Beginner’s Luck

When you’re new at something, you’re standing at the base of a mountain and there’s only one place to go – up.

If I picked up a saxophone today, my improvement from Day 1 to Day 30 would be astronomical. My improvement from Day 30 – 60 would be great, but not quite as drastic. By the time I’m performing in the saxophone olympics, I’m only improving in very small increments from year to year. Why? Because now I’m the straight-laced superman of symphony.

When you’re new it’s easy to improve. So easy that it looks like magic and we have to make up a name for it, we call it “beginner’s luck.”

Newborn babies know all about beginner’s luck. Newborn babies couldn’t be dumber. They have ALL the knowledge of the universe in front of them, none behind.

Yesterday the little guy couldn’t talk, but today he’s yelling “cookies!” From words to sentences, from crawling to running, he’s smashing past those life milestones at 100 miles per. Little kids don’t bother with rear view mirrors. They just think, “What’s next man?” First bicycle? First kiss? First job? Bring it yo!

Then we get older and the mountaintop levels off. Now we’re walking a level ridge. Looking into the void on either side causes our knees to start knocking, so instead we look ahead, eyes on the prize. As adults, a few or our skills have now been sharpened into money-making skills; so… just keep doing what got you to the dance.

But…

But man it’s fun to be a kid. In any small way you can swing it. It’s fun to suck at something and get better fast. You impress with your progress. And if you screw up? Who cares, you’re only a newbie! It’s fun to stretch your legs again. Your legs miss the feeling of storming that mountain at a 45 degree angle. It’s good because it’s fun, that’s all.

And who among us dares to pretend, “I’ve got more than enough fun in my life, thank you.” I love you but I don’t believe you.

Monkey Do

upward dog

How in hell did that 24 year old teacher crawl into bed with that 19 year old student!? Well because she’s a monkey and he’s a monkey too. They might have been wearing “teacher” and “student” name tags but monkey brains don’t read too good.

Of course something needs to be done. We can’t have free-for-all hedonism in the streets. Monkey activity is bad for productivity, it took a lot of damn hard work to construct these cities and laws and social customs – all the pillars of our modern civilizations.

But we do suffer when we deprive ourselves of our monkey needs. We suffer when our eyes never get to stretch themselves on long-range views. We suffer when we don’t belong to a group, when we swallow shit that isn’t nutrition, and when we pretend like sex isn’t that big of a deal.

Too often our modern lives don’t account for these basic needs, so it’s up to me and you to design our lives in a sensical way.

For me the biggest and most overlooked building block is exercise: without movement your bowels don’t turn, your blood doesn’t flow, your brain grinds to a crawl, and little stressful minutae combust into major issues. I once heard someone say that if your life has gone to shit and you don’t know where to begin… just go to the gym. Every day just go to the gym, even if it feels pointless.

It’s hokey but it does hold wisdom, and the wisdom has to do with “basic maintenance.” Our complex brains guide us down a million paths on the search for happiness, but underneath our clothes we’re simple machines.

The Martial Arts

 

I love practicing the martial arts for three reasons.

  1. The workouts kick my ASS.
  2. What I’m learning is practical. I travel a lot, and I like the idea that I could protect myself and my family if needed. Basketball is crazy fun for me, but it isn’t useful in the same way.
  3. My instructors and partners are good people. From what I’ve experienced, people who practice these lethal art forms are honest and hard working. The culture is one of deep respect.

Last year I practiced Jiu Jitsu and right now I’m practicing Muay Thai. Here’s a short word on each art form:

Jiu Jitsu is the art of grappling on the ground. If you go to youtube and type in “street fight”, you’ll see that eventually every fight ends up on the ground. Jiu Jitsu teaches you what to do once you’re down there. If you are on top, how do maintain your control? If you are on your back, how do you A) get back to your feet, or B) attack from your back?

Muay Thai is a specialized form of striking. In Muay Thai you learn that your body has 8 weapons: two fists, two elbows, two knees, and two legs. You learn how to dance in front of your opponent, how to protect yourself from strikes, and how to throw your own combinations. Throwing an effective punch is harder than it looks on TV. On my first day of Muay Thai training, I spent a long time learning how to stand.

From Taekwondo to Judo, Karate, Boxing, Kick Boxing, Wrestling, there are a lot of fighting disciplines. But it’s clear that some disciplines are more useful than others. UFC fights in the 90’s and early 2000’s proved that a well trained Jiu Jitsu fighter has a very good chance of out-matching a striker, even a bigger and stronger one.

UFC fights are fascinating from an intellectual perspective because they attempt to answer this question: If two people face off, and all other things are basically equal (the fighters are the same size, there are no weapons, both fighters are healthy, etc…) who will win? Which fighting technique, or combination of techniques, is actually the most effective? UFC fighters are today’s Roman Gladiators. They really do “fight to the death,” but the referee’s job is to intercede exactly at the point that death is imminent.

I never thought I’d be a die hard UFC fan, but since when did Mrs. Fanny Fate ever give a shit about what we thought we’d grow up to be?