Yamaoka Tesshu, as a young student of Zen, visited one master after another. He called upon Dokuon of Shokoku. Desiring to show his attainment, he said: "The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no realization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received."
Dokuon, who was smoking quietly, said nothing. Suddenly he whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This made the youth quite angry.
"If nothing exists," inquired Dokuon, "where did this anger come from?"
One of the most satisfying parts of being a coach is when my clients start to notice the things that I notice. I have spent the majority of my time in sessions wondering why clients aren’t aware of their poor movement quality. Or why I even have to point out that having 0 degrees of shoulder rotation is probably not super helpful in, you know, life. Beginning clients often don’t see or feel the difference between what I am demonstrating and what they are doing. They can’t feel their knees wobble or their butt sag. And I struggle to understand how they cannot feel what I see. Coaches watching untrained people move see a cacophony of compromises as every joint wobbles and shakes in a desperate search for stability and mobility; drawing function from a shallow pool of performance. Alternatively, proper movement patterns are obvious to us. The defining characteristic of athleticism is grace; that effortless coordination of peak performance that is impossible to miss and even harder to attain. Mike Boyle reminds us that, “if it looks athletic, it probably is.” So even if you have never seen a snatch, you know what Evgeny Chigishev is doing here is pretty goddamned athletic.
[embed] http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=_7L6OEIVsNc [/embed]
In Intervention, Dan John says that untrained people usually don’t know where they want to go (Point B), but they sure as hell know they aren’t happy where they are (Point A). My clients know they aren’t Evgeny Chigishev, and maybe they don’t want to be. I’d love to move like that and while most of my clients don’t want to O-lift, they sure would like to do something with as much mastery and grace as Evgeny Chigishev snatching 200kg. That could be a truly authentic, pain-free squat, running a marathon, or playing with their grandkids. And while it takes most people a long time to realize where their Point B is, there are plenty of things to get better at along the way. Which I am reminded of with every knee wobble and flared elbow. When they are learning, my clients depend on me to be aware for them. Abraham Maslow (of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs fame) notes, “what is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.” So I need to observe, correct, remind, and repeat because there are three lessons any successful teacher imparts upon pupils seeking change: awareness of where one is, The Path to where one wants to go, and the patience to trust the first two. Of course, it’s that last lesson that we have to learn the hard way, even coaches.
I’ve struggled to teach the kettlebell clean for three years. Clients flail around, banging their wrist and squatting their hinge in defiance of everything I know and have told them about quality movement. I just cannot understand why my clients cannot learn the movement as easily I do the movement. So this June, I asked Dan how he teaches this movement. I rattled off all the cues I’ve tried and all the things I’ve tried to fix. I told him about 'zip the jacket,' doing cleans facing a wall, and 'pinning the elbow.' He just stared at me with befuddlement.
“I don’t teach the clean.”
“But it’s one of your favorite kettlebell moves, Dan.”
“Yeah. Because it teaches itself. Just let them do enough reps and they’ll figure it out. Pain is a better coach than I am.”
My clients were aware there was a problem (the clean isn’t supposed to hurt), knew there was a path to where they wanted to go (they’d seen me do it properly and painlessly), but the person who needed to learn patience was their boneheaded coach.
When you are new at something, you need help learning how to interpret the signals you are getting. Untrained clients need to be told to keep their knees out in the squat and their elbow pits forward on push ups until they can recognize those bobbles on their own. Just like new coaches need to be told to STFU and let their clients struggle a little because recognizing those bobbles is part of learning. They’ll get there. We’ll get there. Leaving the training wheels on too long might spare us both the pain of a little frustration but it's just gonna slow everyone down.