Monthly Archives: February 2015

Martial Arts, Science and Tech for Secondary School

Having returned for a great snowboarding and skiing holiday with the family,

I dived straight back into presenting and explaining science and tech. This was a slightly different request through STEMnet though. A local secondary school teacher asked if I could come and take about biomechanics and martial arts to try and help her students see why science is still an important subject to stick with.

I ran two sessions but built a new presentation specifically for this audience and reason.
Usually I am explaining tech, the future, metaverses etc but putting things like Choi Kwang Do and learning guitar into the mix to make things a little more human.
This time though the hook was martial arts. As Martial arts are not generally taught in school (though the should ideally be part of the curriculum) they are something that has a degree of intrigue to people. Choi Kwang Do in particular is based around a lot of ground up application of scientific principles. It is also not a combat sport, but a defence art aimed at improving your overall mental and physical well being. i.e. it’s idea; for this sort of talk.
I am not going to post the presentation as it featured a lot of video, very few words on slides and a lot of talking and demonstration.

The format though was….
1. Intro to who I am, what I do. I was wearing my Dobok and belt as part of the impact, but indicating my background and work as a techie. I also showed some custard pie throwing from The Cool Stuff Collective. My aim was to show that breadth of knowledge and experience is important and the ability to change is key.
2. I gave a potted history of CKD and showed some of the variety of people performing CKD. I showed predlet 1.0 in a video at a showcase event. It had all ages, sizes and abilities of people in it. The aim to remove the macho, teenage boys only, type of image and engage the entire class. I explained the classes that Master Scrimshaw runs in basingstoke too. I also had the values and pledge on screen to mention.
3. Next up was to talk about Psychology. In part this was about mental states. Dealing with the transition from relaxed, to wary to fight or flight. How the fight or flight state causes massive physical and chemical changes. How being aware of those changes, finding ways to avoid or positively use those is a fundamental part of any martial art. How being in the red and stressed when you don’t need to be will make you ill etc.

4. Physics was next. I pointed out that in a martial art Force = Mass x Acceleration is key. Learning ways to project as much of your mass as possible, as fast as possible is what the techniques are designed to do. Understanding forces and what they are apply to any sport, golf, football, tennis. However I also broke out into showing how we need to understand forces like gravity and cohesion in game development and animations. Here I was aiming to jump subjects to show that the same science and understanding is needing in something very physical and in something, like games development, that is more sat at a desk. The same science.
Also here I played a little trick. Whilst talking about the forces I suddenly jumped into stance and gave a very loud guttural kihap (Martial art shout). This made pretty much everyone jump. A fairly drastic pace change but the aim was to then remind everyone of the conversation about fight of flight earlier on. I pointed out that for me as the shouter, I had gained control, I had positive vibes and chemicals flowing and I was ready. For the class they were for a fraction of a second confused. Their body will have gone straight to code red, in fact jumping was part of fight or flight but almost taking them into tonic immobility, frozen in fear. A simple loud noise, out of context had caused metabolic changes in all of them. i.e. make the science personal and relevant.
Those that already did martial arts, there were a few in each class, were less bothered, seemed more relaxed as they were subconsciously dealing with the threat assessment.
5. I continued to talk about physics and relate that to biomechanics and anatomy. Understanding how to flow movements across your body to generate the acceleration.
6. This led to the neuroscience part. I shared how we learn patterns and sequential movement fits with the way the brain likes to absorb information. Moving from short to long term memory and able to operate when in flow mode works better if the thing you are learning has a completeness to it and a known pattern. In CKD we start and finish in the same place in most moves, we also follow a rounded non stressful sequence. Again I related this to video games and how we learn patterns to deal with situations in games. Discovering the pattern is the joy of play, followed by the mastery of that pattern, getting faster and better scores. Good games need to layer new patterns on old to avoid boredom. Likewise in CKD training we layer onto of mastered moves and patterns with new ones. At its root it all goes back to basics.
I also discussed contralateral movement, working the whole body on both sides for both parts of the brain to create cross hemisphere pathways as the brains neuroplasticity is exercised.
I used the example from Heston Blumenthal of the cinnamon and vanilla ice cream too. Again this was to break the subject, change the mental senses used by the group. With the ice cream made from both vanilla and cinnamon if you sniff cinnamon before tasting the ice cream you will only taste vanilla, like wise with vanilla sniffed first you will only taste cinnamon. This illustrates how you brain and neurochemistry is rigged to look for large changes. You brain filters things out to avoid overloading. The familiar is relegated in favour of the new.
I also discussed how the brain goes into an intense learning mode after a burst of exercise. This seems to be related to reflecting on what a situation was that caused you you be stressed and to escape, how you did it and how you won’t get eaten/killed/caught next time. So we can use our naturally evolved mechanism to increase out learning ability by piggy backing on that fight or flight calm down state.
7.Last up was metabolism. A basic example of the Krebbs cycle, the production and use of ATP as a mini fast access energy source in cells. I did not major on this but used it as a framework to discuss the 15 second bursts of exercise versus the 30 minute aerobic ones. In a defence situation you need to be explosive and able to release the ATP energy, quickly and efficiently and then get away. (Or not be there in the first place which is much better!)
Before heading into the last section I also shared the amazing journey of Sabunim Robbie Close. He went from a very quiet and shy teenage to an assistant instructor then a blackbelt and was then picked to go to Hanseo University in Korea to study a Degree in Choi Kwang Do. This martial art had transformed his outlook, and his life. We had the pleasure of him popping along to Basingstoke for a visit. As the class I was talking to was the age he was when he started it was great to have such a positive role model to share.

8.My final section moved more into the normal territory of discussion using the kinect to see how the body works. I related this again to biomechanics and then also to how we animate game characters and rig bones and joints. I ended up showing Microsoft HoloLens as a mandatory virtual world/metaverse, look here is the future and you can be part of it… the of conversation.
It was a very productive session I think on both occasions, and I hope to run some more. It covers all sorts of science and tech and it may help a few people see the relevance of science in life, or even better see the relevance of a martial art such as Choi Kwang Do.

Learning to teach – CKD and suppressing ego.

This weekend both @elemming and I, along with 140+ fellow Choi Kwang Do practitioners in the UK met for the annual instructors course led by Master Nigel Brophy (6th Dan Black Belt). @elemming has been promoted, along with her fellow cohort of willing students to an assistant instructor at Basingstoke CKD and so now wears a blue dobok. I along with 2 other fellow blackbelts were promoted to Chief Instructors and now wear black and gold.

We are all volunteers, but are willing to forego some of our personal training in order to help and explain Choi Kwang Do to others in the class. I think we all generally find that teaching, having to explain how something works, responding to questions and helping others is as rewarding as just getting on with your own techniques. IT is what makes CKD such a friendly and interesting environment to learn in.
Different people have different approaches to teaching, but everything we do is done in a positive way. This is about a journey, and meandering turns and detours are all part of it. We do have discipline, but it is more of a positive re-enforcement of the good. Who ever is out front guiding, teaching, calling etc is in charge.
One of the hardest things to work on, is not the punching and kicking, but the removal of ego. Watching and listening to Master Brophy I noticed it is possible to be a highly passionate speaker and presenter, an expert in an art form and yet not do it for the applause or the instant buzz of being the ‘star’. To motivate and educate a large body of people they have to believe in you. To do this you have to show your credentials, give them something to say, aha! they know what they are doing. If you truly have the skills, time served, awards etc that is really the easy bit. However it is so easy to tip over the top and let your brain, and mostly your ego, slip into a comfort mode of adoration, or celebrity.
When I do presentations, or evangelise about things, such as the metaverse or STEM in schools I have to switch to a more amplified version of me. If you are put in front of a camera on a TV show, standing on stage with a conference hall full of people, in a classroom full of pupils, you have to enthuse, you have to say look at this and look at me, otherwise it won’t be very interesting. I remember when I used to not want to stand up in front of people and talk. Thinking, well everyone must know what I know, I will just be boring them with the obvious. I also know the feeling of election that people do want to hear what you have to say. When what you are saying is getting a lot of traction and you are very much in demand. It is there you have to check yourself. Unless the thing you sell, enthuse etc is just your own fame and celebrity, in which case just carry on 🙂
So I came to CKD at a time when I had felt a lot of demand for me presenting, but the classes gave me a chance to empty the mental cup and just learn, just be part of a group with no specific responsibilty. It gave me time to practice the off switch.
The problem is, when I get something, when I believe in something and enjoy something so much I have to share it with others. I have forever been told I should be a teacher, but I prefer to not lecture but bring people along with me, help them discover their own path. Luckily, that is precisely what working as an instructor in CKD has enabled me to do. In class I get to both be part of the class, to switch off and focus, I get to teach individually or small groups and I also get to stand up front and do the whole thing. I feel the balance of expectations to please others, or duty to get it right and that little good part of the ego that gets fed by helping others and seeing them progress.
Master Brophy put it well, he mentioned the more you know the more you realise how much you don’t. That is the experts dilemma. He also tempered that with pointing out than when you stand in front of a new student in your blue suit or black suit to teach them something they have never done before, they may well look at you and think you are Bruce Lee.
I think the trick here is to use the fact your are Bruce Lee to them, without deluding yourself you are in fact Bruce Lee.
As with all aspects of CKD other than the physicality of the martial art it is a constant learning experience and evaluation of how we work as humans. The technology, in this case, is our bodies and minds. We explore what we can do with them, for ourselves and others. We deal with scary situations all the time. It may be not being able to remember a pattern, counting out load in Korean in front of others, wondering how to reach a distracted fellow student or holding a shield for a powerful kick. All these prepare the brain to deal with adversity. Teaching and instructing gives the scary part of ego to deal with.
So it seems to me the sooner we get people to experience this sort of thing, in schools and offices, the better. We have a cult of celebrity. This feeds directly to the ego, to the wow I want to be famous feeling. Either wanting to be a premiership footballer or a big brother winner seems to be many a kids ambition. The trappings of fame at a major level can be experienced and felt in a much simpler way, in a safe environment. Stand out in front of class and have everyone follow your every word, then stand back in the class with everyone, whilst the next person takes the stage. That I think teaches a little humility. Having felt that, the next time up front starts, just a little, to become more about the audience.
Whether you believe me or not, that is how I feel about all my evangelising, the TV show was that. I wanted to everyone to know how cool all this tech was, to feel it, to take it and do something with it. I had dabbled with the “fame” thing as one of the corporate poster children for virtual worlds. I had seen the jealousy that created in others. I felt the pressure of the spotlight. I also felt the waning of the “fame”. I dabbled with various ways of exploring my outward persona, trying very publicly to keep aligned with my private persona too, whilst also dealing with these conflicting pressures. It was a a feedback loop though, the more I had done the more I had to do to keep it going. That is not a bad thing though.
I see in Master Brophy a fellow evangelist, though one with much more experience!. Evangelists believe in something, know that its the right thing and the right way forward and want to help, really help, people to see that for themselves. What I hope to do is take my still fledgling knowledge of this martial art and make it as much a part of my willingness to share and enthuse as any of the other cool technologies. The tech I talk about has always been about how people can benefit from it, get some fun or productivity from it. Obviously I have written and blended a few time with the two like here and here. CKD is a scientific based martial art, from the neuroplasticity or the brain, to the biomechanics of the human form to the psychology of teaching and inspiring.
In all that, trying to keep that ego in check too 🙂 (though here is a picture look at me!)

Happy 6th Birthday Feeding Edge Ltd

It is now 6 years ago this month that I started Feeding Edge Ltd! 6, six, VI, Tasset, 3×2 etc etc. However you do the numbers the time has flown by. I like to look back at all the things that would not have happened, or would have been very unlikely if I had not left my then job of 20 years back in 2009. Of course I still do what I did then, with a lot more freedom to operate and explore. Of course it has downsides too. A corporate guaranteed regular high end salary pays for a lot of things, though you have no time to do them. A larger company has people able to cover you, to add to projects and to find other interesting projects. It does of course also have the chance to middle management to act in odd ways and for project scopes to be messed about by sales people.

So as a single person company I have to tread a balance between not over tendering or getting involved in too many projects, but also lay the foundations and seeds for other longer term chances. It is, as the photo about shows of my WWE wrestler a fight, with the chance of some scars 🙂
Right at the moment I am waiting on a multi year development project to kick off. Unity3d and lots of other stuff, it’s more of this. However, external organisations interacting, and being the end of the chain this process has dragged on since before christmas. It is my decision to stay with it, but commercially in the short term it is painful. It is a gamble as I could be spending time waiting for something that doesn’t happen. The previous phase of the project meant I had to technically leave Feeding Edge for a few months as the project did not accommodate “sub contracting”. This ended up just costing me personally as I got enrolled in a pension for a few months and I had left by the time I got any paperwork and never had a chance to reject the pension. Just one of those things.
However the worst feeling was not working for Feeding Edge. I was really, its still my company but officially on the tax books etc I was employed elsewhere on a sort of zero hours contract. I don’t think I will be doing that again. It just means more paperwork and less income 🙂
So while I am waiting I try and not go off selling my services or getting wrapped up in projects. I know full well if I do I will end up not being able to deliver either. There is no such thing as a short term piece of work for me usually as I get embroiled in the whole project very quickly. Quick contract coding no strings attached is not really my style.
So downtime between paying work is spent exploring, learning. I try to do something interesting and learn something everyday.
I am of course available to do other things like TV, Radio, Writing etc. In many ways they make the ideal counter balance for development work. When you are building things you tend to have to block time out to code. I gathered together all my Flush Magazine articles into a portfolio book recently. It was really interesting to see it as an entire body of work

That is only from a few years or writing, so maybe, just maybe I need to write a book after all? A different book to the one I expected to be writing about leaving corporate life 6 years again and telling all, and one that instead focuses on the style of writing I have arrived at with Flush, looking at past patterns and experiences and projecting them forward as a sort of Historic Futurism.
After an interesting twitter discussion with friends old and new today I was still as evangelical as ever about the metaverse and the exiting times ahead as VR and AR headsets demand virtual environments and it starts to become even more normal to expect that sort of interaction. It’s not going away, and neither am I!
Right time to go and get ready to learn and teach my chosen martial art Choi Kwang Do. For over 3 years now this has been a major part of my life and my families life. I have to share this picture as Sabunim Close came to visit Basingstoke CKD this week. He, at 17 was accepted to a Korean university to pursue a degree in Choi Kwang Do. He upped sticks and went there knowing full well it was the right path for him, as there rest of us did 🙂 It was great to see him return on holiday and come and visit us all. Pil Seung (certain victory)

CKD has provided the social contact that working at home and in isolation (despite lots of digital contacts) as well as re-enforcing my own guiding principles of trying to do the right thing and help people.
So, on top of. spending more quality family time, the freedom to operate, the chance to have done 3 series of kids TV, presenting to lots of groups of interesting people, exploring startup life, learning, exploring and building virtual environments I have achieved a life time ambition of a black belt (a life changing experience) and I also get to teach and mentor. Not a bad move was it in 2009 🙂