January 30, 2014

Fake it 'til you make it! No, wait. That's dumb.

Good ole Ben Franklin said, “There is much difference between imitating a good man and counterfeiting him.” This applies well to training. If we’re mimicking our teachers, chances are our movement will fall apart - we’ll be in the wrong space, at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing, for reasons inexplicable to us. We’re trying to imitate their movement, but all we wind up doing is counterfeiting it. 

In 1997, I received my black belt in Japan - I had been training just over a year (although I had 15 years prior experience before arriving). Not only that, my teacher jumped me several ranks, so I thought I was "hot shit."

I decided as part of my 'hot shitness' I would begin training with "scary" Nagato sensei, who at the time had quite a rep for bad assery.  

When I first started training with him all those years ago he would say, "Move like me. Imitate me." So I did. But just a few years later, he was no longer saying that. His sentiment had evolved into, "If you need a place to begin, move like me. Otherwise, move like you." And just a while after that it was, "You are not me, so don't move like me. Move like you." This was my experience - he even told one of my most senior guys that he moved too much like me and should try to move more like himself. This realization was huge. 

When we observe our teachers we can make the mistake of trying to, "move like them." But our teacher's movement is there to inspire us - we may see "what" they're doing, but not understand "how" they're doing "what" they're doing. 

This is why things get confusing. Their expression is made with their Uke, in their moment, with their movement. And instead of putting ourselves through a similar process of experience, we imitate their response. In other words, we try to recreate their solution for a problem that is singular to us - our partner is ours, in this moment, with our movement.   

Try imitating a great comedian or musician – we'll always come up short because copying the inspiring thing they do is not the thing we're actually looking to do. What we want is the "secret" to making that thing inspiring in the first place. But like a great magician, what we see is not what is actually occurring. The "secret" is behind the scenes, hidden in their movement. So, we wind up counterfeiting for a basic reason: We cannot fake good habits. But how do we achieve “good habits?”

If we were painters-in-training would we rely on mimicking every single thing our teacher did to advance our own ability? From squeezing out a turd of paint onto a palette, to specific brushstrokes? If we relied on them for everything, at what point would we become a painter ourselves? At what point would we become an "artist" in our own right? Shouldn't we be artists from the get-go? We're already responsible for our actions and consequences even without training. So, why shouldn't we take responsibility right away? 

Ever hear the phrase, "Fake it until you make it?" This is dumb. Don't do this. It's what stupid people think is smart - what they say instead of providing sound advice because they suck (besides, even if you could "fake it," why would you want to?). You can't fake martial arts. You can't fake protecting yourself or others. Can you fake driving a car? Of course not - either you can or you crash.   

Don't believe me? Then take 20 minutes YouTubing some of the frauds out there - they are not hard to find. Watching them, like watching any nonsense, will make your brain ache because it's to see baby seals disarm hunters and club the shit out of them. It might be what you hoped for, but it's totally fabricated. In the real world baby seals always die.   

Watching fakes will also make your heart ache because at our deepest level it violates the common sense - not only do they not "know the ought" they don't even know they ought to know it. 

My advice: Make it (and you won't have to fake it). Instead of watching our teacher and trying to recreate their movement, watch the “outcome” of their movement, and try to recreate that. The outcome is more than likely observable and accomplishable. What happened to the Uke? Where did their balance go - forward? Backward? Did they fall to their butt or their back? Read the outcome like directions on a map. Sure, we may not be able to get to that destination right away, but heading in the right direction is a better start than being clueless as to which way we should even face to start the journey.

I'm certainly not saying we shouldn't pay attention to, observe, and be inspired by our teachers. But relying on them is simply not enough. Recreating the outcome at our level of ability is exceptionally important because it’s the only way we come to understand circumstantial "proportionality" – the inscrutable "how" to do the "what" it is we're trying to do.

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