Make Your Training Count: Innovation and Optimization

Make Your Training Count: Innovation and Optimization

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After reading different books on running a business, I’ve come to a conclusion.  Performance artists and entrepreneurs are often trying to achieve the same thing with regards to advancement.  They often face the same struggles but with entirely different circumstances.  Once a business has become established, they must find a way to expand their horizons and hold steady what they have already built.  After our foundations as spinners have solidified, we also must find where our path should go next.  Without some sort of direction or battle plan, our path is created through random luck and stumbling.  So I began to think about advancement in itself.  Are there signs that we could use to help us determine if we are advancing or running in circles?  If someone was lost in the forest, could they use guides like the sun’s direction?  So I began to think about the art of advancement itself and I’ve nailed it down to four common variables.  Read over these four and then ask yourself: With the last 10 things that I have been training, where do they fit?


Variable #1:  Unsupported Techniques


“Hi, I’m a motorcycle and I have nothing to do with this article.  I will help your poi skills.”


The first is learning a technique that has no relation to what we want.   It is like the new slang word that everyone is using but serves no purpose in your life because there is either no need for you to use that word or you already have one that works better for you.  We sometimes make ourselves learn Unsupported Variables when we want to impress others or out of determination to finish a series of logical moves.  Unsupported moves can turn in our favor once in awhile, so it’s good to give them a chance.  Work on that technique that has no meaning to you and you might be able to discover what makes it so valuable.  But often times, it becomes an obscure word in our dictionary of moves.


Variable #2: Synonym Techniques


“This revolutionary staff is orange and black instead of green and black.  Mind… blown…  My next staff is going to be yellow and black.”

I used to work for a website where musicians would submit their tracks and our team would constructively critique them.  Our job was to help struggling musicians improve their craft.  One thing I realized right away is that there are very few good music critiquers.  Many of them are replacing the artist’s framework and style of music with their own so their critiques do not offer ways to make the song better… just different.  It’s like me telling you that I can make you rich if you hand over ten dollars.  So you toss me ten bucks and I hand you 129 Pesos. Wow!  129 Pesos!  Wait… This is roughly the same amount of money.

In flow arts, I’d like to title this as a Synonym Technique.  Many moves which offer little challenge from what we already know are often different ways of saying the same thing.  It is nice for variety but if we spend too much time in this second variable, we may think we’ve hit a plateau when we really have just been spending too much time finding synonyms for words we have already described.  It’s very much like building sideways instead of upwards.  If you build sideways long enough, you’ll feel plenty of variety of the same things in different forms but ultimately have created a floor instead of a tower.


Variable #3: Optimization Techniques


“Siri’s voice recognition is optimized to understand anything… like when I asked her to take me to the nearest coffee shop.”

A trained athlete exerts less effort than a novice to attain the same amount of power because their muscles are optimized to coordinate with whatever they are trying to accomplish.  In the same ways, many of the techniques that we already know could be optimized to create an effect much more profound or exciting.  Optimization is a practice where we are no longer searching for different words to describe the same thing (as above) but instead are challenges that we might use to tighten our planes, enhance our presence, remove obstacles and add variables to create a more compelling version of what we can do.

There are many ways to optimize, but the ultimate question is this: Does this enhance what is already there or is it another synonym?  Optimizing choreography might also be removing techniques that do not fit with the theme, song or atmosphere and recreating it.  In order to successfully optimize, one has to know what is absolutely essential and break it apart at that level.  As flow artists, we often have to break apart the things that are working to make room for the things that will.  An optimized artist will be able to see the fine details that others may not be able to see.  Being able to see these details will allow them to create a presence and a style that is difficult for others to describe but it can be felt.

“It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.” – Bruce Lee


Variable #4: Innovation Techniques


“I’ll see your orange and black staff taped staff and raise you one.”
Innovation is the process of introducing new ideas, devices or methods. This can often revitalize and bring a fresh perspective on the same things we may have otherwise phased out.  Innovation is a process of creation; therefore it is a powerful tool for artists.  With innovation, the same techniques can take on different “colors” that clearly defines a performer’s character.  This is where Innovation Corner comes into play.  It is my goal to find new creative alternatives to old ways.

One of the great blends of training is to fuse optimization and innovation together.  If we can take any move apart to the core essentials (optimize) and then introduce brand new elements to it (innovation), we give ourselves a near unlimited amount of variables that we can play with.   Once those variables are introduced, we can capitalize it (optimize) and then bring in more elements (innovate).  The process is like chain links that continually strand off the previous success.

So there you have it.  Breaking apart your training by thinking about how often you spend your time in these four variables may help you to break free of stagnation.  If you think about it, there are no real plateaus.  There is only a brick by brick foundation that we have been building with each practice.  Through synonym techniques, we build sideways and add variety at the same level.  Through optimization and innovation, there are always new opportunities to build upwards and out.

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Ken Hill

Ken Hill is a lifelong fire dancer, musician and martial artist. He is considered an innovator in the art of freestyle nunchaku and runs a regular instructional video series, Nunchakutricks. He has instructed his art at various fire festivals in the US and travels with Quixotic to showcase his innovative style of fire spinning. at Nunchakutricks