Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The secret of the one-inch punch

The one-inch punch was made famous by Bruce Lee. He would occasionally demonstrate  his ability to quickly generate force with very little movement. With his fist just one inch away from a target, he would knock larger men than himself back or even off their feet. Here is a demonstration.

Wow! Ok, not really...or maybe a tiny "wow". The one-inch punch is what I like to call a kungfu parlor trick like the bed of nails, or bending a spear with your throat. Certainly there is some technique to it, but it doesn't really demonstrate anything that unusual except maybe basic physics.

When you put your fist one-inch away from something, you can't effectively "hit" the way most people try to hit. You have to push or hit through the thing in front of you. Funny enough, you can push people at 1 inch or even zero inches. When you push someone quickly, they get moved backward quickly.

If you want a more dramatic result, you will need to use your body to generate power through the feet, waist, torso and/or shoulders. You can get the basic effect by straightening your arm (pushing) while turning your waist at the same time quickly.

Actually, doing it well does require some understanding of power generation and the ability to relax so it isn't a totally worthless demonstration. I call it a parlor trick because the way it was presented was designed to create mystery rather than illustrate principle. It's meant to make the puncher look powerful. I like the way they put the chair right behind the guy so he will pretty much have to fall onto it at an awkward angle, all done to increase the drama and mislead. Still, I suppose it could be worse. It's nowhere near as bad as the crap seen in this video.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Body isolation

One of the very first things I have students do when they start taking classes is body isolation. There are many parts of the body that we don't normally use in everyday life. We have to open up the pathways and get used to moving them just as dancers do. First we have to isolate and get used to using the muscles by themselves. Then we can work on getting them to work naturally in concert.

This part of my class is completely stolen from dance classes so here is a video of a dancer doing body isolation. He is certainly better at it than me. A couple of things to note are: 1. He doesn't do the shoulders. They are extremely important to do, perhaps the most important. 2. Remember to keep breathing and relax everything other than the specific part that is moving.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

You can't control your body

People often say that the lungs are interesting because you can consciously control them, and yet, the body also unconsciously controls them so that you can breathe when you sleep or are engaged in other activities. I think the body works this way to some degree.

You feel like you can mentally control your body because you can give a mental signal to lift your hand and the hand will lift. You can stick out your tongue or shake your booty whenever you choose. Giving signals for the body to do something specific works for simple movements but something else happens when you engage in complex movements. The movements are too complicated for the conscious brain to handle and it has to get out of the way and let the body take over. Even standing or walking is too complex to be totally controlled consciously. When learning to do skills or "difficult" movements the faster your brain stops trying to manage all the delicate movements involved, the faster the skill can be learned. 

The sensation of "trying" to do something is usually wanting to learn something faster or control an outcome with the conscious brain. This results in clumsy jerky movements because the wrong part of you is leading the movement. The body itself should be left in charge. 

Another way that the body is influenced is by mental state. If you are relaxed, the body will relax. If you are nervous or angry, the body and face will show it. The body is constantly reflecting emotion and mental state. This is natural. 

As I have mentioned before, problems occur when the brain fights the body when it is trying to reflect emotion and mental state. People try to lock down their face to hide anger. They clamp down on the body to keep it from showing nervousness. Tension results. If it happens often enough, people can locked in a tense movement or in an unproductive mental state. 

When you are doing an activity like wing chun or playing piano, try relaxing and putting all your attention on the activity, but "let" your body do it. Have no concern about outcome or doing it "right" and see what the body wants to do. 

Letting go is not easy, but it is extremely important. Grace is what results when the body is in charge. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chinese Saints

I promised I would write something funny so I started thinking about Yo Mamma jokes. In my opinion, there are only two really good Yo Mamma jokes.

Yo Mamma is so fat, her nickname is "Daaaayum!"
Yo Mamma is so fat, she sell shade in the summertime.

Anyway the reason I bring that up is because I once had a Chinese American friend (ABC or huaqiao in these parts) that was complaining about feeling left out as young girl when her friends would tell Yo Mamma jokes because her mom was skinny.

So I made up one up for her.

Yo Mamma so Chinese, she eat a hamburger with chopsticks.

Anyway, she loved it and that brings me to today's "humor" and the reason for the above title of "Chinese Saints."

Since I had to work all day writing fluff articles at a trade show, it got me thinking about what led a couple of my friends to start the website Expoextra. It was the boredom and absurdity of trade shows and writing about them.

So, as bad as the gig was today, it made me long for the days when we we had so little to do that making a website and magazines for no money to make people laugh seemed worth doing. Below is an article the three of us worked on together for an Expoextra magazine distributed at Spring Scream in 2001. Probably 50 people read the thing so I am bringing it back in honor of a shitty trade show gig. (Dave and Sean, If you guys got any problems with me putting this on the web, let me know). Here you go.

Chinese martyrs and venerable persons currently being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church

Though Catholicism has extended into China, there are currently no Chinese saints recognized by the Catholic Church. To correct several hundred years of oversight, the Vatican is considering the following candidates for sainthood in early 2003. Below are condensed versions of the potential hagiographies of the leading candidates.

Saint Chen the Chainsmoker (1897-1972)
This individual from Ningbo kept a single flame alit for 65 years using qigong breathing techniques and judicious cigarette management. The flame was sent from heaven in the form of a burning bush when Chen was only 10 years old. Upon encountering the divine blaze, Chen promptly used it to light a cigarette. He was able to keep the flame alive until his death in 1972 by continually lighting each new cigarette from the last. During the torrential rains of 1919, Chen single-handedly enabled the citizens of Ningbo to continue to enjoy hot meals while all other fire-starting implements were rendered useless. 

Saint Li the Filial Son (1850-1895)
Li became a paradigm of filial piety for his community in Nanjing by never leaving his mother's side - not once in all of his 45 years. From youth to his mid-thirties, his favorite place of comfort was underneath his mother's skirt. It is said, when she passed away, he was forcibly restrained from joining her in the coffin, which considering her ponderous bulk, would have been a near impossibility. The devoted son died the next day of heartache, or possibly, acute arterial blockage. 

Saint Wang the Noodle Maker (1850-1925)
Supercharged virility and a willing wife led Wang into a most difficult dilemma: how to feed a family that numbered 69 offspring. An intuitive farmer from Anhui Province, Wang ordered his sons to till the field while he made noodles in the kitchen. It is reported that poor Wang never took a break from his noodle making. During one 15-year period, he even spent 15 years making one noodle that his family consumed just as quickly as it was produced. 

Saint Zhen the Cheapskate (1850-1895)
Though Zhen earned a good living as a civil servant, it is a well-documented fact that he never spent a single cent. Bills and coins were deposited into false walls, paychecks would lie uncashed in a drawer. Virtually everything that Zhen needed was scavenged from dumpsters and the rest was obtained through the kindness of gullible tourists. Needless to say, he remained a morally upstanding citizen. 

Saint Dong the Dishwasher (1905-1990)
Dong took great joy in his standing position in the kitchen, where, starting at the young age of six, he remained tirelessly until his death at the age of 85. It is reported that Dong was locked in a near transcendental state as he continually washed one large platter. Apparently, he fell into a steady rhythm and with hand moving in circular fashion (suds and warm water were naturally used) is thought to be an inspiration for the popular Falun Gong sect now outlawed in mainland China. An emblem of dedication and commitment, the story of Dong inspires all of us to become more modest, and perhaps, seek less out of life. 

Saint Hsu the Scholar (1850-1925)
Living out the maxim that "education is everything", Hsu spent the better part of his years completing his final year of high school study. He was perpetually locked in preparations for the "Joint University Entrance Examination". According to Department of Education records, Hsu took this examination no less than 60 times, revealing a lifetime of dedication that spanned nearly the whole of his adult life. Hsu came just one question away from successfully completing this exam before his untimely death at age 76. Friends and associates marveled at his dedication, and his repetitious zeal. Still, others thought it would be better to abandon this pursuit for the sake of more profitable interests like taxi driving. 

Saint Lu the Livery (1850-1895)
Like all earnest young men, Lu from Southern Shandong Province had dreams of making it rich in the big city. He reputedly borrowed the sum of 300 yuan from a neighbor to purchase a pedicab that he would use to ferry goods and passengers throughout the city square. With the promise of financial gain and as much bicycle as a young man could buy with 300 yuan, Lu set off for the city. Little did he know that he would never pick up a passenger nor earn one red mao for the remainder of his 85 years. His misshapen face, rough disposition and lack of dental insurance kept many potential fares away form his pedicab. Still, despite the economic misfortune, Lu kept at his job and appeared in the city center every morning. Operating a pedicab did have its advantages as his community smile when they fondly remember Lu's angelic countenance in the midst of his mid-afternoon slumber. 

Saint Tse the Sentry (1905-1998)
In a little known commercial building in downtown Taipei, Tse faithfully kept watch over the front door for over 45 years. It is reported that he never left his post, choosing to sleep on cardboard boxes kept under his desk in evening hours and peeing into a large thermos when nature called. Even during his sleep, his hacking snore and fitful shaking was enough to keep unwelcome visitors and Mormons at bay. He lived modestly with only a few possessions including a 19" black and white television, tea cup and the clothes on his back. Tse was also passionate about Chinese calligraphy, which he practiced daily at his post. Yet, due to a shaky hand and nervous tick, he was never able to draw a straight line, nor complete a discernible character.

Saint Xiao Bao the Hungry (1905-1950)
A snail of a woman, Xiao Bao survived in Northern Shanxi for 45 years on a single mantou, or loaf of Chinese-style bread. According to legend, she practiced circular eating that at times did not preclude the consumption of her own excrement (well, not that there was much of it at any given time - a mere flake or two). Xiao Bao would lick a corner of the loaf which had yellowed over the years. On feast days, she might flick a piece between her thumbnail and forefinger. [ From You Think You're Hungry:The Lean Years of Northern China, as translated by Dave Rudusky]

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ip Man movie review

I saw Ip Man starring Donnie Yen a few months ago and I have been meaning to comment on it since it is a wing chun movie. Overall, it's a great kungfu movie, with fun fight scenes, reasonable plot and good acting. I would even say it's about the best modern kungfu movie I have seen in a while if you don't count the comedies Shaolin Soccer and Kungfu Hustle by Stephen Chow.

As far as the "wing chun" choreography goes, I would say they did about as good a job as you could do. For the most part it looks something like wing chun with a lot of movie poetic license as you would expect. I also give them points for keeping wire work to a minimum and resisting the urge to make the wing chun more flashy. Donnie Yen does a great job and I really enjoyed the humble character of his Yip Man. Here is my favorite fight scene from the movie. I think the actor who plays the country bumpkin villain is great and has great intensity.

On the negative side, I have to say I don't really understand the point of taking a real person like Yip Man or Bruce Lee and simply making a fantastic plot around them that has nothing to do with reality. There really isn't any reason to do that other than cash in on their fame. I also get tired of the evil Japanese with their inferior karate that is so prevalent in kungfu movies. I guess the real life history of people who teach kungfu is of little interest to anyone but kungfu nerds. Myself, I would just prefer that they make kungfu movies with fictional characters. I suppose that the easiest way to ruin a movie is to be too close to the subject.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Good MMA fight in Taiwan. Congratulations Demetri

MMA is slowly taking hold in Taiwan and the rest of Asia. Here in Taipei there are two major mma/jujitsu schools and there are other schools in Taichung and Kaohsiung. There are currently two promoters of MMA events and just last week we had two events by the two different promoters (whoa...that a lot of twos).

Last Friday night, the promoter TMC held an event and there was a pretty good fight that ended in a little controversy.

The fight was between Demetri Telfair who trains at Taiwan BJJ Academy and
Andreas Hesselback who trains at Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand.

Here is the first round.
And the second and third

The controversy is regarding the decision, the excessive use of Vaseline and the lack of a point deduction for hits to the back of the head after four warnings.

Here is the fallout after the match.

My thoughts are that it was an exciting fight, but that for MMA to grow in a healthy fashion, there needs to be an organization to establish standards and help protect the fighters. I think the places where the fighters are training need to step up and create the organization and get the promoters to follow their guidelines. You can't leave it in the hands of the promoters. Let them focus on marketing. Of course, I also realize that all this stuff takes time and isn't easy. Good luck to all concerned and I hope that the current mini-controversy helps MMA events in Taiwan improve.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mojo, intent, presence....whatever you call it, it's real

In a previous entry I mentioned the issue of locking up the arms and how you might find that when you relax your arms, they collapse into your body. This is a result of where your attention is.

We often talk about presence, charisma, mojo and attitude to describe relaxed outward intent. It plays a big part in acting, dance, modeling, performance...actually most things and most definitely fighting.

On a simple level it is relaxing your body while you pay attention to what is around you. Your body will move based on how "big" your intent is around you.

If you imagine a person who is insecure, they direct their intent inward. The field of attention around them is very small so all their movements are close to the body. Imagine how that person dances. They take up as little space as possible, or if they make big movements, it is stiff and awkward.

Now, imagine a king, a confident person, a person with "mojo", or any personally powerful person. Their attention is directed outward while they are relaxed. They see and interact with what is going on around them. Their body uses a larger amount of space in a natural way.

Your body will make use of the space your give it. The bigger the sphere of your intent the more powerful and relaxed your body movements will be.

This "sphere of intent" is especially important in interaction. Interactions begin when your intent encounters something or someone. Before you even start to touch the person. If your intent is too small, the interaction won't begin even when you are touching someone.

When fighting, you need to have your intent pushed outward enough to encompass the opponent in order to fully interact with them.

All this may sound weird or esoteric, but it is easy to test and observe. I will talk more about this in other entries. For now, the best way to increase your field of intent is to relax and try to see, hear, smell and feel everything around you in as big an area as possible while you relax. Then continue doing it as you move around, then do other activities and try it for fighting. Don't let the doing of the activity get in the way of this process.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Locked arms are useless

If you have somebody coming at you, or you are moving toward someone, it is only natural to lock your arms at the shoulders and elbows. This is essentially turning your arms into two sticks.

When you are doing chisao or fighting, people lock their arms all the time. It might work fine if your sticks are strong enough and the other person doesn't do anything else, but they probably will. Most likely the other person will lock their arms as well so you might be all right.

But there is a better way. Your arms should be completely relaxed when you do almost ANYTHING. Locked arms prohibit you from doing any delicate activity like drawing, playing music, and especially fighting.

Of course, it's completely natural to lock up. You are trying to protect yourself and hold the person off while you figure out what to do. All it really serves to do is lock you out from the interaction. You want to let the person in so you can beat them, not hold them away.

If you commit to keeping the arms from locking up, you will probably find that they won't keep your opponent at a good distance and completely collapse. That is because your attention isn't big enough or in the right place. I will deal with that issue in a future entry.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Why did you get injured? It's your fault

Ok, ok, it's not necessarily your fault, but you are better off treating your injuries as if they really ARE your fault. Obviously, if you get hurt somehow, you should consider how it happened and think about what you could do to avoid something similar happening in the future. That is just common sense. Be sure to do it especially when it seems obvious that it wasn't your fault at all.

Actually, what I really want to focus on is how you are interacting with the environment. Clumsy people trip and fall and knock things over and think "I'm just clumsy". That is usually not true, they aren't paying attention to what is around them when they move and are stuck in their thought processes. Certainly there could be physiological reasons why someone is clumsy, but I am just talking about normal people not paying attention. If you are getting injured because you aren't paying attention to what you are doing, think of it as the universe talking to you. It's telling you to wake up or you are going to get really hurt.

Other people have problems with trying to force outcomes (this is almost everyone). If you constantly mentally and physically try to force outcomes, don't be surprised when you get injured. You can only push and clamp for so long before something pushes back.

On the bright side, injuries should be seen as opportunities. Maybe you need to change or evolve but you are lost in your own mental loops and can't change yourself. The universe steps in and helps you by forcing a new mental state on you. It doesn't matter whether this is actually the case or not, it is simply a good metaphor that can help you out.

It worked for me. I never would have made any real progress in martial arts without my hand injury. It happened right at the right time for me. I also currently have a student with a much more serious injury that is making loads of progress right now while it is debatable whether he should even be training at all. Meanwhile, I see people who get hurt all the time, but don't take the time to think about how the kind of person they are could be causing them bodily harm.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Are you stone facing?

Stone facing is what I call it when you don't let emotions come out on your face. Some people walk around with their face on lockdown all the time. There are reasons why people do it and a few negative consequences.

Babies are wonderful to watch because you can see their emotions and reactions play out on their faces. At some point, many people find reasons to stop this from happening. Maybe the family or environment is not "safe" enough for honest emotions to be expressed. Or sometimes just living in a modern society makes it difficult or even dangerous to express natural emotion. I don't want to get bogged down here so let's just say that there are many reasons why it occurs.

Your face is the most directly connected part of your body to your emotions and the way you are feeling. Now, here is where it connects to movement and martial arts. When you are locking down the face, you are also physically clamping down on the rest of the body so that you can't move naturally. Natural movement can't occur without naturally flowing emotion.

Other effects of stone facing are social problems. It is hard to connect to people who aren't allowing their emotions to show as they are occurring. It's hard to make friends and get people to trust them. This leads to the person feeling alienated from people. When they do show emotion it can seem fake since it is tightly controlled.

Some people are photogenic and some people aren't and most people seem to have no idea why. In my experience, if you are not locking up your face, you are photogenic. If you are locking up, you probably have the same expression in every photograph you are in.

If you are stone facing, don't feel bad...most of us do it to some degree. Some ways to reconnect up are to make sure you relax your face when you are doing activities or talking to someone. Let yourself look stupid. Start making exaggerated expressions just to see how they feel. Open up and be vulnerable. Hiding your emotion doesn't keep you safe, it imprisons you away from life. Be patient though, because it will be a long process to recover from all the damage that has been done from all that locking up. (Or you might say, recovery from all the stress and pressure that makes someone lock away their emotions is not easy.)

If those aren't good enough reasons, you can't move well with a stone face so your wing chun or whatever activity you do will suffer.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Martial arts suck (Exhibit A)

"Hey, let's go rob that guy with the silly stick."

If you like that, maybe you want to purchase a katana, here is a review for you katana shoppers.

Actually, even though I find this funny, I think that guy is pretty cool in a supernerd kind of way. I would hang out with him any time as long as he brought the whole family.

Benjamin Zander got the good gongfu

I used to read a lot of stuff about martial arts and watch a lot of videos, but I find it very difficult to find much that is inspiring or even interesting. I find I have to look at other fields for that. My favorite books for martial arts are often by musicians, artists or psychoanalysts.

Here is an example. I occasionally listen to TED talks. I like this one by Benjamin Zander because it has so much to say about martial arts and interactive connection. The topic is classical music, but he makes a lot of universal points.

Benjamin Zander TED talk

The first point is about impulses. When you start to learn a skill, you bring your presence or attention to the activity in bursts. You haven't learned to be delicate. To get better, you have to tame these brute impulses and smooth them out. How do you pick up a baby? That is being delicate and that is the direction we are heading when learning a skill.

He also brings up a good point in his demonstration about emotion and being present. Music means nothing unless you are actually listening and feeling. The same for wing chun. You can't really practice it. You have to actually do it a lot. You have to feel something.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Redemption through Connection

Let's be honest. Life ain't easy. You're going to get gut punched, heart stomped, and at some point doubt whether the whole process is worthwhile. In the end we "lose", we end up broken, bed-ridden and fade away, that is if you are lucky and don't get hit by a truck.

Part of the struggle in life is to find something to make it worthwhile. That is what "redemption" is all about. You find something to make your little flash in the pan worth something. This is a deep, personal question and I am sure there are an infinite number of answers, many of which I will never know nor understand.

I would like to offer one "answer" that seems to be universal and that is connection. First we have to connect to life itself. That means letting go and fully experiencing the world around you through the senses, the body and through emotion.

Emotion may be the most important part of being human as it is quite simply a reaction to living. Emotions must be fully embraced and allowed to flow. Modern life has a way of pushing people into their heads and giving them reasons to clamp down on emotion. You can spend your life worrying, wishing and planning rather than experiencing. This route leads to malaise in your younger years and eventually leads to insanity. I see it all the time.

You have to breathe naturally and relax the body and get out of your head as much as possible. Yeah, it's the whole "live in the moment" thing. You have to do it while you are relaxing, walking, talking, doing your taxes, fucking and, of course, fighting.

Once you are paying attention directly to reality rather than your mental map of it, life becomes richer and more beautiful and makes a lot more sense. When you are fully opened and have your attention directed outward to the world around you, you can start to connect to other people as well. You can have those amazing fulfilling conversations that are so much fun. You can dance with someone and experience something so fulfilling that you walk around for a couple of days just smiling. You can get together with someone to accomplish something and create a collaborative cooperation that is greater than just two people. You can truly love another person.

When you don't find a way to really connect with people, they can seem to be obstacles more than anything. When you do connect with them, it easy to see how people make life worth living.

As I continue to post about the details of wing chun or fighting, I would like to make something clear. This connection I am talking about is at the heart of the art as I see it. If it isn't there, not only will it not work, there is really no point of doing it. I use wing chun as a way to study the principles of connection and interaction rather than the other way around.

Also, if you have trouble letting go and connecting with people, there are probably good reasons for it. Nothing inherently wrong with you. It may take time to overcome these obstacles. Its not as easy as just saying "I am going to let go and really feel my emotions and connect with people." I will try to offer some suggestions in the future. The first suggestion is if you are locked up in your head in thinking loops, check to see if you are breathing relaxed and naturally.  

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ground to ground, feet to feet

Whenever you are doing an activity where you touch hands with another person and move in an interactive fashion, it helps to remember that the point where you are touching each other is NOT the important part. When you touch the other person, you need to feel their entire body down to the ground in order to truly affect their movement and interact with them.

You should also be moving from your feet. Your power comes from the ground. If you move from the arms or the top of the torso by scrunching up the body, your ability to control the interaction is limited. If you don't feel them down to their feet, you won't be affecting their whole body and balance.

If that doesn't make sense, think of it this way...Put your hands out and have your partner put his or her hands out. Move forward and don't change the arm position until you can feel the persons feet (that means you could make them move their feet with a small amount of pressure). When you can find their feet, make them move by using your feet pushing against the ground. Only then should you move your arms in coordination with the feet.

If this still doesn't make sense, just focus on this: we connect up with someone to interact or fight through touching. The point we touch is a way to feel deeper into the person. Don't get stuck just trying to move the connection point. The cable between your television and the electric outlet isn't important. The socket and the tv are.

Stuck in a rut? Stop trying.

What does it mean to try or try harder when you are doing an activity? Will trying harder allow you to lift more weight, dance better, play guitar better? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on what you mean by "try".

If you mean "concentrate more", ok that might work, but most people seem to be "trying" to do more than they are capable. If you jump as high as you can, that's all you got. You don't need to scrunch up your face to get more out of it. "Trying" is often wishing you were better than you are. It is thinking about doing something while you are doing it and, worst of all, it is clenching up muscles not involved with an activity.

Watch someone do an activity that they are new to like playing a musical instrument or rock climbing when they really want to do it well. They try to do better by flipping the "ALL SYSTEMS GO!!!!" switch and start moving like a prehistoric robot (ok, now I want someone to draw one). The wishing to be better doesn't do squat. Most activities are complex and demand subtle movement. You have to try out certain methods and slowly exchange them for better ones in a relaxed fashion.

Now, lets move on to fighting and non-cooperative/competitive training like chisao. Trying to "win" and getting all stiff doesn't lead to getting better. What you are really doing is isolating yourself from experiencing the activity.  When I started doing chisao, I wanted to be better than everyone, or at least everyone at my school. I "tried" like a banshee. I did ok, because most of the other students were trying too. Then something happened.

I would love to say that I figured something out or that I had a revelation, but actually I just got hurt. I jammed my fingers really badly twice in one night. I couldn't really move them and they hurt like hell for about a month. I still wanted to train, but I really didn't want to screw them up any worse than they were. My ego kind of went on vacation. My thinking was, "well, I am hurt so I will just kind of pretend chisao...of course I can't win while I am so hurt."

I would ask people to chisao and tell them to take it easy because of my useless sausage fingers and would just let them do what they wanted and while I went along and "watched". That was really the first time I really paid attention to my opponent. Before I was focused on beating them and not getting hit. For about a week, I just chisaoed really passively. Then I started to "feel" what the opponent was doing. Not in any mystical way, the information was always there, but I was trying too hard to pay attention to it. In a couple of weeks I was moving forward without trying to win and winning easily. In a month, I went through everyone at the school. It was pretty shocking to me at the time. I didn't really understand what was happening. I understand now.

If you are having a problem improving, let what you don't want to happen happen. If you have writer's block, write something horrible (it's harder than you think). Lose spectacularly in a tennis match. Go hit on a woman and say the most ridiculous thing imaginable. Play horrible music with as much passion as you can muster. And, if you haven't walked into a super fancy pants place-to-be-seen nightclub and hoisted up your pants and danced in the most ridiculous fashion you can muster alone in the middle of the dance floor, you are missing out on some serious fun.

Learning skills is really very simple. At first, you suck. Do the skill anyway and enjoy sucking. Stay relaxed and don't bother trying. Just smile and pretend you are awesome no matter what the evidence to the contrary.  I promise you will never stop improving as long as you do this and don't "try".

I work out with a lot of different kinds of people doing boxing, wing chun, bjj, taichi....whatever. I still make it a point to "lose" to almost anyone a few times. Keeps my ego in check and really helps me see how and why they do what they do. Mostly it's just fun.