Categories
Learning Physical Performance

Beyond Violence – Fighting, Aggression and My Study of Muay Thai

I took up Thai Kickboxing towards the beginning of 2016, after several years dedicated to the study of ballet. I had wanted more Muay Thai (the formal Thai name for the sport) ever since having tried the form for a few intense weeks in 2013. 

Early 2016 was a transitional time for me. I had just quit my full-time job for the educational company Socos, was exploring what would become the Responsive Conference, and looking for something to compliment my training in gymnastics and ballet. I joined “El Niño’s,” a fight gym in San Francisco owned by professional fighter Gilbert “El Niño” Melendez. Thai Kickboxing is an unusually effective form at the intersection between sport and practical self-defense. I had never thrown a punch and wanted to try.

As is often the case when I begin a new physical practice, I quickly began to take class 3 and then 5 days a week, and to practice ‘shadow boxing’ (sparing without a partner or bag) while on phone calls or in the shower. It was fascinating to see how much the intensity of the martial form complemented the rest of my life, and I found myself wanting more.

Muay Thai is called the “art of 8 limbs” because in addition to kicking and punching, the form uses elbows and knees. In traditional Thai fights, there is a great deal of ritual, followed by some of the most abrupt violence I have ever witnessed.

I have never been prone to violence. Growing up, my mother taught me to believe that violence should always be avoided. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I considered the difference between the concepts of aggression and violence. The practice of a deliberately violent sport was far outside my experience. In Muay Thai we train with heavily padded gloves and pads, and it is still scary to throw my weight into a punch at someone’s head. Above all, my study of the form was as an exploration of fear — the fear of getting hit and of hitting another (albeit, consenting) person.

I’m not proud of everything that came out of my time practicing Muay Thai; I experienced significant downsides. And through my daily study of controlled violence I discovered a level of confidence and courage that will serve me well for years to come.

From 4th grade until early high school, I was an outsider — the “sensitive” kid in a community that valued hyper-masculinity. I sported boy-band long blond hair in defiance of the buzz cuts of my peers. I was called “girl,” which was the biggest insult any of us could think of. I remember one day in 5th grade getting invited to play basketball, only to have the ball thrown at my face, breaking my nose.

Fortunately, I grew out of those years, and it took a decade to find an appreciation of team sports and even longer to begin practicing martial forms. That today I enjoy watching professional fighters compete would have shocked my 10- or 15-year old self.

I remember the first time I felt like a predator at El Niño’s. My fight gym has some world class fighters who practice with us. Merely hearing their exhalations when they strike is enough to make me want to take a step back, and the force of some of their explosive kicks against a bag makes me cringe.

In my first month, I was paired with a fellow — call him Miguel — who was in his first week. He was a few inches shorter and maybe 10 pounds lighter than me. We were taught a sequence of punches, kicks, elbows, and knees designed to help us practice a specific type of attack and defense. It wasn’t especially challenging to hold pads while Miguel executed this series against me. When it came my turn to attack, it was clear that he was tired and bit scared. Like a tiger sensing prey, my aggression spiked and I went after him more intensely. This aggressive drive continued to spiral, until I found myself thinking — through a fog of effort — “I could kill him!” While he was never in any danger, that fleeting thought — that I was capable of causing physical harm to another — rocked me.

I don’t walk around afraid anymore. When someone attempted to steal the tip jar at my café a month ago, I had no compunction about stopping him physically. I was also surprised at how angry I became.

In August 2016 I spent a week camping with my family in the Sierras. One evening we found ourselves in a heated discussion, and I got increasingly angry to the point that I literally punched a tree. My parents were shocked, in 30 years never having seen me angry to the point of violence. I was surprised, too, and somewhat bewildered by my own actions. My bloody knuckles were a useful reminder for the next several days.

This and similar violent outbursts could be attributed to the stress of my professional life — opening the café, running the Responsive Conference — but that would be false attribution. It was tied to the daily practice of violence and aggression. When I walked away from Muay Thai in September, I left behind the intensity of the practice and the anger.

I’m glad not be practicing Thai Kickboxing for the time being, and I’m extremely grateful for the range of experiences, practice facing fear, and understanding of violence I learned.

This post was originally published on Medium. If you’ve enjoyed this article, join my newsletter for a short weekly updates with articles, stories about building culture at Robin’s Cafe, and more.

Categories
Creative Entrepreneurship Learning Podcast Writing

Pam Slim on Capoeira, Building a Body of Work, and the Value of Small Business

 

My guest today is the award-winning author, speaker and small business strategist Pamela Slim (@pamslim).

I first began following Pam’s work with the publication of her first book, Escape from Cubicle Nation, and have watched with enthusiasm as she has transitioned over her career across several very different industries and classes of business.

Her latest, bestselling book, Body of Work, gives a fresh perspective on skills required in the new world of work for people in all work modes, from corporate to nonprofit to small business.

As the founder of K’é in downtown Mesa, Arizona, she now supports small businesses through classes, networking events, and virtual programs.

As the owner of a small cafe in the San Francisco Mission, I was very interested to hear Pam thoughts on why small business is not only necessary but also a great place to build within, with enormous potential.

We discuss a trait that Pam has embodied throughout her career, which I think of as being a lifelong learner or autodidact – and what Pam calls being a multipotentialite.

Pam will be speaking at the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference on Sept. 18-19th 2017 in NYC. I hope you enjoy this interview and hope you’ll consider joining us!

Show Notes

03:00 Capoeira
06:30 Lessons learned from Capoeira
09:30 Pam’s move to Mesa, Arizona – Pam mentions the film “Dolores” by Peter Bratt
14:15 Small business is sexy
18:30 Tactical learning
21:30 Work mode
27:30 Different aspects of self
29:30 Pam’s time in college studying in Mexico and Columbia
33:00 Having multiple career choices – Pam mentions How to Be Everything by Emilie Wapnick and her TED Talk
36:00 Body of Work in practice
38:30 Characteristics of Pam’s Incubator
41:00 Building networks
44:00 Growing small, innovative businesses in small, unexpected locations
49:15 New cities becoming hubs
52:00 Enjoying the process
55:00 Pam’s physical practice
57:45 Learn more about Pam:

Pam’s Website

2nd Annual Responsive Conference

58:30 Parting thoughts

If you enjoyed this episode with Pam Slim, I think you will enjoy the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference this September 18-19th in New York City. 

 

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Categories
Learning Physical Performance

Physical Culture with Cody Fielding

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D. Cody Fielding is a professional coach who has worked in the fields of fitness, wellness, and performance enhancement for more than 20 years. I met Cody in 2008, shortly after moving to San Francisco, just as I began my own career as a personal trainer, and he had a profound impact on my own thinking about movement and the body.

We conducted this interview in Cody’s private studio in the Mission District of San Francisco. Cody’s backgrounds includes the study and practice of biomechanics, posture, nutrition, evolutionary biology, psychology, and physics. He has worked with and studied the works of everyone from Joseph Pilates, Moshe Feldenkrais, Scott Sonnon, Mel Siff, and many others.

I’ve been consistently impressed with Cody’s diligence and examination of how to improve performance, but also the subtler elements that make a peak performer. Once, over coffee, Cody interviewed me with a quality of complete focus that contributed to my own desire to learn to conduct interviews. Similarly, over the course of one memorable hour Cody taught me how to throw a football, which is something I had never done previously. His thoughtfulness and thoroughness made learning to throw a football effortless, and for the first time, fun.

Cody and I delve pretty deep into what he calls “physical culture,” which is to say the study and practice of movement and the human body. I have learned an enormous amount about performance, movement, and the body from Cody and I hope you enjoy this interview.

 

Categories
Practical Philosophy

Fixation, Addiction and Pursuit of Perfection

When I find something I like – a new sport, person, company or restaurant – I fixate. Culturally we usually discuss fixation only in terms of “addiction.” I’ve discussed before the benefits of enthusiasm for special needs children and non-attachment for overcoming hurdles. There is utility to the boundless (perhaps incessant) enthusiasm that accompanies discovering a new passion.

Learn From Your Enthusiasm

Children fixate beautifully. When a child discovers her fingers for the first time, her delight in her own experience is all consuming. In adults, this behavior would be called self-centered and selfish, but we’d never challenge a child in her explorations. Enthusiasm can be all consuming, and some of the richest learning experiences are to be had when 100% of the learner’s attention is fixated on the object of study.

Forming Habits – The Good and Bad

Many are the times that I have discovered a new fixation. Sometimes this just looks like somewhat obsessive behavior. For example, I have eaten the same type of burrito for lunch for several years. In other situations, fixation can become a problem. I think of myself in a specific college relationship with exasperation – refusing to admit that it was time to move on. The word “fixate” tends towards negative connotations because of situations like this last: times when we completely shape our behavior around a non-healthy focus or endeavor. Ignore the potential outcomes of fixation at your peril; go in eyes open, knowing that there are downsides to forming new habits.

Build the Habit of Pursuing Perfection

Perfection is an unachievable state. There is no “there” there because as soon as you have accomplished your goal, the objective has shifted and become even higher. Dancing ballet for me is a constant struggle between seeking perfection, and the impossibility of achieving that state. There is no achievable “perfect” ballet technique. Unlike my burrito habit – which hasn’t changed much in years – dance is always new and challenging. And while I fixate like a child discovering her fingers, dance is an outlet in which I can continue my pursuit without negative side effects. Dance has provided a point of fixation where the focus is not a succeed/fail endeavor. As a result I can relentlessly strive for perfection that can never be fully attained.

Find a fixation, and constantly strive to improve in that domain. Forming habits has a downside, but fixation can also serve you well.  Get curious and discover a new depth of learning.

Categories
Special Needs

Autism is a Dynamic System

Autism is not simple. It is not just a genetic disorder, an eating disorder or brain damage. Autism is a whole host of different factors and I love working with children with autism for exactly this reason.

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Most children, even with severe disabilities, prefer to spend time with other human beings. They like to interact. They enjoy being looked at. They enjoy being touched. Children with autism (often) don’t!

With children with autism there is often trouble with eating or digestion. There are movement difficulties. Autism has so many different factors to learn about, to discover and – best of all – each one is radically different between children!

I can see one child who’s very highly functioning – maybe Asperger’s – and they will not eat pasta. Another child – a little boy I work with, Zach, is amazing at taking a pen and flipping it and flipping it three times in the air and catching it and catching it on the same side each and every single time. I could train that for years and I might be able to get as good as he is.

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People on the autism spectrum have such amazing and specific quirks! They have unique preferences that it is a new puzzle each time. Every timeI see a child, even somebody I know, I get to learn about a new child.  I have to start with them exactly where they are and I can’t assume. If I come and I assume that the child I’m working with today is going to be like the child that I worked with last week, there’s no moving forward. It’s such a fun reset, such a neat and intriguing and useful way to start. I get to practice my own internal, mental, emotional and physical flexibility because one child might not want to come into my door and one child might want to leap on me and, right, have a piggyback ride. Because there are so many contributing factors I could see this situation as difficult, but actually it is a lot like the rest of our lives!  Our family and friends aren’t always feeling the same way. We do assume that they are how they usually are. We can usually get away with our assumptions. But how much more kind, more respectful not as assume we know where someone is. I practice with kids with autism.

Autism is a dynamic system. To engage with a child with autism I’m required to bring more of myself to table, be the best that I can possibly be. But instead of viewing this as a difficult, I view it as a learning experience and fun.

Categories
Learning Physical Performance

Where’s Robin? Join me for weekly (free) movement lessons.

There are a lot of new and exciting changes in my life. Over the last 2 years I’ve gone out social dancing 6x nights a week, training gymnastics until 10 or 11pm some nights, and working early into the morning hours. It was a not uncommon occurrence for a flatmate to be getting up for breakfast and find me fixing myself a 5am pre-bedtime snack. Well, that’s changed…

I am currently organizing the biggest event I’ve ever put on. We are organizing a thousand person workshop in the San Francisco Bay Area for The Son-Rise Program®: Essentials workshop – a transformative three days workshop for parents and professionals with children with autism. There are some free upcoming talks, here.

Additionally, I’ve switched from dancing Blues/Fusion and Argentine Tango to ballet. I am currently taking ballet class at LINES ballet six times each week.

These changes make me harder to find than I was just a couple of months ago. I am used to seeing a lot of people regularly on dance floors around the Bay Area and won’t be, for the foreseeable future. So I’m instigating a new, weekly (free) event. I have been certified to practice the Anat Baniel Method, a modern variant of the Feldenkrais Method, and a gentle style of movement education that I’ve used to overcome some severe injuries. This is the same sort of thing I do with autistic kids. I’ve done a lot of movement in my life – from founding a dance company to trying a dozen martial arts in a week. I have studied with some amazing teachers. And I’ve never met someone with a more thorough applied understanding of human motor learning than Anat Baniel. I want to continue to learning with you…

Categories
Learning

Children with Autism Improve – Reports from Parents

“What is the Anat Baniel Method?”

“How does it work?”

“Does it make a difference with children with special needs?”

These are among the most common questions we hear. To begin to answer some of these we’ve compiled stories from the March 2013 Free Children’s Clinic of parents and children discussing their experience.

Categories
Special Needs

Try a Radical New Idea: Celebrate Autism!

I love autism! This sentence begins my first book (an ebook to be sold via Amazon). I know it isn’t a typical idea or a normal philosophy. I’m sharing this idea because it is useful!

“Reach out to children with autism” (Photo: Arturo de Albornoz)

In the beginning, I think the notion of celebrating autism rang true for me because I’d been “poor baby”ed so many times in relation to my own injuries. People pity those affected by autism and then avoid them. The idea – in short – is that having a child with autism is terrible and there ends the conversation… with an awkward silence. I am just side-stepping the issue. It isn’t a matter of the “truth” about autism, whether it is hard or not, but of the outcome of these two different view points. Let’s look at what happens when we view autism as devastating and a disaster. As soon as we say “It is unfortunate that…” we get unhappy!  We want our neuro-typical children to keep up with their peers, excel at music or math, and graduate Harvard with honors. Why? For our satisfaction and happiness. So we can know with joy or pride that our progeny will succeed!

I choose love and joy with autism because it is more fun, more efficient (I am always for efficiency) and there are more options available. Of course, there is a lot of learning and effort necessary to care for of a special child. And as soon as autism is an opportunity we get to ask the question “How is this good?” and a whole world of opportunities open up.

Let’s take a look at how we benefit from viewing autism as an opportunity:

  • I get to learn so much about what works for me whenever I work with a child with autism. When something changes everything changes. In my life when I started new physical activity I change physiologically to match that activity very quickly. If I start swimming today, two weeks from today my body will be measurable changed to accommodate for swimming. I wasn’t always able to recognize these changes but through working with children on the spectrum have learned to watch for and appreciate all of our capacity for dramatic, dynamic change.
  • A child with autism is such an amazing way for us to see ourselves more clearly and to learn about ourselves. Autism is an amazing mirror. If I turned up frustrated, the child – lacking our social standards and relying on attitude – is going to move away from me. If I am going to be effective with a child with autism I have to turn up loving and accepting them because that’s the only way it works. In working with these children I get to practice being loving, present, and non-judgmental.
  • There are so many factors to consider: digestion, social behaviors, physical self regulating behaviors, what we can guess of their mental states. As we look at and work on any one of these factors all of these factors are affected.
  • Every child with autism is different. Additionally, a child on the spectrum can be radically different day to day. Every moment is a new experiment with what works with this new individual and their brain at this moment!
  • I can spend a couple of weeks with one child working on a specific movement pattern. Not only does that pattern become much smooth but other factors, seemingly unrelated, change too. Social behavior improves. Or digestion is impacted. What is going to change is not predictable but that there is going to be change is nearly certain. This is true for all humans but because the characteristics of autism are so pronounced and because we are all so focused on all of these characteristics in our desire to change them, the changes are very noticeable.

So try something new: celebrate autism! Why not try it?

Categories
Learning

Movement with Attention for your child

Note: this post is intended for parents of children with special needs. If that isn’t your cup of tea there are lots of other posts that may be.

Anat Baniel’s first essential is Movement with Attention. The question is how to apply this essential with your child. What’s one new way?

1. Touch your child with curiosity. What does it feel like to touch along his/her spine? Towards the top of the spine vs. the bottom of the spine? What differences do you feel? As you begin to feel differences you awaken your child (regardless of age) to the possibility of experiencing and learning differences too!

2. Join them. Do what they do. If they roll on the floor, sit up, crawl – try doing that too! As you join them in what they like you’ll bond with them, get more engaged with them, and come to see aspects of what they do in a new way!

3. Lie on your back on the floor for 3 minutes and scan yourself. Notice the contact of your feet with the floor, your head with the floor. As you begin to feel yourself more you wake up your brain to the possibility of new experiences. This will then powerfully transfer over to how you are with your child, how you touch your child, and how you attend to your child!

4. Who’s next? What’s another area you apply Movement with Attention?