Approaching physicality: humans need a reset

Approaching physicality: humans need a reset

Approaching contemporary physicality: the curse of choice

It was 2.4 million years ago. The first Homo Habilis, with his 600 cm3 brain was fighting hard to stay alive. Cracking shells, running through forests, fighting fierce beasts and trying to build necessary tools for survival. Life was tough, and every piece of food was a synonym of survival and development. Finding a small good root meant to be able to breathe a few more hours. A bush full of berries was a gold mine. In that world “more” was better.

Evolution did its course.

It’s 2018. The modern Homo Sapiens (aka “wise man”, following Linnaeus Taxonomy), with a brain twice the size of its ancestors, is rarely fighting to stay alive at all. Going to the supermarket with the car, sitting on a desk, sitting in the tube to go to work, winning arguments through communication and building complex tools through mathematical models.
Life got easier, and food became a synonym of sociality and self-love, rather than a strict necessity.

Obviously, this new-found comfort came with a new-found need: moderation.

However, being the essence of humans similar to the one of fire, a problem appeared. Try to give to a spark a piece of paper, it will reduce it to ashes in no time.

Offer it a book: it will take it, no questions asked about what was written on it.

Give to the flames a table, it will eat the house.

Give to the flames a tree, it will eat the forest.

The “more is better” slogan (very dear to our Homo Habilis) simply stopped working. Because “more” changed meaning. Where before it meant “enough to keep the tribe alive”; it is now used as “until no more food fits the stomach”.

Calories changed form, and from being something humans had to look for, they became something that humans wanted to burn off due to consistent abuse. The power of choice became a curse for life.

When Moderation, the daughter of Discipline, gets murdered by Gluttony, the son of Comfort, Calories become a bitter enemy.

Food was a friend, it became an enemy.

But what a funny thing to have as an opponent. Right? It’s almost …a paradox. However, people decided it’s like this, and started the war.

The Reset

This strife took the form of the fitness and the wellness industry. Calories needed to be burned, and those muscles had to be hammered. People flew into gyms to make sure they could join in the “ultimate annihilation routine” or try the “glute killa machine” (I didn’t try, but I am sure that if you try to Google a combination of any of these words you get at least 300k results of stuff someone posted online).

The body became something to wear, in the same way as we do with the latest piece of clothing from
Dorgia&Babbana, not something that is in all is in quintessence, us.

It is an element that is present in our lives sometimes, and that is more of an issue than a blessing. Think about it:

– It can break, like a car and we need to take it to the mechanic to blindly fix it (traditional physiotherapy).

– It needs to be given to a coach 2 times per week so that some muscles can be packed on it (traditional fitness training).

– If you don’t take enough care, it can wear off, and it’s not nice to show it at the beach.

– It is a weight to transport around. It is so annoying to carry it to work, make it eat, drink, go to the toilet.

…This body is a prison, and you can’t get rid of it!

Seriously, what is going on?

This separation between our thoughts, emotions, and physicality is leading to a lack of interaction and to solitude. It is a regression from all point of views.

Humans are complex beings, made up of a wide array of phenomena, that should be considered as a whole. Categorising, even if interesting, doesn’t reflect reality, but just a useful mean to orient ourselves into everyday activities. Just to make an example:

Meredith on the 5th of November needs to wake up early and go to work, come back to her husband, daughter and two sons to have lunch and chat together. After that she goes training, she keeps up the preparation for a theatrical performance, before going out for dinner with her family. Finally, she goes to take care of her old parents before putting the younger daughter to bed.

In theory, all these things are separated because they have different names, they respond to different needs, they even take place in different spaces.

“For every activity, I have my specific willpower, she thinks. I am a mother first, then I am a good employee, then I am a focused trainee, then I am a skillful actress. I am able to keep everything under control, no problem”.

Still, one day she is hit with a nervous breakdown.

How do you think the problem will be addressed? Will, the psychologist, look at the single activity, or the issue will be treated as a whole?

Thinking in labels and in separation doesn’t do justice to where evolution brought us.

A body is us at all times. And we are in deep need of reconnection with it.

As a species we need to press that small button that was so dear to all old devices: RESET.

We require a deep returning for understanding. What is food for? What is money for? What does it mean to be a person? What do I want to dedicate my life to? How do I interact with the place I live in? Why is work something I can’t wait to stop doing?

And similarly, the focus should be placed on how to approach our physicality.

Jane Fonda was the queen of fitness. Eugen Sandow was the king of muscles. Both useful in the process of moving forward in humans’ development. Yet, staying stuck in those paradigms in 2018 is like driving an old broken and polluting FIAT 500 thinking it is the last model of car produced on earth.

We need a more significant scope like the one Ido Portal is promoting, a crusade that I fully support, share and am part of. A movement approach that can integrate people’s interaction, health, body knowledge, artistic research, scientific knowledge.

Stop thinking about burning calories and hammering the muscles, go back into thinking about how to invest energies and use a body.

Until next week,
Marcello.

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Antidotes to contemporary venoms

Antidotes to contemporary venoms

Antidotes to contemporary venoms. 

Following on from last week article:a boxed life

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Venoms: Detachment and laziness.
Antidotes: Awareness and enthusiasm.

Have you have tried to take a laser pointer and make a cat follow it? Pay attention here.

The awareness of the cat arises. All muscles create a disciplined tension. The fur slightly raises as a physical response to a flush of catecholamines poured into the system.
The claws come out slightly to allow a better anchoring to the ground. The beast lowers the stance, the back legs get ready to fire. The head and the tail create a tensed line that points directly to the red dot. The eyes fixate the objective while the pupils get wider to attract more light. Absolute discipline, control, attention appear under the form of deep, complete immobility.

Right before the creature jumps into action, turn the laser pointer off (yes, the cat will be confused, and a bit pissed, but don’t worry about that, it’s for the sake of science).

Now. Take out eight laser pointers and repeat the same experiment as before. Observe the feline. What happens?

The awareness of the cat arises. All muscles create a disciplined tension. The eyes will follow an objective for few seconds and then …it will start licking its fur. It will let all red lights go, too many targets, it will lose interest. This will happen 99 times out of 100 tries.

You think humans work differently?

Try it out. Turn on the news on TV (if you still have one in 2018), try to engage in a conversation while you check a new article as you decide on a new pair of shoes and listen to a new single from your favourite artist. Good luck with that.

It’s impossible, or worst we can make it possible, but what happens to that person’s engagement?

The conversation won’t be meaningful.
The reflections on the piece of writing will be weak.
The judgment on the new pair of shoes will be shallow.
The song will become background noise.

You will end up being superficially entertained rather than actively involved, ending up losing enthusiastic interest towards all the beautiful details of life.
This will fast enough bring you to disengagement in presence. And this disengagement and scattered attention will bring you to laziness in the acts, tiredness to live life.

Stay full on when you do things, value every moment. Be the cat following a single prey.

When going to practice, do not close yourself into a gym watching a TV while talking gossip with the Tuesday’s stranger and about the bad day you had at work. That’s the fastest way to disconnect with your physicality forever.

Instead, find a community and a teacher you trust, get out there, do the work, engage in one project at a time, know what you are focusing on, value every activity you do, take risks, beware the “scattered attention state”, act before the long crouched and slimy fingers of procrastination wrap around your arms.

Do this and trust me, laziness, depression, disengagement will never be an issue ever again – you just won’t have time for those.

Venoms: Conformism and local life.
Antidotes: Courage and travels.

– “Ah, I wish I was young enough to do it…” – 37 years old man, coming out of the supermarket, without stopping.
– “Ohh interesting, is it some form of Circus the one you do?” – a couple in their twenties, walking with an umbrella under the snow.
– “What is it that you are doing?” – 25 years old girl, stopping by
– “Can you please do it again?” – a smiling old man, raising his eyes from a morning newspaper reading session.
– “Wow, I was also doing it when I was a kid” – a mass of random people passing by while shopping.
– “You must be some kind of superhero? / Are you some sort of thief? / Are you Spiderman?” – young kids.

I have engaged in millions of conversations when training everywhere, at any time per night and per day, with any weather condition. And I can tell you one thing: curiosity is powerful.

Everybody has it. You might be here reading these lines for the exact same reasons.

So, why in the name of Zeus and his lightings most people do not engage in diverse, new and exciting activities? Let me tell you what happens.

Well, the answer is that a certain amount of energy is needed to step in the unknown. I realise it is a big leap for many. You need to get out of your shell. You need to shake your beliefs, open up to failure, to change, to invest time that doesn’t come back, confront your stability. It’s easier to fall into conformism.

However, if you manage to break through, you will suddenly find yourself fluctuating in an unknown matrix.

The unknown will bring fear. Fear will bring a challenge. Challenge will bring change. The change will bring development and growth, two attributes that directly define what means to live a life.

By opposite, not engaging in the unknown it means to slowly die. The slowest and most miserable death; you know why? Because on your last breath you will realise the cage you have lived into. And I say this with full knowledge of the facts, having been in a situation where this happened. I see young people get old, and old people stay young until they exhale their last breath. “I wish I lived my life differently”. You do not want this to happen to you.

Stay hungry and fascinated, repel what everyone tells you to do, follow your inner voice, dive into new worlds, smile at those confused looks from people, at their angry words – their eyes and their words always hide the question: “can I join in?”. Well, good news, you can.

A great way to start is to travel. Go look for what is interesting. Go where the gold is. Do not be satisfied with your neighborhood, follow signs and directions. Do everything you need to do, save and invest. Go to the source of your interest. Never, trust someone who doesn’t travel; it’s one of the 6 markers I look when making up my mind about someone.

Venom: De-responsibility and poor visualisation
Antidotes: Accountability and creativity.

A pigeon takes a big crap on your shirt. Whose fault is it? The pigeon or yours?

The pigeon!” most people would say without a doubt.

No, it was your fault. You were walking without paying enough attention”. I would argue.

Exaggeration? Maybe. But which one of the two argumentative standpoints is more productive? I would say, the second one.
Because it entails taking responsibility for any action. Even those who are not directly dependent on ourselves. It will just create a good habit: the act of taking responsibility.

Take responsibility for all that you do – you will cherish your successes and suffer your mistakes. And overall, you’ll live more truly.

Drop all excuses as simple as that. Be accountable for all you do. Even religion itself is a form of de-responsibility in many cases.

Something incredible occurs: humans land on the moon. What a grand thing, so unbelievable. It must be a miracle; a god must have done it.

Something terrible happens: the earth becomes inhabitable due to climate change. What a terrible day, so sad. It must be a punishment; a god must be behind it.

No. It’s on us. It’s on me. It’s on you. Like a drop in the sea, everyone does its part in the big scheme of things.

And as a direct corollary taking responsibility for our actions will make us realise, we must reduce our impact to stay sustainable.

Drop the use of plastic, recycle when you can, do not pollute, do not over-consume, do not produce the useless. But how do we do it? Creativity and discipline folks. It’s again there.

And in a movement practice?

It’s the same. Stay sustainable, use what is there already (1), do not build for the sake of building, use space as it is, it is enough. It’s hard, but we are smart creatures.

See you next week,
Marcello.

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(1). Small digression: In the process of using public spaces you will encounter many problems. Some of those solvable, others profoundly rooted in the society you are immersed in.

When using them, take into consideration the damage you might do to the elements you are using, who is around you and how they perceive you, the possibility of you getting hurt there, the responsibility of city councils, the effect of your movement practice on the people around you.

You will have a chance to make people more aware of what you are doing or to contribute to a detachment between practitioners and bystanders. Every time you step outside you gain much power, and from great power, comes great …well you all know how this end.

From those operating from the top (architects, politicians etc.) it is needed to build robust elements that can sustain impacts and usage, schedule renovation taking into consideration that the material will be allotted to diverse use, an architecture that will call for involvement and an educational system that explains and promotes movement creativity and active physicality.

Won’t it be too costly? Well, considering the enormous amount of money that would be saved from the health care system if people moved more and took care of themselves, not really.

Isn’t it utopic? Maybe; but I love utopias. Many times, they become a reality, especially when deadlines are set.

Anyway, let’s look at the other side.

From those operating from the bottom (the practitioners) here are some rules to practice using any space:

– take care of everything (you break? You fix).
– talk and create a dialogue with those who are scared or angry because of your behaviour (engage with understanding and calmness).
– know the rules and regulations of the country you are in and if you break them take responsibility for your actions.
– Be respectful at all times and everyone will respect you.

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A boxed life – obstacles to an active physical existence

A boxed life – obstacles to an active physical existence

A boxed life

Andrea’s routine: it’s 07.00. Puts off the alarm with a sloppy arm. Time to wake up. She carries herself to the toilet with half-closed eyes before looking at her phone: 30 minutes of passive staring at things she doesn’t really care about before the mechanism of choice triggers in her.

It’s 07.30 when she stands up from the toilet placing her free arm on her legs, dead, out of the long immobility. She drinks a coffee and brushes her teeth before getting out of the apartment.

After having boringly walked her heavy body towards the elevator, she repeated the same number of grey steps to reach her car. She drove to work, hoping that the hands of her clock will move faster than yesterday.
For lunch: same place every day, eating something that she knows it’s unhealthy, but she’ll fix it next week. Then, back to work until 5 pm.

Finally free? …mmmh…No.

It’s Tuesday, one of the two days in which she has the opportunity to go to the gym. Damn. Well, it is what it is, let’s do this other fatigue, she thinks, anyway my life is fatigue and suffering.

She briefly touches the soil of her house to take everything she needs to go to the gym. Once Andrea gets there she changes into the newest Naiky sporting wear and proceeds into the main hall just saying a brief hello to the bored guy at the reception. She picks her schedule and jumps on top of the treadmill. Damn, 20 minutes of running, and she is not even seeing too much progress, well, she’ll think about this next week, now she is definitely too stressed to take care of it. Fortunately, on the big screens, there’s the newest episode of Fell Chicken. Thanks Gordolo RamSemen for that, now this will make a big difference.

She gets off the roulading apparatus, she pulls and pushes a couple of machines, feels a bit of pump in the glutes and she is off. After a quick shower she is wondering what to do, so she remembers of Alina’s invitation to drink something in the center of the city. Why not, she goes and drinks a couple of Mojitos to then smoke a cigarette with friends. I mean she doesn’t really like it, but what else can she do, everyone around her does it – poor girl.

Done so, she goes back home, has a quick takeaway dinner to then watch a movie. It’s 01.30 when she enters her bed. Damn it’s late. It’s not before the clock touches the 02.00 than her eyes shut.

Well, what was the point of this?

Andrea has a really bad disease; she has what I call a “boxed life”. In pills, a life that became completely detached from development and discovery; a life in which you know exactly what tomorrow will bring. The routine that she has built up during the years is so strong that she can easily act like a robot and let her shallow-self live it for her.
She doesn’t need to solve many problems as they are already being solved by the strategy she laid out for herself:

– Her job? Her boss will take care of it, she only needs to keep her head down and do exactly what is commanded.
– Her interests? The TV will take care of it.
– Her scope? Her parents said she must become a secretary and that is what happened.
– Her friends? They keep changing, they are the ones that come and go from place to place.

The same goes with her body development. Her trainer will take care of it. Right?

I deeply disagree with this behavior, and I believe this is the root of a profound long-term depression.

It could be worst for sure, she could also have a boyfriend/girlfriend she doesn’t want to stay with. Fortunately, she did not get to that stage, YET.

Responsibility is out of the door, she doesn’t live her own life. Successes and failures are on someone else’s head. The level of risks she takes is critically low, and the chaos and unknown she faces are non-existent.

She is a spectator, not a participant for her OWN life.

Her capacity to then act, when needed, disappears like a bubble of soap. She becomes a serial procrastinator that will only wake up when dead or other serious events will eventually wake her up from the life-coma.

Where is the adventure? Where is the exploration? Where is play? It is lost, into childhood memories and slowly fading at an increasingly fast rate.

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Your body: a shell to abuse or a creature to use? The obstacles to engaging in a mature physical practice.

Imagine a world where people go out buildering the city, balance on rails on the way back from work, living an active life. A world where people would stay curious and ready to face authentic experiences. What an incredible place to be. Everyone would act with purpose, engaging in all sort of physical activities, rather than living a grey polluted life, both for the environment and for the body.

When taking care of a physical practice, there is a difference when using the body as a passive instrument or as a tool that can reshape us.

But what are the obstacles to engagement than? Let’s see some.

Conformism: doing what others do, without critical thinking, questions or doubts. Why the car rather than the bike? Why a teacher rather than another? Why a supermarket rather than the farmer? Why a fitness approach rather than a movement perspective? Why the local gym rather than one that is 50 km away?
The most informed and better choices never come easy, but the effect that they can have on anyone’s life is just huge.

Laziness: as lack of decision making, the perception of not being able to do things. The procrastination. The fluctuation into a comfortable state of existence. Why are you doing nothing? Do you have a solid justification for your everyday otium?

Local life: as lack of travels and exploration of new places, stimuli, macro-organisms, and communities. Why are you staying in the same place all your life? Do you know what is out there?

De-responsibilization: The act of giving justification for what we do to someone else. Who is responsible for what you do? Why do you act as you act? Do you feel like you chose to be where you are or someone else (or something else) made the choice for you?

Detachment: Living a plain existence, completely far from the physicality. The development of a body of any kind. A life that is lacking voluntary risks taking and personal development. How many times do you expose yourself to your weaknesses and fears?

Poor Visualization: In terms of perceived options. how do we use what we have? How many things are available already?

And so on; the list is still partial.

Certainly, being aware of them it is already a starting point, but it is not enough. How can we move from there into creating actual solutions to these problems that can filter inside us and be understood? Next week I’ll post some antidotes to these venoms.

Stay on board and hold on tight – we are getting into the storm,
Marcello.

The game of progress: Understanding the role of mistakes

The game of progress: Understanding the role of mistakes

Failure is the key to Success or “Failure is Success in progress” are just a couple of the many suggestions that pop up in the google search tab if you type in the word “failure”.

In a society in which success is measured depending on the number of trophies you collect and the goals you manage to achieve, it is hard not to drown.

Yet, after 6000 laps around the sun – which is approximately when the start of human civilization has been dated –, we let our failures define our self-worth.

Apparently, what you’re not told is the most obvious thing: it is hard to reach anything without failing a hundred, a million times. Simply put, something must go wrong, before you can actually make it right. “Expertise” isn’t the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind1.

Just imagine what it takes to learn a muscle up on a bar; to successfully juggle five balls; stick precision jumps on a rail or even just get to a bodyweight snatch with a good technique. If you have ever tried performing something like this, you know for sure it takes loads of mistakes before getting used to the movement, to the pattern, to the exercise. You may be able to perform them in a first lucky try, but this is not what I am talking about.

Some athletes asked me once: is it enough to make mistakes over and over again to progress? They were referring to a perception of constantly failing in what they were doing. My answer was: “Certainly not. Something must change, execution after execution, leaving space for the firm establishment of a progression”. It’s not about the mistakes alone, it is about what you do to straighten the route. The small changes. As a matter of this fact, trying to raise a boiling hot pot from the fire a hundred times with your bare hands, will simply lead to a severe burn. You’ll have everything, but a solution.

So, the real question is: how can we get better and improve, using failure as a tool instead of as a limitation?

First of all, we need to unclothe our minds from useless complications and break down the first scenario.

Here are the ingredients for your magic recipe to “getting things done”:

  • An individual – called “X”
  • A task, or a problem that needs to be solved
  • An action from the individual, defined as an attempt to solve the problem
  • A feedback from the environment
  • A result: either a success or a failure
  1. X has a problem;
  2. X elaborates a first possible solution to the problem;
  3. X implements the solution into the specific scenario of interest;
  4. X either succeeds or fails (a basic feedback loop);
  5. X gathers enough information to understand what happened during the process;
  6. If the outcome is a failure: X starts over again from the top applying an updated strategy.

Nothing fancy, only a logical acquisition of knowledge.

To make this process work effectively, the underpinning evidence of a mistake needs to be spotted and sorted out immediately before repeating the task. Once the miscalculation is identified by the central (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS), the body is capable of digesting the information, making sure the same problem won’t happen again. Later on, a different strategy can be tested to see if it may be more suitable for the situation.

This concept alone is capable of triggering a massive difference in the way in which failure is approached. The environment only presents the raw information: a world of endless opportunities. However, it’s up to each individual to catch, understand, process and absorb them. I call it a “process of discrimination”.

That means being able to distinguish the background noise and the inferences from what is crucial for the practice development.

Many psychological experiments are based on this: it’s called target and distractor processing2. Another great example is the following: “I want you to focus and try NOT to think of a white bear” and there you go.. you’re thinking of one3. You couldn’t help it.

Just ”trying” to implement a new algorithm is not enough. Even though the same result can be achieved via a different strategy, the new technique should at least resemble as much as possible that of the correct execution.

Now, picture an athlete (for example the same individual defined “X” above) attempting a Clean and Jerk. Twice. On the first try, “X” may miss the catch in a Jerk as a result of projecting the barbell too forward instead of upwards.

During the second try, “X” is capable of re-calculating the trajectory based on the previous mistake. In order to correctly execute the catch, an upward straight line needs to be traced; backwards, but not too much, in order to prevent damaging the jaw.

Now, everything makes sense. Right?! You just have to fail, and try again; fail and try again; failing while paying a bit of attention to the mistakes.

This concept was theorized back in 1968 when Welford proposed his “Information Processing Theory”4. Since then, 50 years have passed and science surely kept evolving. Blindly believing in Welford’s ideas right now would be like comparing the complexity of a whole human being 5, to this useless machine.

The reality is that humans are complicated creatures that are capable of intertwining many different inputs to act and learn.

In the previous analysis, we failed to consider all the factors that make us the most evolved and intelligent species on Earth. Motivation, metacognition, attribution, self-efficacy, commitment and intention are only one of those.

The constant interchange of data in a system is created by the interaction between “ an action and a perception7. This is only possible if the interaction with different elements in the space (affordances) is perceived8, and the actions are consistently readjusted based on the “constraints” of the situation9.

Basically, when talking about skill acquisition and motor control, we need to become better in the act of solving new problems, in the fastest way possible. Thus, looking deep into the situation and analysing the environment, rather than focusing on learning a single pattern by trial and error, without paying the “right” attention.

Learning a new skill also means producing a solution to a certain problem.

The capacity of being able to generate those solutions is what can be transferred, not the skills. For example: kicking a ball, might transfer into kicking a jianzi (a feather ball). This not because the pattern is similar but because the motor learning process placed in the act of solving the problem and the situations can be recalled. In the theories of transfer, these processes are usually referred to as hugging (a comparison between a past experience into a similar one in the present) and bridging (hypothesizing a strategy from a previously learned one)10.

Similar tasks, contexts, affordances, problems, constraints, muscles’ activation and coordination in the body are all needed to begin the transfer process. This has relevant implications when setting scenarios for learning. Therefore, coaches should consider this, building complicated and interesting problems for their students and guide them towards progress.

Summing up:

Progress is like a game and things have to be done correctly in order to win the match. Failing is an essential part of this process, but it must be done right: as a conscious act of discriminating the important elements from the less relevant ones.

Moreover, learning something new is not as simple as the capacity to process a feedback loop, due to the complexity of our minds. The image that more closely resembles it is that of actively solving a problem. As a consequence, the more intricate the motor problems, the faster a practitioner will become at getting better in a similar field through transfer.

Therefore, the best movers out there are those who can solve an infinite variety of problems in the quickest and more efficient ways.

 

REFERENCE:

1. Palahniuk, C. (2002). Choke. New York: Doubleday.

2. Bledowski, C., Prvulovic, D., Goebel, R., Zanella, F., & Linden, D. (2004). Attentional systems in target and distractor processing: a combined ERP and fMRI study. Neuroimage, 22(2), 530-540. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2003.12.034

3. Zimmerman, J. (2018). Opinion | Don’t Think About the White Bear. Nytimes.com. Retrieved 24 March 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/11/opinion/sunday/dont-think-about-the-white-bear.html

4. Welford, A. (1968). Fundamentals of skill. London: Methuen.

5. QWOP. (2018). Foddy.net. Retrieved 24 March 2018, from http://www.foddy.net/Athletics.html

6. Advanced Useless Machine. (2018). YouTube. Retrieved 24 March 2018, from https://youtu.be/eLtUB8ncEnA?t=7

7. Bernštejn, N., & Latash, M. On dexterity and its development

8. Gibson, J., & Gibson, J. (2015). The ecological approach to visual perception. New York: Psychology Press

9. Davids, K., Bennett, S., & Button, C. (2008). Dynamics of skill acquisition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

10. Green, J. (2015). Teaching for transfer in EAP: Hugging and bridging revisited. English For Specific Purposes, 37, 1-12. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.esp.2014.06.003.

*Picture by Andy Day.

Huan apprenticeship: looking back to move forward

Huan apprenticeship: looking back to move forward

Apprenticeship is generally considered as that “process of developing from novice to proficiency under the guidance of a skilled expert”, that “varies across cultures and among different skilled communities, but for many communities of practice, it offers an ideal ethnographic point of entry” 1

With this in mind, consider for a moment the following scenario:

“Sha wants to start an in-depth training in Tai-Chi, Fu style. This really matters to her. In order to put into practice her will of becoming more experienced in that specific field, she decided to move into a new city where a well-known teacher is offering the chance of learning and improving her abilities. There, she is accepted into a community and after a while she can move her first confident steps into the Tai-Chi Fu discipline”.

To fulfill her needs, Sha had to actively build a connection with the system, bond with the other students and slowly find her way in her development. She had to make a move.

Without this point of entrance, the access to that specific declination of Tai-Chi she was looking for would have not been impossible.

When considering the concept of apprenticeship, it would be wrong to label it as a mere transference of knowledge, limited to the acquisition of an implicit structure in a given practice (It was Tai-Chi for Sha, it may be Dance, Parkour, Climbing, Meditation and so on, for you). Rather, it involves a reciprocal cultivation of skills, a common cultural education and the presence of an idealized practice.

An important aspect of this condition, is the participative dimension of the personal research. To get back into the previous scenario, Sha can succeed in entering the apprenticeship only if she is intrinsically motivated to do so; if she has some goals to achieve and specific directions she is willing to take. Without these premises, she would not have undertaken the first step: looking for a teacher.

This typology of education wants to stress the importance of giving to the students some indications about where to go and what to do, while simultaneously allowing them to fully express and develop themselves, within the realm of practice and life.

Researches on the topic, confirm that the best way to create long term memories and enhance the learning process, is to be personally involved in the practice development itself 2.

This is why intertwining the learning process with life – looking for links and transferable qualities – is so important.

An apprenticeship is supposed to do this, and a personal growth, to be called so, has to happen on many layers. 

The alumni should be thrown into many different scenarios, in which they are able to confront their inner selves. To do so, they have to work out of their comfort zones, in uneasy situations and have their emotions shaken while trying to reach the long term goals they have chosen for themselves.

The apprenticeship roots can probably be sought from as far as the beginning of humanity. In fact, various are the authors that underlined how the younger generations need to absorb memes from the previous one before actually being able to move forward. For example, early language deprivation during childhood irreversibly impacted the children’s ability to develop the normal language acquisition process 3,4. Just imagine if progress never happened. We would still be out there trying to figure out how to make a fire. Wouldn’t we?!

Therefore, the apprenticeship need to be considered as something that allows constant mutation and development. Borrowing a concept from alchemic Taoism, the word “Huan” or “還” that means “return” also means “looking back” or “turning around” while “moving forward”. That is, it represents a “transformation”.

This wants to underline the importance of maintaining a collective knowledge coming from the past, while moving some steps forward into evolution.

To pass on an art effectively, the new students’ creations have to be somehow mediated by the teachers. This assigns the result a figurative value, rich in significance. It is a teacher’s duty to spot these raising abilities as they reveal themselves; accompanying the students in the journey without completely altering the roots and the philosophy of their specific practice. 

All this can happen only if teachers are willing to join a “participant observation” rather than a mere “observation of the participants”. In fact, being actively part of a process rather than just look at it from the outside may increase the person’s involvement and overall provide optimised tools for his/her development.

The approach of “looking back to move forward” is exactly what an apprenticeship is about: a person cannot just innovate something without knowing all the history that had been leading to his or her generation. From here, the need of a guide arises and the student needs to be like a chameleon: one eye on the past and one eye on the future.

Nowadays, many educational systems are based on more dogmatic, cold and systematic approaches where all the students have to attend lectures while being distracted by more interesting activities on their smartphones and then study separately in an individual setting to sustain the exams. 

When I talk about embracing a movement practice, I think of something innovative, where the participants can literally fall in love with the activities proposed to them and look forward to see a progress in a positive and encouraging environment. A context where practice and theory merge.

To sum it up, I believe that the apprenticeship is one of the best ways to learn, grow and develop. However, correctly implementing it is not easy. It takes time, effort, motivation, money and a rigorous commitment. It is not something that ends in a month; instead it continues for decades up to a lifetime.

This approach to the practice, allows the creation of long term bonds between teachers and students, within a positive and fresh environment. To connect inside this system, a person should be ready to join the community and get ready to approach any situation in an “empty cup” state of mind.

Education comes before everything, and it should be achieved in the best way possible. Thus, depending on the learners’ ability to respond to each material considered. Students will need to be active and self motivated in their process of development. All the teachers should be on the field, practicing every day. In this way they can make sure to remain “inside the stream” of the practice.

Emotional and intentional experiences are a crucial part of the process too. The work on personal limitations, deep fears and discomfort has to be considered with regards, as crucial elements to enter inside this system.

Are you ready to start a “huan” approach to any kind of learning? It’s time to look back to move forward. Click here to find out more, or to start a transformative process today.

 

References

1 Downey, G., Dalidowicz, M. and Mason, P. (2014). Apprenticeship as method: embodied learning in ethnographic practice. Qualitative Research, 15(2), pp.183-200.

2 Prince, M. (2004). Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), pp.223-231. Available at: http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/Papers/Prince_AL.pdf

3 McCulloch (2014) What Happens if a Child Is Never Exposed to Language? Available at: http://www.slate.com/blogs/lexicon_valley/2014/07/16/children_not_exposed_to_language_nicaraguan_sign_language_wild_children.html

4 Brown, L.J., Locke, J., Jones, P., & Whiteside, S. (1998) Language Development After Extreme Childhood Deprivation: A Case Study. 5th International Conference on Spoken Language, Sydney, Australia. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292539482_Language_Development_After_Extreme_Childhood_Deprivation_A_Case_Study 

*Picture by Andy Day.

My Training Philosophy

My Training Philosophy

The aim of my work is forging strong, thoughtful and critical individuals through a movement practice. In my philosophy, discipline, creative arts and rational science create the logical and emotional grid that guides my students’ development.

Just training?

I believe in living a life and embracing a practice and I don’t believe in the importance of training per se. I want to cultivate better people and not just better athletes.

There is a reason why in many martial arts, the practice is also referred to as “the way” and not only “the training” (Kim & Bäck, 2000). In those cultures, exploring a discipline means to fully immerse in it, understanding the underpinning principles and approaches to then make it one with every other act present in the daily living (Macfarlane, 2010).

Consequently, every experience we go through in life should add something to ourselves, otherwise it’s empty and useless.

Growth, challenge, education and constant development should be the main vectors of research in an active life. Day by day, adding something new.

Using a metaphor to describe this concept, I like looking at a person like as the rewinding action of a shuttle, that, instead of leaving shards of self behind, it builds and accumulates new pieces on board.

As a matter of fact, humans are dynamical creatures, capable of adapting, reshaping, changing (Port & Van Gelder, 1995). Doing so, they allow themselves to grow. This, stresses the importance of the process of development as well as that of the final goal (Kornspan, 2009). If somebody gets rich in a day nothing will be learned, whereas, in the process of getting rich, many entrepreneurs got wise and their personalities grew.

Given all this, training sessions should be minor mirrors of our lives, where experimentations do not lead to catastrophes but to a sequence of trial and errors we can learn from (Young, 2009).

So that, if this process is done right and sincerely checked it should allow a person to go towards living a more autonomous, healthy, deep and shared existence.

Therefore, practice becomes life and life becomes practice.

About progress

I value progress as the capacity to change. This ability derives from a transformative process that implies an adaptation. It can either be dictated by random events or conscious choices.

However, in my work, I consider logical and methodological awareness particularly relevant, giving more value to this second instance. Therefore, reshaping bodies and minds is possible by committing into a process with consistency.

When the goal is successfully achieved, self-confidence and intrinsic motivation normally undergo a boost, that makes sure the inner fire for training is kept nourished and active (Kornspan, 2009).

In my view, the basis of progress should be aimed towards unleashing all the potentials hidden inside a human’s body.

Evolutionary speaking, humans are the result of mutations that allowed them to successfully use their bodies to express possibilities, within the limitations of the environment (Salmon & Shackelford, 2007). Therefore, the structure all animals are born with, is the ultimate resource and limitation for learning, progressing and exploring.

A bird can learn how to fly due to the shape it is born with, but cannot move on four limbs, because it only has two legs.

Similarly, a man can manipulate objects with the hands, due to the large number of options fingers provided, but cannot learn how to breathe underwater since it is lacking the gills.

Those biological limitations are the only boundaries I will not challenge in my researches.

Given these assumptions, it’s important to commit to this investigation with what the Zen scholars referred to as the “Empty Cup”. That is, with the least preconceptions, in order to embrace all the possibilities.

 

“Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

 

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

 

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

 

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?” (Reps & Nyogen, 2011).

Training focus

To ensure progress, understanding, sustainability, and longevity, different methodologies can be implemented and linked together. The starting point of my view is based on a deep research and exploration of the discipline of Parkour; learned from all over the world, from various masters, founders, and companions. In dark roads, wild forests and urban jungles.

A big inspiration of my work surely comes from Ido Portal, founder of the community I am part of, called: “The Movement Culture”. Whereas, my knowledge and critical approach to S&C derives from my MSc studies at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham, London. The rest is yet to come.

I consider each of these pieces of my development as complementary: merging to form the same part of the coin, through different transversal principles.

My investigation aims to look for non-technical approaches that allow maximal transfer between skills. I progress from families of techniques to attributes all the way into transversal principles. To give you a brief idea of the themes I touch:

  1. Displacement in space: brachiating, jumping, landing, vaulting, locomoting to name a few. Gaining different movement solutions and possibilities is, in fact, essential to work towards more real or complicated scenarios and explore any environment.
  2. Creative paradigms: dancing with objects, rhythmical work, task-oriented games, acrobatics and principles for techniques sequencing.
  3. Physical knowledge and awareness: motor intelligence, problem-solving, movement taxonomy, hands/objects/body balancing, body integrity, and segmentation.
  4. Physical preparedness: strength and conditioning training, mobility, hard/soft prehab and rehab techniques.
  5. Accessory work: visualization techniques, breathing patterns, recovery techniques, and emotional control.

A strong, intelligent body

When it comes to training, the most important thing is to be able to set the right amount of stressors on the body, in order to produce a physical adaptation without damaging it (Dhabhar, 2014).

In fact, if the progressions and the regressions of an exercise are not chosen correctly, then no adaptation will occur; leading to stagnation in progress on the long term.

Once assessed and considered the level of the person who will enter the training, the principles of progressive overload have to be implemented (Weineck, 2004).

However, loading the body must be done with caution. In fact, strength training is not only a capacity issue but it is firstly a skill. The technique is the driving force for progression, not volume, not intensity, not frequency, nor any other training variable. Technique comes therefore before everything (Evangelista, 2011).

A few more principles I use to program trainings are derived from the main theories belonging to some notorious sport and S&C resources (Bondarchuk & Yessis, 2007; Issurin & Yessis, 2008; Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2017; Verkhoshansky & Siff, 2009):

  1. Exercise selection: I favor exercises where human beings can overload themselves the most with. Bilateral exercises, low complexity to start with to then move into more unilateral and complex motions:
    1. Bodyweight into Weighted Calisthenics.
    2. Powerlifting into olympic lifting.
    3. General capacity into sport specific.
  1. Strength spectrum: I tend to train strength in all modalities, forms and qualities. Speed and power training, maximal and supramaximal strength, elastic and ballistic strength and endurance. However, if I need to produce a specific outcome, I rely on the dynamic correspondence principles to ensure maximum retention and transfer (Verkhoshansky & Siff, 2009).
  2. Loading schemes:
  1. Beginners: Low to medium frequency. Technique based training, linear increase in volume and intensity.
  2. Intermediate: Technical refinement, medium to high frequency and undulated periodization.
  3. Advanced: High frequency, conjugated periodization, shock cycles and great care of recovery procedures.
  1. Full ranges of motion: An exercise should be trained in full range of motion, to gather the most benefits out of it. Yet, partial ROMS might be needed to target specific requirements.
  2. Assistant exercises: I insert exercises in isolation to work on the “weak links” of the kinetic chains.
  3. Variety: Exercises must be cycled and varied to avoid physical and psychological plateaus.
  4. Conditioning: it is an essential part of the game. I train it through movement, in relation with the environment. I evaluate it at the beginning and in the end of a training program with the same rigorous testing of strength training.
  5. Recovery: I add recovery techniques and transitions period to avoid chronic stress. Moreover, I use methodologies to assess the levels of fatigue present in heavier sessions.

S&C, in my view, is an activity of support considered alongside the practice itself. It is also time and energy consuming and it should bring results compared to the effort.

If a goal is set, it must be reached. If a goal is not reached, it’s the teachers duty to underpin the problems that occurred: either they are program-related or motivational-based.

However, this has not to be perceived as a passive learning mechanism: the student must be active throughout the process, by questioning the material received and challenging it (Kornspan, 2009).

Injury prevention and correct rehabilitation are fundamental component of this game, since longevity has no price.

The teacher-student complex: receiving and giving

The teacher needs to be an example, a leader, a guide and the first to try out new experiments. He should always be on the field practicing, perfecting the old material and developing new concepts. Everything he proposes to the students must have been tried before. If not, it should be openly declared. The material presented through classes, workshops and personal coaching must be diluted and translated into different teaching styles, so that it can be better absorbed and understood (Mosston & Ashworth, 2002). Moreover, coaching should be brought along in such a way it can operate in harmony with the students.

Those, must embrace a strong training ethics, reject laziness at all costs, and trust the teachers’ choices. However, once digested, the material received must always be challenged and refined.

The practice must be deliberate and personal. No external stimuli should be stronger than the need for personal improvement.

Each student should oversee its own role and development: it should be their wish to join every class; to refine their flaws; to ask meaningful questions and to set their personal long term goals. Moreover respect should be payed to people of all ages, training partners, communities and spaces.

To conclude, here are some reminders in a nutshell: trust your teacher, believe in yourself, dream big and be ready to change.

References

References

Bompa, T., & Buzzichelli, C. (2017). Periodizzazione dell’allenamento sportivo. Calzetti Mariucci; 2 ed.

Bondarchuk, A., & Yessis, M. (2007). Transfer of training in sports. Michigan: Ultimate Athlete Concepts.

Dhabhar, F. (2014). Effects of stress on immune function: the good, the bad, and the beautiful. Immunologic Research, 58(2-3), 193-210.

Evangelista, P. (2011). DCSS: Power mechanics for powerlifters. Figline Valdarno (Fi): S. Ciccarelli.

Issurin, V., & Yessis, M. (2008). Block periodization: Breakthrough in Sports Training. Michigan: Ultimate athlete concepts.

Kim, T., & Bäck, A. (2000). The way to go. Seoul, Korea: Nanam Pub. House.

Kornspan, A. (2009). Fundamentals of sport and exercise psychology. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Macfarlane, A. (2010). Enigmatico Giappone. Torino: EDT.

Mosston, M., & Ashworth, S. (2002). Teaching physical education. San Francisco [etc.]: Benjamin Cummungs.

Port, R., & Van Gelder, T. (1995). Mind As Motion: Explorations in the Dynamics of Cognition. MIT Press.

Reps, P., & Nyogen, S. (2011). Zen flesh, Zen bones. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing.

Salmon, C., & Shackelford, T. (2007). Family relationships. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. (2009).Supertraining. Rome, Italy.

Young, H. (2009). Learning by trial and error. Games And Economic Behavior, 65(2), 626-643.

Weineck, J. (2004). Optimales Training. Balingen: Spitta-Verl.

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