Who Are You? – Garry Smith

No, it is not a rhetorical question. Who actually are you? Do you actually know who you are?

Are you a conflicted individual who does not know their I from their me? And that’s before we start on The Who, geddit? So those of you who have read any of my blogs know I like a bit of a musical reference and 1978 produced the above classic. I was 19 in ’78 and really liked this track before punk led me astray. You see music is, for most of us pretty central to our identity. The explosion of youth culture in the 1950’s and 60’s changed the western world. Youth cultures were spawned and youth cultures clashed with Teds and Rockers fighting the Mods and the Skins with poor naive plod caught hopping around on his poor old size elevens at the seaside.

Well I for one experimented with all kinds of music, and the accompanying intoxicants and crap fashons, and still have diverse tastes but I think the old Two Tone stuff is my all time favourite, it’s a working class football orientated skinhead thing. Alas time and tide wait for no man and whilst I can reminisce with the best I see a very different chap when I look in the mirror these days. Somehow, somewhere along the journey of my life to date I lost the youthful me, I also lost all those certainties I once held dear, I lost those aliegences to football teams and political parties that I once held dear. Gone, long gone, are many once good friends, the steamroller of life keeps moving on crushing the past that is left in its wake. I cannot complain, I have a wonderful family, healthy and happy and growing as grandchildren appear in our lives and lately a cute new puppy dog.

As the saying goes the only constant is change. Life is good. I am happy. But is the me? And there is the rub. The i and the me are both part of who I am so when anyone asks me ‘who are you’ I get confused, because I am conflicted. There I said it, I am out and openly a conflicted person. The thing is we all are, it is natural. Here is why in a nutshell. We are born unfinished, unlike other creatures we need a great deal of looking after as babies, we are pretty useless.

BUT we are fast learners, as soon as our little eyes can focus we are watching, watching, recording, learning and ready to copy as soon as our limbs can support us. Socialisation is the lengthy process of becoming human and we learn many complex skills as the brain grows exponentially through the early months in particular. We imbibe our culture, language and learn to move, to walk to speak and to make decisions. Our little selves learn through imitation and experimentation and through the two most effective of learning processes, operrant conditioning and play. We soak up knowledge and skills like little sponges and we experiment like mad. Importantly we learn to distinguish between the ‘I’ and the ‘ME’ as we get to develop our self……

Hold on, lets just watch this great clip for a few minutes. Rory Miller and I just delivered the first CRGI Instructor Development Course in Sheffield, there was a great emphasis on how we learn and how we train and how, very often these two are mismatched to the detriment of all. So lets just apply the three stages, preparatory, play and game, to our training, be it martial arts, self defence, survival or fitness, it does not matter. The stages identified by Mead, in my opinion should guide how we organise our training, as students and as instructors and here is the rub, this is not a one off process but rather a never ending cycle as we advance through life.

Lets face it the process of socialisation is ongoing throughout life as we try out and learn new roles, I had no formal training for the role of grandad, but I had grandads, my own dad was a grandad as were lots of other people I knew. I learned from these significant others, some more significant than others, and adopted what I thought were the best ways to play grandad. I absorbed these into the introspective ‘I ‘ and I express them as the extroverted ‘me’. That is my take on how I became a grandad, there were loads of other factors too of course but lets keep it simple. So how did I/you become a martial artist (insert other role here…………….)? I bet if you cast your mind back you will recognise many of the stages you went through.

So if you, can see your development from baby martial artist and recognise the three stages does that help you picture how you train now, how you became your martial arts self? The thing is as in martial arts as in life sometimes an individuals development is affected by whether or not they are allowed to play, to copy, to experiment as well as by whether or not they are allowed to develop as team members and not just subordinates. The worst kind of training is run by the authoritarian ‘Master’ who forbids their students from training with anyone who will contaminate their ‘one true way’, anybody recognise this?

Whilst the best kind positively encourages experimentation and lets their students play, regardless of age to find ‘their’ best way, the students not the instructors, of doing things. Whatever facilitated your development, and never underestimate the role of significant others, how has this affected how you facilitate the training for others? If you can recognise the need to prepare, to experiment and then to find ones place in a group and you can provide a safe and secure environment in which this most natural of learning processes flourishes, then in my opinion, you are doing your job well. Student centred learning inevitable moves the centre of attention to the individual and away from the system. The system is not necessarily impoverished by this shift of emphasis but enriched if we allow students to develop as holistically as possible.

Entering into training inevitably means exposure to new roles and new ideas, it is what people seek as they develop their wider sense of self. They will become changed individuals to different degrees after exposure to your training whatever it is they learn. The very identity they possess on entry will be altered never again to become what it was before and that is a awesome responsibility. In order to empower our students it is the responsibility of the instructors to keep on pushing the boundaries of our knowledge in order to continually improve ourselves. That is the open world we humans inhabit, as opposed to the closed world of all other animals. But that is another article. For now let us remember the importance of play and the development of games as tools for learning, go back to your dojo and, well, learn to play.

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