Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Sorcerer and the Apprentice.

The fabulous advice from Mark Twight, the trainer for the cast/crew of the movie "300," bears repeating again, and again.  Yes yes, I know you have read it before.  There's more after the quote, just be patient.  There is a method to the madness.

"If you weren't given the gift you can't get the gift so the best you can do - if your goal is important - is work as hard as you possibly can, pay attention every hour of every day and then maybe, maybe if you've done enough and been smart enough you'll emerge from the muck of mediocrity to shine a bit brighter than you shone before. Then, upon reflection you might decide your goal is a bit more important so you'll start paying attention every minute of every hour of every day. You'll find people who are better than you and you'll take an empty cup when you meet them. Their example will destroy or inspire you and if it's the latter you may stay and learn. You might imitate, doing as they do because you've already accepted that you do not know best - if you did you'd be leading the group they were trying to join. Perhaps being exposed to their superior ability will drive you to work harder than you thought possible, or necessary. Maybe you'll overcome your self-imposed (or worse, society-imposed) limitations and shine even more brightly. Wow, you're getting it: positive reinforcement for hard work and suffering. So maybe you give your goal even more significance and you begin cutting away the ideas and the expectations and the people who you believe prevent you from achieving it. Now you become a real selfish prick, and you begin paying attention every second of every minute of every hour of every day, and you sustain your awareness for weeks and months at a time. You no longer think yourself a unique snowflake, you're a steel-edged blade shaped like a snowflake and you're spinning at warp speed. You're the biggest fish in the pond. You're a badass. Now you have options.

If you think you haven't yet done enough, and you could do more, you might begin to understand that, the more capable you become, the higher the mountain rises ahead of you. At that moment you may recognize the existence of a legitimately serious group, ahead of you, above you, somewhere you're not. They are silent, implacable, constantly improving and evolving and because they are truly capable they are accessible to those who are genuine. Among them there's no defensiveness, no posturing or pretending, and they aren't interested in anyone else's. Selection for such a group isn't based on physical performance alone. Issues of character and commitment, and discipline and persistence balance physical talent. Because you clawed your way out of the muck, were "up all night, dedicated" and maintained interest for long enough to differentiate yourself from the short-attention-span sporting dilettantes who commonly brush up against this group they might accept you as an apprentice. If you empty your cup your chances are better. If you redouble your efforts your odds improve again."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I know every academy has sorcerers... and most sorcerers have apprentices.  Most sorcerers only have one apprentice.  If you want to apprentice yourself to a sorcerer, you have to find the right one, the right timing, and be of the right mindset to gel with theirs.

You can't ask them to take you on too.  At least, I don't feel like I can.  If they are willing to teach you, they'll make it clear, and if they are already stretched thin, it doesn't help you to put them in a position where they have to deny you.  They're sorcerers in part because they are good teachers, and to make them feel badly that they don't have the bandwidth to accommodate is uncool.

Normally, I think sorcerers and apprentices are both guys, just statistically speaking.  But I also suspect that many of the best female fighters might have been apprenticed to a male sorcerer by way of some sort of romantic relationship-- whether mutual, or just interest on the part of one party or another.  Nothing wrong with that and please don't flame me for saying it.  Just noting that if you're female and NOT blessed with a relationship like this with a sorcerer, it might make it a little tougher to get tucked into an apprenticeship than it seems for an equally dedicated guy.


AJ said...

Hits on so many levels, in so many different aspects of life... definitely will have to reference this! (if it's cool...)

leslie said...

Yes. A thousand times yes.

I sit sometimes and watch the resident sorcerer and apprentice work. I've never had a name for them before. Thanks. :) I, too, wish I could be included, but like you, I don't think it's right to ask or interrupt. They let me watch, and that's something.

Georgette said...

@AJ-- absolutely :) never need to ask! Just credit & link back to me. :)

Rollo said...

This is a great post, it's so true in a lot of ways. I definitely found a lot of wisdom in the first couple of paragraphs. Our instructor does a great job of rotating the newer students with the more experienced (and higher ranking) students, so that everybody is a sorcerer and an apprentice at one time or another. We are all open to it too. I believe that there are things to be learned from everybody in the gym. I'm going to try and reference a post about it tonight, and include a link back, so others can read it too. Thanks again.

Georgette said...

@Rollo: hmmm, this is not really what I meant by this relationship. Instead of a momentary transitory thing which might last 15 minutes or an hour or even a whole class... I meant an ongoing, intimate relationship over months or years where one exceptional grappler with a senior rank picks another exceptional grappler with a junior rank and kind of "develops" them or brings them along as a protege.

Rollo said...

@Georgette I see what you mean (now), thanks for clarifying. I really liked the opening paragraphs. Thanks again.

slideyfoot said...

Hmm. I think I actually prefer the idea of just getting a really good training partner, at roughly my level or better, who would be willing to work through technique with me, drill stuff outside of class etc.

There may in fact be just such a person, but I haven't taken him up on his offer of training outside of class yet (which I really should).

Reason I'd be more comfortable with that is if a black belt took me under their wing, or indeed a brown belt, I would constantly feel I was being annoying, or wasting their time in some way.

I would have one of three thoughts always in my head: "he would get much better training with one of the other brown belts"; "man, I'm sure I'm being irritating with all these questions"; "he probably thinks I'm dumb and/or hopeless, but is too polite to say, so grins and bears it."

If it was a female brown or black belt, that would probably be a bit better. I much prefer the company of women, and tend to get on with them better than men (plus I'm not single, so even the hint of that particular complication would be out of the way). Super-rare though, so I can't see that happening.

Of course, best thing of all (and also by far the least likely) would be if my girlfriend started BJJ and was incredibly eager to improve. That would mean she'd want to drill stuff at home all the time, until it got to the point where she was better than me and could teach me stuff. :D

Georgette said...

Slidey-- I see your point, and yes, a coapprentice (or someone else's apprentice!) is a vital part of the training. BUT, for me at least, I need to work on the minimization and trimming of my ego. I have thrown away opportunities (in other activities, hobbies, sports, pursuits, as well as in jits) to learn from masters who were generous enough to want to teach me, all because of the reaction you described. I was too proud, in a way, to be willing to be the pure recipient of help. I wanted to be giving equally or at least almost equally, so I could "carry my own weight."

But having taught (salsa dancing, horseback riding) I also know the desire to have a protege and pass on the "tricks of the trade" in an intimate and ongoing friendship/relationship, and the genuine pleasure that comes from taking someone under your wing and helping them to blossom.

So I'm working on the humility of knowing I can't give back anything like what they're giving to me, but accepting it anyways, and knowing I will pay it back to the system someday if I ever get to be a sorceress!

Jdub said...

Your post was amazingly insightful. Our academy has a group of phenomenal, older brown belts, guys around 40ish. They've all been training partners for years. I'm the only low belt that has consistently been mentored. I think I have been accepted because I'm always around. I show up, ask questions, and try to show that I'm applying everything that's offered or at least consistently thinking through what's being offered. I have yet to have a real one on one apprentice relationship, but being open and enthusiastic has been tremendously beneficial.

NinjaEditor said...

Ouch. That feeling of "why not me?" (and, per Slidey's comment, "why me?") is difficult.

I often feel like I'm wasting people's time in class when they explain things to me or show techniques to me on the side. At this point I can rationalize what's essentially false humility by telling myself I'm a beginner and more experienced people are used to teaching n00bs. And I can also twist the rationale of being a n00b to apply when I sit on the sidelines and watch other guys working together closely.

It's hard to be on the outside. Thanks for posting this.

Megan said...

Dude...great insight into an important part of learning any art.

"But having taught (salsa dancing, horseback riding) I also know the desire to have a protege and pass on the "tricks of the trade" in an intimate and ongoing friendship/relationship, and the genuine pleasure that comes from taking someone under your wing and helping them to blossom."

I think you summed it up right there. It's like dating or finding new friends. Finding a good partner, even a good sorcerer, is very much individual, and I don't think it can be engineered.

I never found one in salsa (part of why I don't really dance anymore), but in language learning, I found two AMAZING ones that walked me through years of progression. It worked not because they were amazing teachers, but because we fit together naturally and they believed in me and were willing to share what they knew AND improve themselves so I could improve.

I don't even know if a student is equipped to really evaluate which sorcerer will be the best for them...unsure though...unsure.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Georgette! That was a home run post. We're talking outta the park! I especially agree with your statement, "Just noting that if you're female and NOT blessed with a relationship like this with a sorcerer, it makes it a little tougher to get tucked into an apprenticeship than it seems for an equally dedicated guy. I think."

This is so true, because of our silly society, it is often deemed inappropriate for a man and woman to any type of ongoing relationship outside of "marriage". So sad. That leaves a million talented women without a mentor, because in BJJ as Slidey stated, there are few women of that caliber at this time.

Shark Girl said...

I've often reflected on Sorcerer-Apprentice relationships outside of BJJ, but haven't yet had the opportunity (cause I'm still so new) to connect it here. I have often looked on other S-A relationships with envy and wondered why it wasn't me. But when I really look at who I am, I have to be honest that my mega independent streak doesn't really make for a good "Apprentice." After a little while I feel the relationship is one-sided and it bothers me. I can't "owe" that to anyone. So I either pull away or try to equalize the relationship some way.
I'm not knocking the whole inter-sexual awkwardness dynamic. But I wonder if when there's a relationship going on, it's a more complex give and take than just jiu jitsu. For example, he may rock jiu jitsu, but when they get back home, she may school him on the computer, or in some other arena, so there's balance.