Goals, feedback, learning style, and Sophie’s Choice

Wednesday evening, finally got to see RS (I was going to get there if I had to CRAWL). Sadly we did not end up training… I had been hoping to work on some Hurricane Hands…. but we talked about many things and he gave me a lot to chew on.

Note: RS and his wife TS have two new canine children… Lexie and Laddie. You know how bad I am with names, so I am making sure to notate them here. One thing I found out early on about RS is that if his dog doesn’t like you- or vice versa- you’d better not get too comfy, because you will probably not be sticking around!

I knew that CC is not a fan of the BJJ- either in general or in the sense of how much practice time it sucks away from my kung fu- so it did not surprise me when the idea was floated that it might be good to at least take a break from one or the other (heh) and try to get focussed. It was suggested that I am 1)overtraining, 2)sabotaging my Shaolin by failing to make enough practice time outside of class, and 3)attempting to do the MA equivalent of learning German and Dutch simultaneously.

I know that my kung fu is suffering due to not putting in enough practice time, but I hadn’t really realized how the timeline makes it likely that this may have been a major contributing factor to Epic Slump 2010. I began BJJ in spring 2009, and immediately my outside-of-class kung fu practice time dried to a trickle. At that time, I wasn’t getting enough new material in kung fu to keep me motivated or interested in practicing much- but in the interim, I’ve gotten some new stuff that definitely deserves more practice time than it’s been getting.

I’m going to have to do some hard thinking on this.
Taking even a six month break from one MA or the other is something that I don’t think I am willing to do… it’s Sophie’s Choice. But I am feeling frustrated and defeated by both right now- and it was suggested that if it’s not working, working HARDER is not the answer. "When you’re at the bottom of the hole, stop digging," was TS’s succinct commentary.

Again, much more thought needed- but right now I am seeing that my kung fu is starving to death from lack of nurturing, and it seems that I need to reintroduce a firm commitment of practice time every week even if that means skipping some BJJ (which it will…sigh…. there are simply not enough hours in the day).

It’s unsettling how RS cuts to the meat in one short discussion after having almost no contact with me for over a year. I’m almost certain that he has not consulted with CK recently, yet he observed almost word for word what she had observed on her last visit: "Last time I saw you, you were really frustrated, and now you just seem sad." Likewise he observed (quoting ME this time, as I had said this to CK) that the Shaolin group which was previously DD’s is "pretty much already dead, but just won’t yet acknowledge the scent of corpse rot".

They don’t have a very good impression of SK, and I’m not sure why, although they only worked with him a bit during his very early days in Shaolin. I made it clear that I have a good student-teacher relationship with SK, and he’s a good teacher, and he’s doing his best. But he’s young and inexperienced, not very far ahead of his students, and feels that he can’t really OWN the class and run it the way he sees fit; he feels like he can’t even blink without clearing it with DD and CN first. With the exodus of first DD and then CN, SK got stuck holding this bag against both his will and his better judgement. He has all the responsibility and none of the power- a pretty pickle that I am not unfamiliar with. And simply not enough resources and tools to do the job that is being expected of him. "Up to his ass in alligators," was RS’s comment, not without sympathy…. which I think is pretty on-the-mark.

There was some discussion that the amount of time I am spending in that class is not the most productive use of my time. It had been my impression that CC was reluctant to take full responsibility for me as his student because I was RS’s student… in the course of this conversation it started to look as if his attitude was stemming more from seeing himself as "peripheral" to DD. I had thought I’d made it clear to CC how little I’m getting from DD, but maybe this conversation made it clearer. It’s intriguing to think that perhaps CC might be more willing to take a greater personal responsibility for my training… but getting that type of commitment from CC might require a separation from SK’s group to a degree that I am not happy with.

The idea was bandied that SK’s group is at this point less of a real "class" than "some friends getting together to work out"… which I must admit has a ring of truth to it. In which case, I wonder if I could still "get together" with SK’s group "to work out" and yet get CC to step up in a primary teacher role.

There was much discussion of what my training goals are. I know that I want to be more effective in sparring and stop getting my butt kicked by everyone. I know that I want to feel like I am getting more proficient as well as developing a deeper understanding of technique, forms, energy work, etc. I want to leave each class/practice feeling like my kung fu is better than it was going in. These folks feel that my goals are too scattered, unfocussed.

"SMART" goals- There is even a handy-dandy little acronym:


My goals are not SMART!

They feel that I am putting too much emphasis on the importance of sparring skill as both a goal and as a measure of my proficiency. Sparring being very "artificial". Also, there is question of how accurate my self-assessment of my level of suckage is.

Since DD’s group is doing very little by way of testing and observing a rank system, goals are not well defined, and RS feels that setting and reaching goals- with the external feedback and validation that entails- is very important for 1)to avoid sort of paddling around rudderless, and 2)to have a sense of how you’re doing.

The lack of feedback emerged as one of the most glaring issues for me right now. I seem to be getting little by way of accurate, usable feedback in either of my MA’s- and I continue to have a real problem trying to self-assess how I’m doing. What little positive feedback I get, I tend to not believe it and continue to be convinced that I’m an incompetant wreck. I knew this- but this discussion is making me see that that is having a much larger destructive effect on my training than I realized.

Another very significant area of discussions was learning style. You know, some people learn best from watching, some from doing, some from hearing, etc etc. They feel (and I agree) that a very large chunk of my frustration- and my conviction that I must be an abnormally slow moronic student- stems from the fact that DD, CN and SK all seem to learn in the same way. So do the rest of the more junior students in the group. They look at something demonstrated, and they can immediately do it (and remember it). I just do not seem to be downloading in the same fashion that they do. This may not NECESSARILY mean that I’m the village idiot; it just may mean that I need to understand that this is why they all seem to "get it" so "easily" when I don’t… and try to make some sort of allowance for whatever translation I need in order to have the material download smoothly into *MY* hardware.

The idea was discussed (and this is not the first time I’ve heard it, or thought it) that DD tends to select students for his group who learn in the same way he does, and that he simply does not really understand what is "wrong" with- or know what to do with- a student who doesn’t learn in that same way. This really has the ring of truth to it; and it is also a large part of what I was trying (and largely failing) to articulate back when I was invited to that advanced class, and feeling that I simply did not BELONG in a class with DD, CN, and SK in it… I was the piece that did not fit in that scenario, the round peg on a board of square holes, the one person in the room who was speaking French while the others were speaking Spanish. This also is likely a large part of why DD and I just don’t seem to "connect" our hardware is simply incompatible.

One thing that may be useful for me is to take some of those online tests that help you figure out what your best learning style is. Perhaps from that (and maybe further consultation with RS once I have some data), I can figure out how to translate class material so that I can "get it" without such a struggle.

There is also some concern about my work schedule, my poor sleeping, and my lack of extracurricular (meaning something OTHER than MA) activity.

RS and TS reiterated an open invitation for me to come to Portland from time to time to train, which is very tempting. It’s so hard for me to travel. Yet even these short sessions with RS (and we didn’t even break a sweat this time) always leave me feeling like the stagnant pot of my training has been given a vigorous stir.

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