‘Simplicity is the Last Step in Art…’

Training other people’s children is one of the most significant responsibilities I’ve undertaken.

It’s a huge moment of trust when a parent leaves you with their child, and I feel as if me and the kid are enveloped in a white-hot spotlight of attention. Everyone can see everything I do, and they’re watching in relation to the child.

This is even more apparent when the kid turns out to be annoying.

My mate Tim, hanging on the left side of the photo like an unshaven full moon, is the father of Xavier and Ollie, my two most recent charges.

He’s a capable boxer and, now and again, brings his boys to throw some punches. They are both involved with other sports, but they get something out of boxing they can’t find anywhere else.

I find that boys are different to girls. Boys are taking the measure of you, and it’s their own measure, like when they walk through a door and look up at a light switch.

They are using you as a metric to measure their span. How does this adult behave, and how should they model their own behaviour in relation to the world they are reaching towards?

As much as I’m making this sound high-pressure, I really love training kids. It’s not that they are more enjoyable than adults, but when you’re training children, you have a profound influence, as opposed to something between a significant to marginal one. The other thing is, they’re always surprising. You never know how what you say – or do – is going to land.

When done correctly, teaching is, by its essential nature, an honourable undertaking.   

Coming from a martial arts background has conditioned my approach to exercise. Within the context of martial arts, the literal transformation through training, in terms of aesthetics and skill, is actually a metaphor for getting in touch with the pulleys and levers of what is often referred to as character.

It is also the way in which we release the negative biproducts of psychological process that are necessary to running the human machine, like anxiety, frustration, anger and fear.

In fact, the martial arts have always been preoccupied with this, possibly because they are descended from yoga. And I think there’s something in teaching kids to box, both girls and boys, because they come into a sense of their own power, yoked as it is to physical energy and vitality. It is life affirming in a fundamental way.

There’s a couple of quotes that I live by, and one of them comes from Bruce Lee. He famously said that ‘simplicity is the last step in art and the beginning of nature.’ I love this quote, because it indicates the true essence of training.

Training to develop a skill is not about acquisition so much as it is about elimination.

When I’m teaching anyone to box, I distil it into the following fundamentals:  

  1. Breathe
  2. Rotate your body weight around the mid-line
  3. Your hands travel to and from your face
  4. Your elbows draw the arcs of your strikes
  5. When your feet are on the floor, you have power. When they’re off the floor, you don’t.

When you look at it in those terms, it’s a pretty simple list. And once you recognise that, it’s pretty easy to become discouraged. If there’s so little to doing it, then why is it so hard?

Western culture is fixated with acquisition. Training, on the other hand, is about eliminating every extraneous element of your body language. That means you’re fast, economical, difficult to read and difficult to hit because you’re not open, nor are you giving your opponent indications of what you intend to do.

“You said the right thing on Saturday,” Tim Schleiger, father of Xavier and Ollie, said when we caught up to train a few days later.

“The little one, Xav, just wants to hit stuff, but the thoughtful one, Ollie went home and he Googled Bruce Lee.” 

      

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