The intrinsic need for unscripted play

To be clear, I don’t mean “poor” or “bad” training in the above. I mean flawed. Imperfect. Error-filled. Challenges presented. Aesthetically-displeasing. Regardless of what you call whatever it is you do – fighting, sparring, resistance-training, play, whatever – if there’s not an element of imperfection and struggle, of weak-linking an opponent, pattern-breaking, overcoming – however can we find more out about our own mettle? Without these elements, how would you ever find out that:

  1. There is ALWAYS more than one way to do a thing, do it well, and get a successful result from it. (Sometimes the scale of effectiveness, time, or efficiency is sliding but results are results at the end of the day)
  2. Learning through struggle is healthy and through it comes decisiveness, adaptability, problem-solving, inventiveness, and three-dimensional thinking.
  3. Resilience and robustness are 2 elements that are only gleaned during trial-and-error. You do a thing differently than I do – but we may acquire the same desired result.

Let’s do a quick definition of what I mean by “robustness” (thank, Erik) and “resilience”. Robustness, we’d define as the preparation leading up to the event. What you do to prepare yourself for a sparring/fighting/play session. How do you build-up your body for punishment, for moving explosively, breathing while under duress, develop the tools that go into being efficient within your particular body & mind. Whether they were the correct avenues depends on the result or performance under the dynamics of the activity prepared for. Resilience is that ability to adapt, solve, counter, create, change course, read pattern, and alter plan in the midst of that particular activity. They are inevitably 2 sides of the same coin. Without one, the other generally fails.

I don’t have a particularly aesthetically-pleasing body, and it’s not something that’s been particularly high on my to-do list. Certainly not a beach body that will make the lasses swoon and the lads admire – but that’s not been my motive. What I do have is a body that I’ve built for 25 years for the punishment of play against another human, sometimes giving away almost double my weight. It at times (pandemic, for instance) can get flabby or with a few extra pounds – but the explosivity, on-demand movement, connectedness, and connection from mind-body-and-back is always present, at least thus far, knock-on-wood.

I’ve trained and trained with a number of pure bodybuilders, the kind whose aim is to look good on the beach for the ladies and feel that having a little fight-capability adds to the package-view. Generally, though admittedly not universal, those muscles are often not “functional” muscles, not the kind made for that resilience and robustness. Sudden movement. Aerobic and anerobic shifts. O2 capacity. Long-term stamina. The understanding of lactic-acid build-up. I’ve also played with a number of trained-folk over 300 pounds of farm-boy muscle and natural-strength who were ominous, the exact opposite of the previous. Gradual exertion, utilization of power and bulk, and very coordinated.

Micro-movements, those unique things that we do individually that make a thing go and make us successful under repeated duress over the time of experience, exposure, diverse context, and consistency. Micro-movements are those things cultivated under stress when robustness and resilience come together and confidence and calmness are built. The things hard to teach because everyone has a way to make their nucleus of go-to concepts, methods, baits, feints, counters, fail-safes, secondary-options, and applications go, unique unto them through means of trial-and-error, by actually fighting, sparring, playing, resisting…struggling.

And, NONE of these things above are achieved through one-dimensional, static, compliant, patterned training, complex with foregone outcomes. The kind that much traditional martial arts uber-focused on hierarchy, idolism, rank, belt, and title simply rarely provide. The reward should be in the independence and self-sufficiency of the student, not the carbon-copy efficiency of cloning generations of mechanical-repeaters.

I have never understood why sparring, testing, play, broken-rhythm, unknown-conclusion drills, and the like can’t be utilized every. Single. Class. Instead of as some kind of finished end-product that a curriculum seemingly culminates in. Ass. Backwards.

Go out and make errors. Learn. Fail. Understand that one can make mistakes, errors, take punishment, absorb shots, get hit, miss a block or hit, be in trouble, be over-classed, have a technique fail – and STILL be in the battle and even win. That alone is an absolutely invaluable skill.

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