New Year, Empty Cups, Full Cups, and No Cups at All

05Jan13

The new year is the time for resolutions, for starting over, for trying something new. So here are a couple of resolutions for starting over and for trying something new:

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own” (Bruce Lee), and the Zen saying I had already repeated a few times in my previous columns, “Empty your cup.”

So, on to a story on instructors with full cups and no cups at all.

Some time ago, I gave two seminars on combining strength and flexibility training.

The first seminar was attended exclusively by instructors of combat sports and martial arts (including MMA); the second by instructors of various sports, from combat sports to track and field.

At both seminars participants exercised with me–because there is no knowing without doing. During and after the seminars I answered questions, but only from those who exercised along with me–because only those who do may ask sensible questions about the doing.

At both seminars I showed an arrangement of the most effective exercises for increasing flexibility and strength. The arrangement begins with very simple exercises, such as deep squats, overhead squats, and horse-riding stance; proceeds to lunges and crouches; and ends with splits and back bridges.

At both seminars I saw three types of participants, in about the same proportion at each seminar:

1. Those who could do these simple exercises as I was showing them, at a ROM indicating they do those exercises routinely in their training. So, in the course of that training they absorbed the useful but did not extract all uses from it–their cups were too full. Specifically, they were too full of preconceived notions about proper uses of these strength exercises. They had compartmentalized their exercises and separated those that were for strength from those that were for flexibility.

2. Those who were familiar with the general form but had neither the strength nor the ROM of people who routinely do those exercises. At least they did not discard the useful. . . .

3. Those who could not accurately copy the deep squat, horse-riding stance, etc., even without resistance, even though verbal instructions accompanied the demonstration. Long ago they decided these exercises, not being specific to their sports, were not useful, so they never learned them. They discarded the useful. I think they never had any cups. . . .

All participants were instructors of sports or m.a., but only the first group deserved the name.

To be a real instructor one needs:

— A quick eye to accurately spot what is right or wrong in a technique or exercise, during a single repetition, so the athlete doesn’t go on drilling an incorrect move, or worse, get injured;

— Fitness to show impressively the correct form of all techniques and exercises useful in their sport;

— Familiarity with general exercises–those useful in many sports–and exercises used nearly exclusively in the instructor’s sport (at least 1,500 exercises are classified as general and useful in the majority of sports, and then there are those classified as sport-specific).

The real instructors benefited most from my presentation because they already did the standard forms of exercises that quickly deliver feats of great flexibility–if correctly arranged and adapted to the task. (They knew these exercises were useful. . . .) Had they “emptied their cups” a long time ago, they could have come up themselves with the system that I presented. All they had to do was observe, with an “empty cup,” what people do in other sports and activities.

So, in the new year, empty your cup to absorb what is useful.

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