The other day I was watching a presentation by Garr Reynolds. Garr currently resides in Japan and is a big exponent of Zen Buddhism. During his presentation he provided a bunch of really eloquent and insightful quotes from artists of all different backgrounds. These quotes really spoke to me and made strong connections in my mind to the martial arts.
Here is the catch though…
His presentation was about Powerpoint! More specifically, how to conduct great presentations using Powerpoint, handouts, etc as tools.
Amazingly, the principles he was sharing with his audience to make them better speakers would have been equally valuable if he had wanted to make them better martial artists.
Who is Garr Reynolds?
Garr is the best selling author of Presentation Zen, a book about increasing simplicity and effectiveness in presentations. He was also a guest speaker at Google’s impressive Authors@Google series, which can be found on youtube. For anyone who does presenting/teaching/powerpoints in their day-to-day lives, I highly recommend watching the full thing.
Garr is also an American living in Japan. He is Associate Professor of Management at Kansai Gaidai University located in Osaka.
So What Were the Quotes Used By Garr?
There are three quotes that Garr used that I would like to share with you. I’ll provide the quote, the context with which he was using it, and my opinion as to how it relates to the martial arts.
Quote #1: “Simplicity means the achievement of maximum effect with minimum means.” – Dr. Koichi Kawana (Architect of Zen and Tea Gardens).
Garr’s Context: This quote was used to define simplicity. Garr was trying to explain how simple slides in powerpoint can be much more effective than clutter filled ones.
Simple doesn’t just mean ‘less’ though. In order to achieve the kind of simplicity Dr. Kawana is referring to, one has to increase the impact of the message while decreasing the information given.
Martial Arts Implications: Aikido practitioners should be spitting coffee out of their mouths at this point. As I have come to understand it, Dr. Kawana’s theory is almost word for word the desired effect of aikido technique. But it isn’t just aikidoka who can benefit from this wisdom.
Karate technique often espouses ‘one punch, one kill’, which suggests eliminating an opponent as quickly and efficiently as possible. As such classical karate often does not translate well into tournaments and movies because the desired action of the karateka is sharp, quick, simple, and over.
Quote #2: “In the Beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, In the experts mind there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki (Soto Zen Priest)
Garr’s Context: With this quote Garr wanted to break people out of their box. The normal, ‘expected’ way to do powerpoint is by utilizing the 1:7:7 rule (one slide, seven bullets, seven words per bullet). Reynold’s suggests that this is speedy passport to snoozeville and in order to keep a captive audience you have to give them something unexpected. To achieve the unexpected, you have to keep an open mind to new possibilities.
A child’s mind (which of course is a beginner’s mind) is not afraid of failure or judgment. A child will do silly, strange things simply because they want to try it and see what happens. Garr suggests that this same mindset can result in amazing presentation material.
Martial Arts Implications: Has anyone here not been told a hundred times to keep a beginner’s mind? It’s a fairly classic martial arts admonishment. This advice becomes particularly poignant as a person approaches black belt and beyond.
Even though a person must stay true to his/her style and pass it down as it was taught to them, they must also be free to explore their techniques and find what works for them. Until a practitioner opens themselves up to experimentation and failure, all they can ever be is a style robot.
Quote #3: “Master your instrument. Master your music. And then forget all that bullshit and just play.” – Charlie Parker (Jazz Saxophonist and Composer)
Garr’s Context: What Garr wanted to express here is the proper way to perform a presentation. All too often presenters are well prepared with good information, but they simply read that information off of slides or cue cards. The result is a boring, slavish dictation of facts and stats that has no emotion or power.
Garr wants you to master your story and statistics so that you can be free to rif on your subject matter, take tangents, and engage your audience in a completely original and provocative way.
Martial Arts Implications: A martial artist must figure out his/her body. They must also study their style vehemently. But when it comes time to become a martial artist all of that has to be loosened for self expression.
Technique must come from instinct, sincerity, and right reason. Everything that makes an artist what they are should be expressed in every technique. A kata, when done with meaning, should be unique and unrepeatable.
Two Analogies: The Mountain and the Tree
There are two major takeaways from the connection between Garr’s speech and the martial ways, and both have a natural analogy that can be used to explain them.
The Tree – The different martial art styles are often said to be different branches of the same tree. Bruce Lee used this analogy from time to time and I am a big fan of it. However, we can also use this to visualize ‘art’ as a whole.
Artists, no matter how they express themselves, are branches of the same tree. Furthermore, practitioners of Jazz, Zen, Ichibana, Tea Ceremony, Painting, Jujitsu, etc can all benefit from the wisdom of masters like the ones cited above.
The Mountain – Even if all art is connected, why is it that masters always seem to draw similar conclusions? After all, Shunryu Suzuki sounds a lot like Morihei Ueshiba, who sounds a lot like Jigoro Kano.
The explanation for that lies in ‘the mountain’. No matter where you start at the base of a mountain, there is only one location to ultimately arrive at – the top. The top is a single point of enlightenment. Needless to say, very very few people make it there (arguably none). But, as you get closer, the territory one covers gets smaller. As things get smaller, there is bound to be some crossover for those who are traveling.
It’s quite possible that Suzuki, Ueshiba, and Kano all tread on the same ground, and would likely have much to discuss given the chance to sit down and enjoy some tea. Perhaps one day we can join in on the conversation too, but until then, let’s enjoy the journey!
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Spike TV has a new show out called ‘Deadliest Warrior’. It pits two historical fighters against each other in mortal combat. Tonight is Samurai vs Viking at 10 pm Eastern (check your local listing for your time).
I’m such a sucker for these shows! I really liked Human Weapon, but also watched things like Fight Science and Dhani Tackles the Globe. I don’t know, they intrigue me. The thing about this new show ‘Deadliest Warrior’ is that they bring in experts from whichever fighting style is on the episode and they examine the ballistic and cutting ability of their weapons. Then, taking various mathematical and logical factors into account, they program a computer to run 1,000 fights between the two combatants and see who comes out on top more often…and why.
Last episode an Apache Warrior bested a Roman Gladiator. It was a little controversial since the fight was one on one and that is what Gladiators specialized in. This week the stakes are even higher because my boy the Samurai is taking on the fierce Viking class.
One thing that seems obvious is the sword advantage the Samurai will have. The katana is definitely going to outperform the viking style spatha. I’m willing to bet my hat on that. But it’s possible the Viking will use a shield in combination with his sword, which could complicate things for the computer.
In the picture above we see the Samurai using a naginata while the viking uses a long axe. I would have to give the samurai the edge here as well as the naginata has longer range as well as various striking methods, including stabbing, cutting, and striking where the axe only really has striking.
The Viking chainmail is probably going to cause a problem for the Samurai. Chainmail is designed to resist cutting and the Samurai is sure to rely on that heavily.
All things considered, when it comes to a one on one fight, I don’t believe any warrior throughout history was better developed than the Samurai. My vote officially goes to him.
How about you?
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Something interesting happened to me the other day. During Kenjutsu training, we have a formal Rei (respect) ceremony before starting and ending class. The basic steps involve:
Chakuza – kneeling down into seiza
Placing the sword in front
Two bows, one to the sword and one to the shinza
Two claps (to awaken the kami to our training)
a final bow.
Normally I’m pretty mechanical throughout the process, trying to keep body and mind in sync. The minutaie of bowing and paying proper respect in a classical martial art is as intricate and detailed as anything I’ve ever discovered, so attempting to do things the “right” way is a full time gig.
During a recent class though things went differently. We were training in iai, which tends to be more mentally strenuous than physical. At the end, we all lined up as usual and went through the bowing process.
My mind was tired from the focused training we had done, so instead of the intricate self assessment I usually go through during Rei, I simply allowed my body to do what it wanted. I went on auto pilot, assuming that I had done the routine enough not to screw it up or stand out in a bad way.
Much to my surprise, my body took over and my mind retreated into what I would call emptiness. By emptiness I don’t mean a lack of attention or caring, but more of a quiet, uninterrupted allowance of events to unfold.
My bows clicked into what felt like perfect position and only the muscles I needed were being used – everything else was relaxed. Afterward I got up and thought to myself “hey that felt pretty good!” (and just like that, emptiness was gone).
Nike Was Right – Just Do It….after a lot of practice
The Rei experience was great, but also fleeting. These little moments of success are what drive us forward as artists and keep us hooked on an otherwise demanding lifestyle. What I did right during the Rei ceremony, purely by accident, was letting go of my efforts to do something perfect.
When actively TRYING to accomplish something, our brain works in overdrive. We are computing angles, thoughts, concerns, feelings, and a whole lot more. This mental traffic inevitably causes jams and hesitations. If we can turn off all the unnecessary lanes of thought, the only thing left is a clear, smooth path to effectiveness.
The problem is this – if all it took to be a martial arts “master” was not trying, we’d all be as good as Bruce Lee. Unfortunately, we are not. A person has to burn a particular skill or technique into both their psyche and muscle memory before it can be relied upon by itself.
During my bowing, when I allowed my body to do something it had been trained to do over time, the muscle memory and instinct of the act kicked in and performed just as it should. But without years of fretting and concerning over the exact angles and methods of bowing, that info would never have found a permanent place in my mind and body.
Technique, Kata, and Breaking Out
In order to learn and program ourselves with effective techniques, we have to utilize a few reliable methods of training. First, when learning self defense or any other kind of attack/defense, it’s good to use step-wise “events”. By that I mean, two partners line up and one attacks the other. The defending person tries his technique on the preset attack. This can be done slowly at first and quickly as both partners gain experience.
The other useful method of training is kata. Kata is a limitless tool that allows you to train wherever, whenever, and still work to properly program technique. Although you don’t always have live opponents during kata, the mental and physical growth that comes with forms training is priceless.
Finally, you have to give yourself a chance to break out of the preprogramming and allow your body to function reflexively. Many people consider sparring the only potential method for doing this but it is not. For martial artists who have learned control there are a plethora of drills where the free exchange of techniques can be allowed.
Personally, I like drills that don’t involve excessive padding and promote a feeling of normalcy in the practitioner. By recreating as close to street environments as possible, we can better prepare ourselves for the reality of combat in today’s world.
Through extensive drilling and opportunities to express ourselves naturally, we greatly increase the odds of experiencing those moments of intuitive competence.
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