Thursday, February 18, 2010

Still On Training

Not quite interested in letting a good subject die, I have a few further thoughts on the subject.  The first being that there seems to be a disconnect between the differences between 'training' and 'practice'.  Many of the comments on the other post are far more applicable to the repetition of an already understood ideal, for the purpose of being better at that ideal ... i.e., controlling one's body so as to perform the desired action perfectly.  When the Bride is beating her hand against the wood in Kill Bill, she is NOT training.  She is practicing.

Part of the misconception arises from the selling of martial arts as a product, which recognizes that people are prepared to pay hundreds of dollars to be 'trained.'  As such, it has entered into the western parlance - an invention of the 20th century not recognized by the originators of the art, who regularly 'practice' without the need of any other participant.  But practice sounds like something you shouldn't have to pay for, so the schools use the word training and the stooges line up.  Guess what ... if you do understand a martial art, you're an idiot if you're still paying to practice while being watched.  Which was the point of the previous post.

I have, however, an entirely new perspective for consideration.  Mind you, it does require another metaphor, which is intended to convey the message.  Let's give it a try.

While it was never my prime interest, for some twenty years, I performed on stages as an actor.  I began in high school, and picked up roles now and then when they presented themselves, usually by way of friends who were interested in making films or who notified me of casting calls.  You could say I trained, in that I took a number of courses and learned from some directors who were brilliant.  I would say that more of it was practice, in learning lines, in repeating lines during rehearsals or for auditions ... practice is what it all about.

My last gig was 2002, but the four years leading up to that were good ones.  The summer of 1998 was a turning point for me, and here is why.

I was performing in a very large cast ensemble play intended for one of the larger fringe festivals of the continent, a play that began with a seven-minute monologue delivered by me.  The monologue was coming out very badly, and I couldn't identify the problem.  Neither could the director.  I had beaten it into the ground, repeating it about a dozen times a day at least, but it wouldn't flow.  The director and I had both gone over the words, but there was nothing wrong with them.  The problem, I felt, was definitely in me - I wasn't breathing through the character.

I want to emphasize: practice wasn't helping.  If you have any sense of the theatre, you'll know that there's no special kind of training that will work.

The director was on the edge of cutting the monologue somehow, and I was very down about it and telling a friend in his living room ... a friend I knew from working on the university paper.  Ken was a photographer and graphic artist, and had a video camera.  So I suggested that he film me while I did the monologue, so I could see myself how I was fucking it up (this was before motion photography became uncommonly simple).

He pointed the camera, I did the monologue, and he agreed as we watched the video that I was shit.  But Ken had an idea.  He had known me for many years, and had known what I was like when suddenly inspired to rant - a practice I take up in speech as well as in text.  So we made a plan.  I would stay on the stool where I'd delivered the monologue and he would keep the camera on me.  We'd forget the camera and talk about other things, giving Ken a chance to get me rolling on something.  When I really got going, he'd surreptitiously flip on the camera and catch it.

Took 90 minutes.  And yes, he got me in a five minute monologue about the government or stupid people or something.  Bang.  What an eye-opener.

It took all of ten seconds for us to identify the difference.  When I was ranting, I didn't move.  At all.  It was almost creepy.  It was also overwhelmingly powerful, for my eyes carried the emotion.  Then I tried the monologue without moving a muscle and it worked.

That wraps up the relevant point of this metaphor, but since I've started I've got to finish the story.  The next day I showed up for rehearsal feeling like I had a loaded gun.  I took the advantage before the rehearsal to relate to the director every problem I had with the production, particularly his control-freaking attitude (I called him a Nazi at one point) - and this started a fight that lasted about 45 minutes, outside the theatre with the cast listening through the back door.  When the rehearsal started, the director had decided to fire me - he didn't do it at that moment as he reasoned it was logical to have me play the part to make the rehearsal go, and replace me before the next.  Smart fellow.  But I'd always known that.  The cast, I'd like to add, were ready to see me go.

Then I blew them all away.

I had the character nailed down and the director had no interest in firing me when it was done (he is to this day one of my closest friends, occasionally mocking me by saying 'you called me a Nazi').  The cast forgave me, and I was transformed as an actor.

The realization of how to be that actor happened in the space of about one minute.  The scales fell from my eyes.

The argument goes that 'sudden' transformation of a character from this level to that level is 'unrealistic.'  I dispute that.  I think that we fail to recognize that at profound, singular points in our lives we undergo an epiphany that reorders the way we look at the world - where our actions the next day are NOT the same as they were, and NOT due to either training or practice.  It is a staggering moment - but anyone who has suddenly seen through an insurmountable problem, only to wonder why it was insurmountable, will understand what I am saying.  Archimedes had his Eureka moment in a bathtub.  Galileo as he peered through a telescope, Siddhartha underneath a tree.  Alexander cut through a knot, and then he cut through a continent that couldn't be conquered.  It is the quinessential moment when you realize how you've done it wrong, and how to do it right.  It is gaining a level, clear and simple.

For you and I, mere peasants, it may happen once, maybe twice in a lifetime.  For characters, who are unusual, it can happen a dozen times ... and each time, it is the conception of how to do that spell now when before it was impossible, because thinking and puzzling it out all through the previous level has now, finally, made it come together in the magician's head.  How is it done now when it was not done ten minutes ago?  Thinking, my friend.  Using the old noggin.

Why does this seem so strange?  It seems strange because we are propagandized to believe that it isn't possible to think your way through something, that you need to beat yourself against that wall until you're bloody or else you didn't do it fairly.  It is a protestant effort to equal everyone onto the same work path ... while to the left and right of the hard straight and narrow are those who jumped the queue and became insanely wealthy or powerful by skipping the wall-beating process.  If you can't see how this can apply to characters ranging over a vast world, gathering experience in the face of a dozen dangers, you must have your head down and blood in your eyes.

Try thinking it through.


R said...

At this point, you're just splitting hairs. Your argument is that practice is not the same as training? If you remove practice from training, then there is no training. An athlete practices the same routines over and over in order to train their body and improve their ability. A scholar trains by taking classes or having a mentor guide them to mental obstacles that challenge their critical thinking skills over and over.

Your theatre anecdote, to me, can be interpreted both ways. The trial and error is what training is. The only difference between training and "spontaneously learning in the wild" is that training is a conscious effort to produce what can take forever to stumble upon in real life. The point of training is two-fold: to gradually improve one's proficiency in an area, be it physical, mental, or charismatic, and secondly, to cultivate the emergence of a "eureka" moment.

Going to theatre camp is training to me, even if you only learn from the performance at the end of camp.

"The argument goes that 'sudden' transformation of a character from this level to that level is 'unrealistic.'" - I do not dispute this. I do not think that a sudden transformation of character is unrealistic at all. To me, the sudden transformation happens in the epilogue in every one of my adventures: the PCs get experience.

I admit that I maintain the training rule for a few game-based reasons, though depleting the characters of money is not one of them. Training often costs no money in my campaigns (performed by a friend, or an NPC that the PCs perform favors for, etc.). I use it as a "rest" period where the wizard gathers his or her thoughts and applies the new logic or reasoning they've discovered, where the warrior spends down-time perfecting the new technique they believe to have developed, and so on.

The "characters learn and train everyday" argument to me is just describing the accumulation of experience points. Could they train themselves? Probably, but I don't have a system for that, and the training concept does not seem as outlandish to me as it does to you.

Alan said...

Just wanted to relate something from my past as well, in regards to your post. I went to graduate school for a degree in Mathematics, and most of our assignments consisted of a few problems, each of which would require a page or more of proof.

I can recall at least two occasions where I was completely stuck on a problem, after working on it for hours. At that point, I decided to put it on the back burner, get some sleep, and hoped to tackle it the next day.

When waking the next morning, I was struck with a sudden realization of how to attack the problem, and succeeded in a relatively short time. As you said, the scales had fallen from my eyes, and I just KNEW how to solve it.

How did it happen? I'm guessing that when I slept, my brain worked overtime to process what I had read and attempted that day, and sorted it all out. It was a remarkable feeling!

Ragnorakk said...

Wow - great post. Kinda left speechless!

Anonymous said...

I definitely agree with the Eureka moment part, and it should be sufficient to explain why your character suddenly has access to abilities he didn't have yesterday. He was ALMOST able to do that Whirlwind Attack, but today and every day thereafter he can do it right.

As for training, the way I see it your "practice" is the XP in a skill and the "training" is someone teaching you things they learned that you probably missed.

In terms of a martial art, training is initially about showing someone how to do a thing. After that you're correcting mistakes. You can be serious about practicing, but if you practice without being trained you're reinforcing bad habits and it'll take a lot longer to fix them than if you had just gotten the training in the first place.

Then again, I see EXP in a game like D&D as completely arbitrary. It's an award for playing the game right. If the DM wants you to kill monsters and not care about treasure, he'll give EXP for killing monsters and nothing for treasure. If he wants to you go after loot and prestige, he'll give EXP for treasure and social status.

With that in mind, training costs are essentially a tax in time and money. Which is quite obvious from their inflated values in the 1E DMG.

But in a game where you gain EXP in each skill by using it, EXP obviously represents practice. Actually gaining the skill level represents your Eureka. And that Eureka could come naturally if you make your WIS rolls or something, but if you fail that you need training.

Adam Thornton said...

Oh, weird.

I gained a level in Perl last month.

I just hadn't conceptualized it as such until I read your post. Cool.

Original_Carl said...

I followed you through your training and practice metaphor. I get the epiphany moment that represents the level, and I'm with you on this.

What's missing, or rather what I think you're failing to acknowledge here is that without training a person won't progress in an art or science. Consider this like a person who wants to become an expert writer having only a copy of 1001 Arabian Nights. They may have read it many times, perhaps even memorized it, but without any other stories, or any other styles or any input from readers, how are they going to get better? Could it happen? Sure, but it would be unusual to say the least.

The martial arts example is a good one because it relates to the martial classes in D&D. Once you learn the basics, yes, you can practice on your own, but without the guidance of a teacher and interaction with other students -- sparring with your peers -- you're not going to learn anything new. From my own experience, I never learned technique in an actual fight. They don't last very long and there's not a lot of room for experimentation. Personally, I want to stick with what I know and get it over with as quickly as possible.

In Kill Bill, to borrow your example, Uma's character studies in addition to supervising and guiding her practice. Not only does he show her what to practice, he teaches her new stuff. Some of this stuff he didn't teach his other students, like the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, effectively making her a higher level fighter than her old workmates in the Black Viper Assassination Squadron (or whatever Tarantino named in an over-caffeinated frenzy). Through practice she gained experience and through training she gained technique.

The thing that's bugging me about training and leveling is that you can't have been taught every trick and technique at first level and from then on you're able to just practice your way to stuff you never knew. You will get better at the stuff you've learned, and it's likely you'll figure out some new stuff to do, like a new spell or a better place to stick your dagger in some unsuspecting lunk, but you'll never do it at the rate that you would have had you employed an expert teacher.

Now, I think there is a point where you don't need a master anymore. The point at which you see the forest through the trees. This is the point at which you reach "name" level in D&D. In real life this may be a bit different. Perhaps your PhD level of scholarship, or maybe after you've published a best-seller, or achieved your black belt in martial arts.

Here's something else to ponder. Nearly every professional and professional amateur athlete (like the folks currently competing in Vancouver right now) works with a coach. If training is bullshit, then why don't these people fire their coaches, trainers, and support staff and just do it on their own?

Original_Carl said...

I fucked up my 4th paragraph. The first sentence should read like this:

In Kill Bill, to borrow your example, Uma's character studies under a master. In addition to supervising and guiding her practice, not only does he show her what to practice, he teaches her new stuff.

Alexis Smolensk said...

"The thing that's bugging me about training and leveling is that you can't have been taught every trick and technique at first level and from then on you're able to just practice your way to stuff you never knew."

I think you're wrong, Carl ... but only about the time period in question. To begin with, I never said that characters would not receive training. My personal belief is that every character receives years of training - and in the case of mages, who start the game from age 24 to 40, decades. I don't know where it started that I claimed no training was necessary. The argument has been against RE-training.

With regards to the period, your example about professional athletes is telling. For the Olympics that took place in 1896, 1900, 1902, 1904, 1908 and thereabouts, NO, many of the athletes didn't believe in coaches. It was believed that national spirit and good breeding were all that was necessary. The coach came into dominant use later. But the primary purpose of the coach in today's sports is to familiarize the athlete with the latest techniques (generally developed through computer imaging and photography) and to encourage the athlete to practice (I send you to Avel's comment on the previous post). No 16th century coach could teach the techniques that are taught now, as the knowledge simply doesn't exist.

Examples of modern training just don't stand up for all those reasons.

I also think you're missing the point that additional learning can be said to come from all the down time spent in towns and inns, where there are plenty of unrecorded opportunities for fighters to share techniques; mages can talk about their craft to the local apothecary, clerics chat with the church and so on ... allowing insight and revelation. Characters don't live inside a bubble. We just don't play out these moments because it would be dull.

It must be acknowledged that our culture's dependence on re-training comes from our vast resources and our vast knowledge. Neither existed in the 16th century or prior. It just wasn't that hard to know everything about a particular subject ... but now I'm pounding my head against a wall and getting bloody, so I'm going to stop.

Original_Carl said...

Your point about sharing techniques with peers is well-made. This portion of the leveling process is now neatly explained, and thankfully I'll never have to play it out.

I'm also at peace with the initial training process. The Campus Martius in Rome trained Rome's finest for hundreds of years. The basic training of a legionnaire was 2 years long, starting around age 15. It included fencing, wrestling, horsemanship and swimming among other things. Sounds like a first level fighter or even a paladin or ranger to me.

Where I'm still stuck, what hasn't been neatly sewn up in my mind is the guy who walks off the Campus Martius after 2 years is a zero level fighter (or paladin or maybe even a ranger) and after a campaign in Germania or Hispania, emerges a Veteran (or Gallant or Runner), a first level fighter, aged somewhere between 16 and 24. I just can't get my head around that Veteran getting all the way to Lord without some kind of additional instruction or lessons or yes, training, from another Lord or Champion or Hero along the way. After all, Sulla had Marius and Caesar had them both.

I'm not advocating the expenses or even the time recommended in the DMG. They're too obvious a tax on character prosperity -- a ham-fisted ploy to separate the characters from their success, but they do represent something important in the development of a character.

There should be something to represent the mentorship that has to exist to take that Veteran to Lord and especially to take that Acolyte all the way to High Priest. There should be a time cost, possibly a monetary cost and maybe even a more personal cost like an arranged marriage, an adoption, a somewhat distasteful or difficult and personal favor perhaps paid by the character to gain levels.

I don't know that I'd formula-ize this in a game. This sounds like good fodder for continuing adventures and too much good material to waste on a 1000gp/level/week tax.

Thanks for making me think about this, Alexis.

Steve Lalanne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Lalanne said...

1D30 wrote:
But in a game where you gain EXP in each skill by using it, EXP obviously represents practice. Actually gaining the skill level represents your Eureka. And that Eureka could come naturally if you make your WIS rolls or something, but if you fail that you need training.

That's a pretty good idea. I assume the roll would be made when the character attains sufficient
XP (EXP) to advance a (skill) level.

Another idea: Adjust awarded XP (EXP) by adding a percentage equal to Wisdom minus 10. Thus, a character with 10 Wisdom receives no XP bonus (10-10); the bonus for an 18 Wisdom would be +8% XP (18-10); the adjustment for a 3 Wisdom would be -7%. This would represent the character's ability to learn.