Saturday, October 28, 2017

Creativity and Martial Arts Training II



"You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have." Maya Angelou

This is part II of a series on Martial Arts and Creativity.  Part I.

Me? Creative?


You may not think you are creative, but you are. Every time you work towards a new goal, or find a unique (to you) way to solve a specific problem, no matter how small, you are creating.

Problems and goals can be almost trivial in nature, or close to cosmic in scale and significance.

The lives of most martial artists abound with problems and challenges of varying scope and complexity.
  • When I get the Whip Up and go for the Old School sweep, he stands up on the foot I want to grab, thus foiling my sweep. What should I do then, or instead?
  • How do I get inside this guy's killer front kick?
  • I've got a new job (which helps solved some financial problems). How can I fit regular training in around the scheduling changes of the job and my other responsibilities?
  • I'm sixty-two years old. How can I keep improving at Jiu Jitsu without getting injured and smashed?
  • I have an injury or a disability. How can I train, or keep training?
  • I have a new gig teaching martial arts a couple of days a week. Awesome! But how can I keep my own training up to scratch with that "me time" gone?
While all of us find a way, if we are still training and didn't give up, a systematic approach to problem solving could assist us in coming up with the best solutions, and maybe let us reach them more quickly.

The Creative Process


The book, The Universal Traveler, which I discussed in Part I, divides the creative process up into phases or energy states:
  • Acceptance - you accept you have a goal, problem or challenge for which you want to devise a solution.
  • Analysis - gather information about the problem. As you can explore many topics, like Jiu Jitsu, effectively forever, it might be best to set a time limit.
  • Definition - In the light of your analysis, what exactly is the real problem you are trying to solve? What are your objectives.
  • Ideation - generate ideas for possible solutions. As many as possible. Defer judgement, go wild.
  • Idea Selection - consider those ideas you generated and select those which most closely match your objectives?
  • Implementation - implement and act upon your best ideas.
  • Evaluation - How did you go? What did you learn from the process? What new problems or opportunities can you identify as a result?
It is important to understand that this is not necessarily a linear process, it may go an an iterative circular process or loop back one or more times between the various phases.

For example, it may be difficult to select which of your ideas will best help solve the problem. You may need to go back and define your objectives more clearly.

You may find, while trying out your selected solution idea, that you hit some unexpected obstacle or an unforeseen limitation makes it impractical as is. "No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy." * You may not have to go all the way "back to the drawing board" every time, but you may have to go back a bit and select another idea to try, or you may generate some new ideas that you can now add to the list for idea selection.

[*German military strategist Helmuth Graf von Moltke.]

There are other methodologies and demarcation of the various phases or energy states involved. An online course I took about eighteen months ago, Coursera's Ignite Your Everyday Creativity, broke the process up into four phases:
  • Clarification
  • Ideation
  • Development
  • Implementation
Yes, this is meant to be a martial arts and Jiu Jitsu blog, and I will get back there soon, I promise.

What was also mentioned in this course, much more so than in The Universal Traveler, were the concepts of Incubation and Illumination.

You've been mulling over this problem for a while and can't quite seem to get anywhere.


Gary Larson, The Far Side

Go outside, go to the beach, go train.



Get out of your head for a while. Let your research and analysis incubate.

Maybe, a little later, in the shower, while walking around, or when you wake up in the middle of the night from a dream ... BANG! There it is. A possible solution. Illumination.

Archimedes. Be a little more restrained than this at home, kids

Not exactly systematic or repeatable on demand ... but we have all hopefully experienced illumination and know the feeling. Powerful stuff, and not even the most regimented and rational of us can ignore it. Counting on illumination to strike without the preliminary effort is ill advised, though. The muse is saving grace indeed, but you have to have skin in the game first.

Enough theory. If you want to find out more about problem solving methods, I can't recommend The Universal Traveler too highly. And the online course I mentioned might better suit those who don't like reading (if you got this far, presumably that isn't you).

Generating Ideas


OK, I've gone a long way off the martial arts track and risk falling off a cliff. An example.

I'm dissatisfied with my straight front kick. Or, more likely, my instructor told me HE wasn't satisfied with it. Too slow, not enough control or accuracy, I can't hit anything with it, or when I do I knock myself over, or they catch my leg, ...

Perhaps I'm an instructor and looking for a multiplicity of training methods for a front kick to keep classes interesting.


Front kick. WKA World Championship 2011

I accept I have a problem. Or a challenge. My sub-par front kick.

I analyse the problem. My particular problem could be one of the shortcomings I mentioned, or several. I need to seek information, ask my seniors and peers, watch myself kicking on video and in the mirror, get as much information as I can about what I am doing well and what I am doing badly.

I try and define as precisely as possible what I am doing incorrectly or what I need to improve, and what my objectives are in undertaking the search for solutions.

Once I have a pretty decent understanding of what I want to achieve or fix, I go to ideation, and use a number of documented methods to generate ideas. For this I need to undertake divergent thinking, casting my net for ideas and possible solution. Dismiss no idea, no matter how apparently absurd or impractical it sounds. If you run out of ideas, go back to existing ideas and change them a little or a lot, keeping the old and adding the new, riffing off what you already have. Get a group of people involved. Cooperate.

Back in the late 1990's, Rick Spain challenged his senior students, including me, to come up with as many ways as possible to train the front kick. The objective here was to come up with new ways of training to keep our own and the junior student's training varied and interesting, and have many strings to the teaching bow that could be tailored to develop the individual.

I spent a little while on this on evening at home, and after a slow start, got on a roll and quickly came up with over thirty different ways to train that technique. I still have that list handwritten in a volume of my training diary.


Training diaries going back well into last century. Just about all electronic for the last few years

Ideas went like this:

1. Single front kick - concentrating on form
2. Doubles/triples - one side or both
3. Numbers for duration or speed
4. Lead/rear leg
...
8. Slow kicks with or without ankle weights, for strength and balance
9. Between two sticks held horizontally or vertically for accuracy and knee elevation
10. Against focus bag, partner stationary
11. Against focus bag, partner moving in - for stop kick, teep, timing
12. Against focus bag, partner moving away, chasing
...
18. In combination with various other kicks, hand strikes, parries/deflections
...
23. With bungee cord used for resistance
24. With bungee cord used for overspeed
...
27. Squat and front kick for leg strength and endurance
28. Upkick from the floor, from various guard configurations
... 
32. Isolate in sparring, only technique either one or both sparmates can use
...

After John Will's recent seminar I'd add stepping into range then kicking, and throwing the kick while hopping/sliding into range.

Once I got going, I felt I could have gone on to more and more options had I so decided.

Coming up with lots of ideas isn't that hard. Remember to defer judgement and not reject ideas out of hand or jump on the first half decent idea you come across.

Selecting the most useful ideas from the list requires a bit more work.


Select and Execute


Now we need to use convergent thinking. We assess each idea against the objectives we determined in the definition phase. We choose the top three of four ideas which seem most likely to take us in the direction of those objectives. If we have trouble working out which ideas are best suited to our objectives, maybe we need to back up for further analysis, or more precise definition, of those objectives.

If we our our student's most pressing problem was that he falls backwards whenever his kick connects with a decent target, from our list of ideas we might come up with the following short list:
  • Kicking an immovable object like a wall to get used to recoil
  • Specific exercises for leg and hip strength (like what? A new problem! Now you have a process you can follow to come up with solutions)
  • Kicking a swinging heavy bag as it comes towards you
  • Slow kicks for strength and balance
  • Kicking a focus bag held by a partner who rushes at us (starting slowly and ramping up the speed might be a good idea)
We implement the solutions and get the student to do the drills. We monitor and evaluate the student's performance. Some ideas might turn out to be useless, some might work really well, or the experiment gives us new ideas, or ways to tweak those we have for greater effectiveness. We can go back a phase or a few and start again.

So, there's one example. The process you go through to work out how to counter to counter Harry Kimura's setups for his signature submission might be different, but the conceptual steps I mention of of inventing or reinventing possible solutions can almost certainly be applied effectively to any situation requiring creative problem solving.

I will look at more specific ideation techniques and other possible sources of illumination in the next article in this series, Creativity and Martial Arts Training III.


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