dal niente

Tag: learning

December 2017

I saw a mention on Facebook of Xanga. I really do miss Xanga—it was a circle of blogs who I read on a regular basis, and I just came to know people, if only by their internet pseudonyms. Yes, I made the transition to WordPress eventually, and I did import all of my Xanga archives from back then, but I think it’s always been a bit different. It kind of put an interruption on my blogging.

I suppose it’s not fair to say that it was all Xanga’s fault that I mostly stopped blogging—I met [CM] around the time, and I guess I just started getting busy as our relationship got more serious. It’s now a bit under a decade later, and here I am, coming back to the blogging a bit, even if it’s just for a quick hit and run.

 

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I don’t really consider myself old, but I do feel that sometimes, I find myself in positions that I’d normally think were occupied by “adults”.

Just a week ago, I sat down two of the paralegals at my law firm, and decided to give them a crash course in basic networking. The internet hardware sort of networking, not the hand shaking and baby kissing sort.

It was a bit surreal.

I found that I just took a lot of concepts for granted, because I grew up having to learn some basic coding. When I had a Commordore 64, I learned BASIC just because I wanted to be able to load up games to play. I made simple programs with the QuickBASIC years later, and I was fortunate enough to have a family friend, [Swongy], who took an interest in lending me a whole ton of books on programming… I never got all that far, because it was just a self-taught hobby, but I even went as far as learning some rudimentary C just so that I could program custom mods for Duke Nukem 3D.

Back then, I had to learn by books—computer books were always at least 2 or 3 inches thick back then, and weighed a good kilo. I remember in Montreal, there was even a computer bookshop in Philip Square—I can’t remember what it was called, but it was near Crazy Irving’s, which was one of the biggest shops at the time. It used to sell 3 ¼” diskettes with software, including relevant stuff at the time like Montreal area Bulletin Board System (BBS) dialup numbers.

So when I was talking to the paralegals about how to wire a router to a printer… they were transfixed. Well, I mean, sure, I’m technically sort of their boss, so the things that I was telling them, it’s pretty much their job to pretend that they’re interested. I don’t think it was that (this time) though. They just genuinely seemed curious—they were asking the “right questions” that showed they were engaging with the topic.

It turned out that I had to backtrack a bit. Forget about Local Area Networks for a moment… what’s the difference between a phone cable, and an ethernet cable? What’s the difference between a wireless modem, a wireless router? Why is it that we say that our phones get wireless internet, but then, our wireless router needs a phone jack?

 

It occurred to me as I was basically giving them an explanation of things that a lot of it has to do with how internet and technology companies in Australia market things, and how in the IT world, usage of English is neither great nor consistent.  For example—what do you understand when I say wireless modem?

Do you mean a modem that gets it’s WAN connection by some sort of 4G or 3G connection? Or do you actually mean a mode/router or a router, that casts an internet connection for LAN use, in the form of WiFi? It’s really not obvious from just reading the boxes or brochures of technology.

 

The fact that millennials “grew up with Facebook” gives them an interesting sort of technology problem—they are at their heart, end users, who are adept and accustomed to adapting end user experiences. Give them a bit of motivation and some time, and they will practice their way through most of the functionality of simple, contained apps with confidence. But they’re often pretty limited in terms of the technical stuff beyond being asked to enter a username and password, and click “save”.

Which makes it all the more a stark contrast to the generation older than me, that of my parents and grand parents. At least in my family, these generations have strange respect for technology, in that sometimes they fear it as the thing that will replace their jobs. They still don’t quite distinguish fake ads and scams from legitimate system messages. They can sometimes get phished by con artists asking for credit card details. But on the other hand, they understand wires—the analogy to them is that if some sort of information is going to move, it’s going to be by a wire, and wireless is truly a wire without wires.  So when I explained to my mom the chain of internet from the wall, to the modem, to the router, to the VOIP ATA, to the phone, she understood it, and was able to troubleshoot it. Different sized cables? No problem for someone who grew up in an era televisions and stereo systems characterised by RCA jacks, coaxial cables, y-fork connections for television rabbit ear antennae, and more recently, the jump from fat headphone jacks to 3.5mm.

In many ways, video gaming drove my self-education in terms of a lot of technology. I had to learn how to set up dial-up connections so that I could do early 90s multiplayer games. I needed to set up a wireless bridge in my home so that I could play games in the basement. I needed to figure out a healthy amount of suspicion so that I could go to the right peer-to-peer sites to download games, I learned to use various Linux builds so that I could put older computer systems to use in the family.

I’m nowhere near as tech proficient as people who do this kind of thing for a living… but I appreciate that technology is a tool, and like any tool, it is meant to make our lives easier. Like all tooks, there is also a certain amount of craftsmanship involved in its usage—craftsmanship being, in my book, a kung fu type continual development that can be a way to develop discipline and a sense of community.

I say discipline because, to this day, I think in terms of algorithms—I think in flowcharts (I used to have a stack of flowchart drafting paper when I was a kid, which one of my uncles or aunt’s gave me from their time working at IBM). My problem solving is like troubleshooting code—I isolate variables, test inputs against results, and try and figure out bugs. Rinse and repeat.

It’s really actually quite similar to the way one learns techniques and applies them in martial arts.

 

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The latest thing that I’ve been getting excited about is upgrading our small office network… we’ve recently bought a much better router, which has failover and load balancing capabilities (multi-WAN support) which we’re using to get around the horrid internet service in Sydney CBD. We’ve also recently started working on a NAS/server setup (apologies to those of you who actually know these things, as I’m probably not using the terms properly).  Hence why I was bringing the paralegals up to speed on how some of the connectivity works, so that they can help me integrate the network plans.

 

 

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On a personal level—CM and I bought ourselves a Nikon DSLR for ourselves for Christmas. This will be the first time since Korea about a decade that I own a digital camera. And, although it’s digital now and not film, it will be the first time since college that I use an SLR.

I still have binders full of negatives from when I used to do work in darkrooms in black and white film. A few youtube videos later, and I’m starting to wrap my head around aperature priority and shutter priority shooting. It’s a completely different way of conceptualising the controls compared to my old manual Nikon F50.

And now, rather than thinking about binders full of strips of negatives, I’m thinking about a home NAS—because where else would you dump all those photos?

 

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Times change… some things stay the same foundationally, just enough so that if you’re paying attention, you can see the themes, the inspiration of the parents in the children, the philosophies before they diverged– and this change is what makes the nostalgia bittersweet and sometimes wonderful.

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Brown

I recently received a brown belt in judo from one of my instructors. There’s been some controversy around this I suppose, and it wears down on me a little bit. There are basically two opinions about this… one of my instructors, [K-Sensei], the one who conducted my exam, wanted me to do the exam. This is despite that I made it pretty clear that I don’t have much formal competition experience in Australia to count towards my qualifications. Normally, the most common system is to be graded once you have a certain amount of wins in your weight class.

I’d largely resigned myself to not getting past a blue belt, because frankly, I don’t do competitions anymore. I can’t say exactly when I stopped, but it was probably when I suffered my last significant injury, which was a major tear to my adductor longus. That left me unable to walk for a number of weeks, unable to run for months, and took me probably the better part of a year before I stopped feeling the twinge in my leg at certain angles.

After that… I guess I just stopped wondering if it was all worth it. It was a major turning point for me, who has been doing martial arts since I was in my teens.

Even now, I still train, and I daresay that I train with some pretty good intensity. But I just don’t feel like competing. I don’t know if it’s because I’m scared, but I do know that one general thought is that I don’t think, in my circumstances, that it’s worth it anymore for me to compete. Wanting it that much leads to injuries that set me back in other areas of life.

And so ever since I tore that leg muscle, even after my recovery, I haven’t done any official external tournaments in Australia. I’ve done a few unofficial ones here and there, and I still do the in-house randori to a sometimes competition level of intensity, but on the official record, I

I’ve had a few other students reassure me that under the rules, my promotion after completing the exam, points or not, is normal, because under the current rules there are various interpretations that say that you basically don’t need official external competitions to qualify.

On the other hand, one other instructor is not very pleased with the fact that I don’t have sufficient points. It makes me uncomfortable that there’s divided opinions about my qualifications to have obtained this belt.

If I were to count the reasons why it’s probably appropriate, it’s because the instructor who examined me knows his judo. He’s a high ranking member in the international community, so if he pushes for me to do it, who am I to refused?

To be honest, I never really asked to be graded… it was that instructor, who holds the highest dan grading in the school, who basically told me that I had to before the end of the year.

My fellow practitioners so far have been quite supportive of me, but it is weighing on me that the instructor who seems to disapprove is not happy. I care about what he thinks, because he spent a fair amount of time teaching me–  he accounts for probably almost half of the way my judo grappling style has come into being.

 

Playing the pyjama game like an old man

About a month and a half ago, I sustained a minor groin injury from doing judo. That injury compounded into pulling something in my left butt, and eventually spread through the sacrum area and my lumbar. End result is that, about a month ago, I could barely sit in a car without an extreme amount of pain– I felt like, when I moved a certain way, I’d feel a paralytic pain that wouldn’t go away until I shifted my weight completely. It was debilitating, because it felt like my body had been cut in two.

After about a month of physio, I’ve got about 75% of my back’s normal abilities back. It still gets sore quite easily, and frankly getting out of bed, putting my socks on, tying my shoes and clipping my toenails is now a serious chore. But I’m getting better, and I’m glad for it.

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I’m back at judo on light training now.

I’ll still go through most of the fitness elements, and I can now do most throws. Last weekend, I started doing light tachiwaza randori (stand-up sparring) for the first time, though I’ve been doing newaza (ground work) for some time now.

It’s interesting, because I naturally tend to favour throws that work well from a typical striker’s clinch range. This means that I’ll mostly do tie-ups and arm drags into things like hip throws. But I don’t like a lot of the ‘classical’ judo throws as much because I think they’re too fancy, or have a low percentage chance of working outside of a judo context.

Because of my back injury though, I’ve recently had to start working on low-power techniques– it has been interesting because this means using more sweeping and timing, rather than my usual method. My usual method tends to be to gripfight and work for superior position before attempting an attack– I don’t usually get things with just speed or timing alone.

It’s been eye-opening to try and fight with a different style. Always something more to learn.

Singlehandedly

I work at a small firm (where I’m one out of two licensed solicitors) so it’s a given that I’ll be doing a lot of odd jobs around the office here and there. Lately though, I’ve been managing more and more responsibility over matters. It gets daunting at times, but at the same time, it’s a good feeling to know that I’m getting better at my craft.

By the end of this month, it will have been 1 year since I was licensed.

Time flies.

Body Drop

A couple of weeks ago at judo, I managed to perform a technique called tai otoshi on two opponents during sparring. Tai otoshi translates roughly to “body drop”– in my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful techniques in judo. If you get the preparation, timing, and speed right, it’s an incredible throw that takes very little physical effort. Of course, getting physical and “powering” a technique with raw strength and gritt helps almost all throw– but this is one that really works on it’s own compared to other types of throws.

It marked a milestone in my judoing. At this point, I’ve been doing judo for about 2 years I think, or perhaps I’m commencing my third year. I’ve lost track. When I first commenced judo, tai otoshi was one of those techniques that I really wanted to learn.

To be honest, my stand-up judo (tachi waza) still needs a lot of work– comparatively speaking, I have been learning ground-fighting (ne waza) at a much better pace. But still, the fact that I managed to pull off tai otoshi twice, successfully, in that sort of way where you just feel like it was effortless and you made your opponent fly, well, it’s something.

I consider the technique very similar in feeling to “slipping” in boxing and other striking arts. The concept of slipping is simple– when someone punches towards your head, don’t physically interrupt the opponent’s strike by putting your own hands in the way (blocking) or by redirecting it (parrying). Instead, keep your eyes on target, make a muscle memory reflex judgement, figure out the trajectory of the incoming attack and then move your head slightly out of the path of the oncoming fist.

The effect of a great slip is just amazing to watch. Watch a Muhammed Ali video; Maywweather; or Anderson Silva, and you’ll see that just by precise head movement, you can accomplish so much. While yes, there is a defensive purpose to slipping a punch, the real beauty is how it is potentially an ultra-high damage counter opportunity.

Slip a jab? Maybe not such a huge deal. But slip a big power-hand cross or hook? Doing it in itself uses the forward attacking momentum of an opponent against them– where an opponent is used to hitting a sandbag and feeling resistance, it leaves the opponent only hitting empty air.

Without contact, this causes damage in several ways–

  1. it’s much more physically exhausting to punch empty air than a resisting target (even an empty one) due to the lack of rebound to propel the re-chambering. “Whiffing” a punch causes ‘damage’ to stamina.
  2. Slipping, especially in succession (“the bob and weave”) is often a sign of superior technical ability. It is mentally damaging to be trying to hit an opponent, and keep missing.
  3. Position damage– all the forward momentum that you need to make a punch hurt doesn’t dissipate withoutu the anticipated resistance. A whiffed punch thus screws up body position and alignment, making it more difficult to make the next move.
  4. Counter damage. Because of the positional damage and forward momentum, a whiffed punch is very likely to lead to taking more damage from a counter. To put it crudely, it’d be not only like someone slamming a door in your face, but you also running into that slam.

The relationship between slipping a punch and tai otoshi has to do with the “soft” side of martial arts– the feeling of emptiness. In slipping punch, you offer emptiness as an interruption to the opponent’s force (and perhaps followed up with a compounded counter). In order to be in a position to offer that emptiness though, you need to train hard– you need to have your body so used to the motion that when the opportunity arises, your body is making that calculated risk to initaite. \

And it is a risk.

Tai otoshi is much the same. It’s about opportunity (or creating an opportunity), and requires finesse of meeting force with emptiness.

Results May Vary

Now that I’m done university and am soon to be done with the College of Law work that will make me eligible to obtaining my solicitor’s practicing certificate, things are really looking up for me.  (The situation is still really tricky for [CM], but that’s another post in itself.)

Truth be told, I think I really lucked out when I was offered a job by my employment law professor.  At first, I only worked a few days for her back in December 2013– I basically did some legal research, and then it was over.  I didn’t hear anything from her ever since, and since I was engaged on a casual basis, no work means no hours.  She sent me a message asking if I was still available, months later, probably around April 2014– which was surprising, but I was hungry for work.  So I agreed to come in and get things done.

 

Since then, I’ve been working on and off.  I’ve now got a bit more of a genuine part-time status, being scheduled twice a week to come in regardless of whether there is any major client work to be done. Pretty often, I go in 4 or 5 times a week, and some of it is work I can do from home.

So how have I lucked out?  Well, even if you put aside the fact that I have a complicated perspective of “luck,” there are just so many things out of my control that at least for now, just seemed to align right.

First of all, when my boss was my professor, I didn’t really like that class.  Employment law was notionally interesting, but my professor was clearly not an organised teacher and the course’s structure and coverage was all over the place.  Further more, the grading scheme was kind of nuts, inviting the entire class to basically get a crazy amount of good grades without any means of actually filtering out the people who were truly lazy or incompetent.  For me, who is all about gaming law school grades to help me in long term career, this class’s organisation was a total nightmare.

When my prof initially approached me to offer me a casual office-help position, I was hesitant mostly because I didn’t have all that great an impression from the way she ran her class.  I was used to working in offices of all different sorts.  I worked in public hospital administration for about 7 years, across two hospitals, and in about 4 different departments.  I worked law jobs in community legal centres, I worked in a firm that specialises in German and Swiss commercial clients doing business with Australia, I worked in Hong Kong where culture is about as corporate as it gets.  My impression of my prof could probably not be further from what I imagine a boss to be like.

Turns out she’s pretty cool as a boss.  She’s a sole practitioner, which means that she is a lawyer who for the most part works solo.  That means that on a daily basis, I am working with the person in charge of the business– it means that there’s a lot more control over the nature of my work environment. The workplace has proven to be ultra flexible– I start and finish roughly when I want, my days are flexible.  Work wise, it’s challenging stuff.  My work varies a lot– some days, I’m doing the job of an IT guy, setting up remote access for the network for us so we can use the systems from home. Another day, I was going through student emails, evaluating their class participation.  Another day, I was writing a lesson plan for her.  And last week, I doing some research and drafting for clients.

A varied workload is the way to go I think.  At the moment, I think my one gripe is that I don’t get a lot of feedback on my work– the boss is so busy doing one thing after another that there isn’t much time for her to train me or give me much feedback.  A lot of what’s ending up on my plate, I’m learning on the fly through self study of government website and legislation.  But I suppose that’s what a lawyer’s work is like, and that’s what all the schooling up until now has been about anyway– learning to survive and think for myself, for lack of guidance.

 

I think it’s something that can be improved though.  Getting feedback and training, I mean.  The boss is open minded– we’re just figuring out a way to work together still.

 

All this is to say that I’m pretty lucky to have landed this gig in the first place, so I’m going to give it my all.  The market for lawyers in Sydney is really shit right now– it’s apparently the worst year for hiring in a decade.  To end up at a place like this?  Well, it’s not a big firm–  but I only wanted big firms because it would have been the most likely way to get a job.

 

I’ll take it from here.

Show me the Money

I am decidedly tired of being a student, especially when it comes to learning things that I really don’t need to know for future work or being a useful member of society. I find that doing any sort of studying, researching or writing for school is simply aggravating– moreso because I’ve worked before undergoing this postgrad course.  And now that I work pretty consistently in legal practice, I’m way more challenged at work anyhow.  I’m doing essentially all the work of a lawyer– but I have to tough out the “education” because I need a practicing certificate before I can actually be paid the salary of a lawyer.  So that means that while I’m actually learning the useful stuff on the job, I continue to learn and research mostly useless stuff at school, and I have to keep on paying them to force me to complete the most irrelevant sorts of busywork.

You can just tell when you’re writing papers for school that the professor is just crowdsourcing their own research goals onto a class full of students.

Tertiary education is just one big mafia-style protection racket.

Thesis Writing

Just had a meeting with my thesis supervisor– the word count is getting there, but the structure of the whole thing needs major work.  With only about two weeks to go, this is going to be a consierable challenge I think.

 

The prof asked me: “Did you go to school in North America?”

Because apparently, Australian school systems do a lot more work throughout high school about how to write effectively.  I can probably agree with that– I don’t really remember doing classes teaching us how to write.  We probably had something back in grade 7 or something?

 

I do remember thinking that two of my best teachers were in CEGEP, and I thought they were the best teachers because they essentially told me that my paper writing styles were shit– whereas all other teachers gave me B+ or higher grades for everything.  It turns out that a lot of teachers don’t even write well or just had low standards, so I had developed a style of fluff before substance.

Actually, when I really think about it, a lot of the problems in my formal writing probably stem from the bad habits that I’ve gotten from blogging so much.

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Just an observation– but this professor basically told me that my thesis, as it is now, is basically kinda of shitty because of really poor technique.  A teacher hasn’t told me that in years. And in fact, even at my current law firm, my boss has highest praises for me for my writing skills.

It’s not often that I get to butt heads with someone who is actually teaching me new writing techniques (as opposed to just teaching me the content of a subject). 

I’m somewhat looking forward to bleeding for this thesis now.

Your Honour,

it’s 6:30 AM and I am putting the finishing touches on what I plan to say in a mock court hearing later today for the College of Law.

Teaching to Learn

The past week was the first time I go back to ‘normal’ training at judo after spraining my ITB about a month ago. The ITB is still not 100%, but I can work the full routine with it with the exception of some throws that specifically rely on particular hooking motions for reaping or sweeping.

During the time that I was taking it easy, I mostly was working with white belts and it was a really good experience for a number of reasons. It’s not necessarily that I’m qualified to teach judo– I’m clearly not. I just happen to have a 1 year head start on these people when it comes to the basics, and I think that my position as a slightly-better-than-beginner helps me to relate to the issues they’re facing that black belts too easily take for granted.

My training partners don’t have proper reactions yet
Normally, as a general rule, it is easier to train with a higher grade judoka than a lower grade one. A higher grade one will move with you when you’re practicising a technique. It doesn’t mean that they’ll “jump” with your trow attempt usually (unless you’re really having a hard time conceptualising what is supposed to happen) but it does mean that they get rid of resistance in ways that will hinder you from learning the throw. They will go with your attempts to off-balance them, and they will protect themselves from your throw so they move in a rather predictable way.

White belts, being the bottom of the food chain, aren’t capable of that. They do what is natural to them– when you try to throw them, the tense up in strange ways that makes them really odd objects to be picking up and throwing. Imagine lifting a bag of rice onto your shoulder, and tossing it to the ground– that’s kind of what throwing a black belt is like. If you have white belt however, that bag of rice is constantly changing shape– it might decide suddenly it wants to tense up, and next thing you know, you’re lifting a log of wood or a chair, or suddenly something really odd shaped like cello. It’s a strange analogy, but what I’m getting at is that the way that a white belt panics alters their weight distribution significantly.

This has the interesting effect of forcing you to exert a hell of a lot more control. In my case, it meant that I had to pay attention a lot more to my grip (you need to really get a good handle on a white belt partner, because you never know how they’ll squirm– and even when you get a ‘bad grip,’ you need to hold on tight). And secondly, it’s made me pay a lot more attention to my lower body, as in, where my feet are placed under our combined weight, and how I’m bending my knees.

White belts sometimes simulate “street scenarios”
Assuming you needed to throw someone outside of a dojo, it’s important to practice with people who have low training in your particular style, specificially because their reaction and fighting style will not be what you’re used to throwing.

Nevermind that someone without some sort of grappling experience doesn’t know how to protect themselves form being thown– their willingness (or ignorance) to take your throw on head on is an added factor that couuld change the flow of things. Sorta like how if you were trained to box with someone, and then suddenly got elbowed or headbutt in the face.

When a whitebelt joins up, all they have going for them is athleticism and willpower– they lack technique specific to the style. That means that it’s a great opportunity to see how you can use technique to control an opponent who is exerting superior athleticism and willpower– because if your own technique doesn’t make you more efficient, then what’s the point of it?

Accepting challenges or questions from white belts forces you to find the out-of-dojo applications and real world relevence of your techniques.

You learn a lot about how effective (or ineffective) what you’re learning really is

I had an epiphany the other day when it came to groundwork. The whitebelts are all ranges of sizes, which is nice– the new girls are all lighter than me, but the guys are lighter, same, and heavier.

One of the basic ways to win in Judo is to hold your opponent down with his back on the ground. There are techniques to get out if you’re the one on the bottom, but in general, I think that if you took clones of me and made them fight eachother, or clones of any judoka for that matter, the guy on top will usually win over the guy on bottom assuming equal weight and ability. There’s just a lot of advantages for the guy on top (slightly different due to the scoring system of Judo compared to BJJ, if there are BJJ readers out there). Being on top, you just have more options, usually more control, and you’re pressing into your opponent most of the time which drains their stamina and ability to make good decisions.

That said, if you are on the bottom, there ARE techniques to get out, they just don’t work unless you catch your opponent off guard. Given similar weight, a direct deffence to your reversal will almost always fail, so what you have to do normally is either completely overwelm the person on top of you through some superior attribute despite the similarity in weight (such as crazy power, flexibility, etc) or you have to alternate between techniques that force your opponent to deffend one, then catch him off guard when you transition to another.

If your opponent is heavier than you, well, you’re usually pretty screwed, especially when they have at least as much technial knowledge as you.

That being said, white belts provided an interesting learning experience for me– because I can actually have a white belt who out weights me by about 18 kilos (35 pounds?) sitting on me and holding me down, and I can turn him around. So it means that the techniques for reversing do work!

ON the other hand, I have also trained with the girls who are lighter than me who had a really REALLY hard time staying on top.

But then I would teach them bits to fine tune their hold-down– things like where to put their weight, how to react to my reversals, what to grip, etc. And It was quite interesting– because as iI explained a factor and noticed something else that was missing, when they started combining all the factors I was gradually feeling that the hold down was really becoming more and more difficult to reverse. I guess it just makes logical sene, right? But what I’m getting at is that if you have to break down a technique to this extent, it’s really easy to see how every little component element of a full technique is important.

WHen you spar with people who are the same weight and experience as you, these details are often lost because youre not trying to improve– you just want to hold that fucker down, or get him off of you.

A failure to do so usually gets brushed off as a one off thing.

WIth white belts, they just don’t understand the technique to begin with- so you really have to look at why it is that yours works and theirs doesn’t, and in so doing, you gain a better appreciation for why it is that you do what you do. ANd if anything, how you can also improve it in some way that you didn’t realise.

I have learned a hella lot training with the whilte belts for the past 3 weeks– perhaps as much as I learned about grappling over the last year combined? That’s a pretty big statement I suppose.