Monkey Mayhem 2010 brought with it many life lessons. I had expected it to be a great way to learn new techniques, refine existing ones, spar with new people and meet world class trainers from around the region but it turned out to be so much more.

First of all, it was a misconception for me to think of these seminars as an accumulation of techniques. Only a handful of new material was covered but it was the greater understanding of the fundamentals and more importantly the mental dimension that it provided that made the seminar a true gem.

I'll delve into the physical and technical aspects of Monkey Mayhem at a later time, but I wish to put down what I felt were the most important lessons gleaned from this short weekend which is already affecting the way I perceive the world and how I do things.

Look to the outside, not inside when sparring.

Rodney gave us a talk that wouldn't have been out of place in a Kung-fu movie: "When sparring, we should look to the outside not to the inside." Luckily, unlike the Tao/Zen/Kung-Fu masters who would leave us with that cryptic phrase, he further elaborated in that when we are sparring, our minds tend to engage with internal dialogue that cloud our judgment.

For instance, it is very hard to control emotions. Emotions of fear, being overwhelmed, the drive to win, excitement all are common emotional responses to the demanding nature of a fight. The traditional martial arts view of this has been to learn to calm your emotions, to control it and prevent it from clouding reason. Coming from a background of Aikido, this had been drilled into me and yet I still found it really hard to contain such feelings when placed in a stressed, chaotic situation. When trying to apply the techniques I had learnt from Aikido, it was a constant battle to contain my emotions and at best it would only hold for a few brief moments until I got hit again and would have to start the process anew. Perhaps I haven't had enough training. Perhaps I haven't been training properly. I've been doing this for close to 17 years, surely I would have some semblance of control? Or perhaps I've been doing it wrong.

Rodney's point of view is that rather than trying to fight the emotions, you just had to accept it and ride it out but without attaching any value on it. If you feel fear, accept that you are fearful. Observe it but don't start attaching value to it by trying to examine the reasons you are fearful. Internal dialogue is the worst enemy of a fighter. Talk such as, "This guy is a black belt, he's going to kill me that's why I'm scared" only serves to worsen the situation. He also mentioned that lawyers have particular problems in doing this and I totally agree.

While sparring people, here's a sampling of some thoughts that went through my mind:
"I hope I'm doing OK and showing a good game"
"Now I should do some CM2"
"Oh no, his CM1 is tight, my combinations aren't getting through, what now?"
"Holy crap, he's fast, what to do what to do!"
"I'm a TnT yet I suck worse than some of the students here, this looks really bad on me, I'm supposed to know this material better."
"I think I should counterattack now, I don't want to appear too passive."
Instead of having my focus outside, I was too busy thinking of irrelevant things. Thoughts that made me fearful, scared and embarrassed. It was preventing me from having a good time and enjoying it as a learning experience. It was also visibly affecting my game resulting in a very tense posture and being oblivious to what my opponent was actually doing which compounded the problem. I didn't even realize what I was having such a chatty internal dialogue within me until Rodney had talked about it. For me was a huge light bulb moment. Once I learnt to let go, the sparring became a whole lot better. It didn't stop me from being getting owned, but my game was definitely tons better and more importantly, I HAD A LOT MORE FUN.

Be a more internal driven person rather than an externally driven person

Interestingly the other important lesson I had seemed to be the opposite of my first lesson but it actually gels together pretty well.
I met a really awesome guy from Jakarta by the name of Yuri, a CM Trainer and we had a long chat in the changing room. One thing he said really drove home and it went something along the lines of this:
"I used to be a very external guy, now I'm learning to be more internal and I am a lot happier. Rodney is an internal sort of guy."
"What do you mean?"
"I used to be the sort of guy who would constantly do things because I was worried about what other people would think rather than focusing on what I really wanted."
This does not mean you become a selfish prick but it's more about being true to yourself and not doing things just to please other people. Life is such in that if you let people take advantage of you, most of the time they will.
As is most wisdom, this seems blatantly obvious but it really made me examine what I was doing. I was constantly stressing over how something will offend someone or how it would make this person upset. This often really stressed me up. As a lawyer, most of the time, someone's needs will conflict with another person and there isn't always a way to make both sides happy and I have to accept that. I just need to do what is right even if it may make someone unhappy. Or even between myself and my client, my client will sometimes set unreasonable deadlines or demands and I will do my utmost to make them happy to the detriment of my health and sanity. There is a point you need to sit down and think, "What do I need?" rather than be a slave to other people's wants. I am my own person too.

The important thing is to make sure you have a strong set of principles to abide by to back this lest you become some sort of monster who constantly only thinks about himself. The key is to do what you believe is right and not to be swayed by other people's opinions or so called 'needs'. Life is too short to not live for yourself as well.

A quick reminder on things I need to work in coming out of the Monkey Mayhem 2010.

Learning to relax during sparring.

Focus on the external not listen to your internal dialogue when sparring.

Takedowns we learnt during the MMA core. Had issues with doing the knee takedown.

Had particular problems in trying to breakthrough in CM1. No strategy feels like I am sparring without any direction or aim.

Need to relearn hunchback stance to keep eyes looking forward. Too common that I end up looking at the floor.

Moving backwards to my lead side.

Did not know how to enter into the one up one down position from a punching perspective.

Learn not to be overly worried about what other people think or feel. As long as I conduct myself with respect for all my partners I should not feel bad that I am holding them back or that I'm getting a technique slower than others.

More fluid use of CM2