Saturday, May 22, 2010

Learning to love the plateaus

My Sensei, Vic, has been talking about the way we learn things.   My own understanding of what he is saying (very briefly); as we learn we have long stretches where we just don't feel like things are going well at all (plateaus). Then everything seems to come together and we seem to make sudden and drastic improvements.  Those end all too soon, and we usually feel like we're sliding back a little, into another plateau.  That plateau will always be higher than the previous one. It may not feel like it, because everyone around us has improved as well.

I've been at Aikido for about a year and a half (minus three months for a broken arm).  Already having a black belt in another Martial Art (Shotokan Karate-do), it's hard starting over as a white belt.  I hate putting it like that, because I fear someone will misunderstand and think that the color of the belt is what I'm worried about.  The color of the belt is just someone else's acknowledgment of the wearer's skill.  What's been hard for me is being at that skill level.  I may be woefully out of practice in Shotokan, but I understand the techniques.  Until just recently, I felt like I'm fumbling around in Aikido (like a pregnant yak).  I'm not saying that I've come anywhere near mastering Aikido, but I'm more comfortable with it now than I was even six months ago.

In SCA fighting, I'm what we call in Calontir (a Kingdom in the Midwest) a Fyrdman. If you are more comfortable with Martial Arts terms, I would put it around a purple belt (Huscarl for brown to 2nd or 3rd degree black belt and Knight for above that).  I've felt that I've been in a plateau for a long time, but I think that might be illusionary because of the level of people I've been fighting for the last few years.  If I show any signs of improving, they take it up another level, and most of the people I fight have many levels above that.  It's a Martial Artist's dream.

And it's not just a Martial Art's issue. After 20 years in IT, it's easy to get to a plateau and just coast.  I've never been able to do that.  If I'm not learning, I'm dying.  This past two weeks, I really had to step up and stretch myself.  For all of that 20 years, my work has been on the server side, no matter the language.  Most of my code is not meant to have a visual component to put in front of the user.  It's been mostly for crunching data, or sending it around the network.  But I was asked to take over some Applet code, and had a lot of fun doing it.  Yes, I am strange enough that working an extra 10 hours a week to get it done was fun (I just can't do that too often).  I'm at a point now that I have to start thinking of the next level.

I've always hated the plateaus.  They range from boring to frustrating. Techniques take 2 or 3 (or more) attempts to make work, code doesn't work like I expected, blocks I thought would work, don't.   I come home with the bruises or extra hours of work because I'm attempting to do something that is just out of my reach.  However, they never stay out of my reach (except that flat snap of Martino's that I may never learn to block and Hassan is just too fast to be human).  The plateau is where I'm learning to reach.  The upswings, where everything comes together, are fun, but they don't go on forever.  Sooner or later it's time to level out and learn what's next.  I've just got to learn to love the process.