instructor, there are numerous sayings I use in my classes in order to communicate certain concepts to my students, some of which I have no doubt they get tired of hearing. One of these is:

"If you're comfortable, you're probably doing something wrong."

This isn't to say that no technique should ever feel comfortable to the student, or even that a martial artist can't feel comfortable in a certain stance or during a sparring session.  All too often, though, comfort on the part of the student equates to complacency or worse yet, laziness.  When I looked up the word comfort, the words relief, soothe, console, satisfy, solace, and ease appeared in the various definitions. While it is true that as we learn to defend ourselves, these words do convey a state which we hope to attain, they are not often words we associate with the actual training process itself, and, more importantly, they are not states in which we should attempt to stay for too long.
     If we get too comfortable at any point in our training, we become less open to new ideas and concepts, and are likely to have certain negative habits become ingrained.  As both students and instructors, we need to fight this. A little comfort is good, but too much of anything will eventually have a negative effect.  Too much comfort leads ultimately to complacency, and too much complacency leads to stagnation, which in turn leads to self destructive behaviors.   As students, we need to always seek new ideas, new training methods, and new ways of seeing the same "old" techniques.  In so doing, we must never forget the "old" ways either, or we are simply cycling back towards becoming too comfortable with the "new".  Only when we embrace both will we find that we are actually training in the true "old school" way.  As instructors, then, when we find either ourselves or our students becoming too comfortable, we must work to become UNcomfortable instead.  If I went into all the various ways to do this, it would be a REALLY long post, and that isn't my intention, so I will instead focus on one method I have used in my own training.   
     I would be lying if I said I was ever truly comfortable using a staff. It is not my favorite weapon, nor one that I feel I am truly adept at using in comparison to my understanding of various other weapons.  With that said, though, I have recognized this deficiency, and have started to spend some more time working with it.  This isn't a post on staff technique, though, so I digress.  Here are a few of the staves I am currently using in my own training:

It may not be apparent from the photograph, but each of these has very different qualities from the rest. They are made from various different types of wood, including  Pine, Canadian Ash, Waxwood, Oak, and others.  I also have a staff made of Rattan, and one that is a solid piece of steel, which are not pictured above.  Some are tapered, some are not, and one is thicker on one end than it is on the other. All are different thicknesses and weights, and even vary in length. So, including those not pictured, why do I need nine different staves?  I don't...I actually think I need more.  I actually don't own just one of any type of weapon, and neither should you. If you only train with one weapon, you will eventually get overly comfortable with it, and we know where that leads.  Each and every staff moves slightly differently in my hands, and each has different properties that will carry through into a block, strike, parry, or twirl. Some are designed more for speed and others are geared more for brute force.  Some are made to use flexibility as an advantage, and others are designed to be rigid.  Some are meant more for spearing or thrusting with the ends, while others are better for striking with the edge.  Still others attempt to be more balanced in their various properties and characteristics. I won't claim that out of all of these staves I don't have a few favorites, because I do.  Part of training is finding what is best suited for you, and this applies to both weapons and individual techniques.  These become our favorites, and  will inevitably be our "go-to" choices.  However, as soon as I become too comfortable using one weapon, I will try to pick up a different one.  I have recently tried this with swords as well, and found that by simply changing the length and weight of the blade, I definitely needed to refocus myself and my technique as well.
        So, if a student comfortable using a light staff, hand him a heavy one.  If another student always uses a heavy staff, give her a lighter one.  If your students are rigid in their techniques, give them weapons that flex.  Across the board, this idea can be applied: weight, length, shape, thickness, etc.  Remember, too, that the staff is merely a tool I am using to illustrate a concept.  As soon as students are becoming too comfortable, it is the instructor's job to make them uncomfortable.  So, what do we do with the student who seems to be adept with every type of staff?  How do I make this student uncomfortable?  Simple, give him two staves:

Or, if that's still too comfortable, how about three?

Is this practical for application of the weapon?  Probably not.  Will it teach students who have become comfortable with how they move their staves new ideas and insights on hand, wrist, and finger dexterity, alignment of the staff relative to the body, and angles of movement? Absolutely.

So, what are you doing to get uncomfortable?

Kick. Punch. Easy Stuff.