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Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

Brain Criticality in Skill and Qualities Development in Muay Thai

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7 hours ago, Jeremy Stewart said:


In defense of of combined classes, unless of course one has a full time premises, you generally only have an hour to get the most out of your students. I personally spend a lot of time with new students, and hold pads for them. I also teach pad holding as part classes as I firmly believe this is an art unto itself.  My senior students also don't mind holding pads. All my students are welcome to come and train with me free on a Friday night in my shed. Usually only 2 take up the offer. 

Some dudes and I would imagine some women would get off on that cult type thingy you mentioned. They must have some sort of deficiency in their personalities though.

All of this. Ive had huge classes and still make sure new students are taken care of as much as the advanced and fighters. Part of my culture is that fighters help with new students 1) to keep my yap dow lol 2) to give the new and younger students a different perspective on what I teach and 3) to keep the fighters humble. Doesnt hurt that it also helps them anchor in the techniques they think they know lol. Ive been guilty of yapping too much, but teaching kids class helps cure that. I try and keep the instruction informative but quick. Ill revisit it often if needed. This is all the structure I was taught and was talking about. How to keep people happy and invested while getting what I want outve it. So far its working. 

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21 hours ago, Oliver said:

That's actually a really good idea, teaching people how to hold. Sounds ridiculous but this is actually the reason I left and went to live in Thailand, just to have someone to hold pads for me. Like... legit, it was worth it just for that.

Yeah maybe it was just bad luck on my part - there was 1 decent gym back home that wasn't so bad, but the rest I tried were cults. And yeah, usually those trainers would spend more time trying to seduce the new hot chick than taking care of fighters. One was a semi crook, lied about his fight record and never sparred with his students. 

Actually, the funniest one? Never had the misfortune to go as this was in another town, but there was a dude teaching classes while wearing a monkol and armbands. 

AHAHA..... that last sentence, man. I lost it. 

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20 hours ago, Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu said:

Attempting to bend the thread back to it's general theme a bit, for those reading across the posts, the concept or critique of patterned training in the west is perhaps, from the position of Self Organized Criticality, one in which the notion of error and correction produces a real ceiling on development. It causes us to view errors as broken pieces of a machine of techniques to be repaired or replaced. I've elsewhere made the connection between patterned fighting, and the more broad commercial requirement that patterns facilitate promulgation. Meme-ishness below.

The Rise of Patterns.PNG


In many ways this isn't really something so much to blame, as to simply recognize as a phenomena. For things of one culture to promulgate in another culture there has to be some sort of grafting of the one onto the other, very often including extreme translation. People are going to experience this as a bastardization, or a distortion. Perhaps, but it is almost an necessary one. In the widest view we just need to recognize it.

On a more personal level, when dealing with one's own Muay, and thinking about the patterns within it, this thread is about maybe thinking about one's progress not in terms of Bell Curves, but instead in terms of possible Power Laws, where exceptional leaps are expected as part of the process.

I fully believe you're correct. When I first attempted to get back into training after my injuries, surgeries etc, I had a lot of cognitive problems, I couldn't remember jack shit. I mean, I could be shown said combo and literally 30 seconds later, poof, it was gone from memory banks. They way I remedied this was literally just to random shit in shadow, not imagining a fight or anything. Just throwing any shit I could. To anyone watching I must have looked like a mental patient. The other thing that  was helpful was those hidden picture comparison games. You know the ones where something is slightly different  and you pick the difference, like the one's we played as kids.

What I'm  getting at is, for me patterned fighting no longer worked. It had reached it's ceiling with me and my mind and I was forced by necessity to change. This experience overall has made me so much better at many things. No third eye opening kinda stuff, but definitely more open to attempting things from a different perspective, instead of writing your Latin roots 1000 times each, ahahaha.

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More follow up reading on criticality as it may relate to learning, and sport performance.

First, an overview article:

Why Brain Criticality Is Clinically Relevant: A Scoping Review

read it above. It starts with this overview of criticality, and the concepts of phase transition:



Someone on Reddit also recommended this article (PDF attached), which tries to map out non-linear dynamics in the study of boxers:

JSSM.pdf <<< How Boxers Decide to Punch a Target: Emergent behavior in nonlinear dynamical movement system

A few screenshots setting up the concept space. I personally didn't find the mathematical drive to description too interesting, but the idea of emergent behavior is right where we are going with this, and the importance of "reachability" I discuss in a comment further below:



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Interestingly, operative analogies of temperature not only play a big role in the thinking about critical systems (see below, from the article: Why Brain Criticality Is Clinically Relevant: A Scoping Review), temperature has also played an important role in concepts of Simulated Annealing (producing heating and cooling periods in machine learning approaches, much like how steel is annealed in metallurgy: see further below)




Backing up again, returning to the Kaimuay. The Kaimuay is the artisan's house where training regimes have been established to produce these works of art. These regimes are no different than the traditional regimes of metallurgy and sword making, for instance, involving the annealing processes of forging and sharpening a sword. They involve time-tested periods of heating and cooling, of shaping, folding and pounding. A good Kaimuay knows how to make good (Thai) swords, and sometimes a master sword. Why am I turning to the analogy of metallurgy? It's to bring forward the subjectless aspect of what is being done in a Thai Kaimuay. Yes, it is very true that Subjectification (Ethics) is a very important part of Kaimuay reality. The young Nak Muay has to slot his (her) person in a hierarchy which is quite rigid, and there does run an ethical parallel to the aesthetic work of a Kaimuay, but I would argue that it is not central to what is happening. Instead, largely, the subject is fixed, so that the metal can be worked on, so the metal can be transformed. from:


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for more on Simulated Annealing, you can Google about, but these two quotes are good:


Annealing is just a gradual cooling. Real physical annealing corresponds to taking a system and gradually lowering its temperature. A smithy hammering red-hot iron, repeatedly plunging the forming object into cold water and then reheating it and hammering it again, is practicing real annealing. As the smithy anneals and hammers, the microscopic arrangements of the atoms are rearranged, giving up poor relatively unstable, local minima and settling into lower-energy minima corresponding to harder, stronger metal. As the repeated heating and hammering occurs, the micoscopic arrangements in the worked iron can first wander all over the space of the configurations, jumping over energy barriers between all local energy minima. As the temperature is lowered, it becomes harder and harder to jump over these barriers…

– At Home in the Universe

The right level of explanation is the algorithmic level: As the metal cools from its molten state, the solidification starts in many different spots at the same time, creating crystals that grow together until the hold is solid. But the first time this happens, the arrangement of the individual crystals is suboptimal – weakly held together, and with lots of internal stresses and strains. Heating it up again – but not all the way to melting – partly breaks down these structures, so that, when they are permitted to cool the next time, the broken-up bits will adhere to the still-solid bits in a different arrangement. It can be proven mathematically that these arrangements will get better and better, approaching an optimum or strongest total structure, providing that the regime of heating and cooling has the right parameters.”

– Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

I wrote about the deeper roots of the annealing conception 13 years ago here: The Production of Constraints: Work and Annealing as “Freedom”

What is interesting in bringing together each of these ideas of temperature change, at least in terms of learning or optimizing capacity, is that annealing takes advantage of phase transitions, traditionally using a rule-of-thumb process of creating a heating and cooling schedule to bring out the relation between phases, where as criticality focuses more on the straddling of the line of phase transition itself. Not to say that these are mutually exclusive of each other. Rather, they may even imply each other.

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One of the more interesting plays between the article on boxing striking (above,

JSSM.pdf <<< How Boxers Decide to Punch a Target: Emergent behavior in nonlinear dynamical movement system) and overall phase transition thinking is the idea that "Reachability" could be something of a control parameter in boxing behavior, very loosely the same as temperature in water behavior. One of the things that really frustrates fighters is that they often find themselves unable to do many the things they trained, or even display in sparring, when in fights.

From the article two paragraphs:





Range is a vital difference in strike (and defense) behavior. This is one reason why training defense is so very important, so that you can have control and choice over range. When you can defend yourself, confidently, you can then place yourself at the range needed for the best properties you have as a fighter come out. In fights, because of the emotional surge, and because defensive skills often lag behind offensive skills in much of the west's Muay Thai training, a fighter will defend themselves with distance. If Reachability/Range is a control parameter, then you would be like water in a liquid state, wondering why you don't have the properties of ice (to extend the analogy). 

This is also why Muay Khao fighters have an understated weapon. They can impose a range on their opponent, they can control a control parameter. They can turn ice into water...or water into steam, depending on how you want to read it.

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Continuing from the Scoping Review article, Self-Organizing Criticality Theory (SOC) suggests that the brain/organism will self-regulate the control parameter internally, if it cannot regulate it externally, in order to maintain criticality (paragraph below). This has interesting consequences for Reachability as a control parameter:



One of the things that a fighter must struggle with is not only physically controlling Reachability (the actual physical distance between themselves and opponent), but also their own experiences of Reachability, for instance whether they gauge if they are far enough to not get hit, or close enough to throw a strike. If the brain under duress will self-regulate the experience of Reachability, ie, falsify reality for short term, emergency criticality, this would explain the difficulties fighters have under duress, getting hit when they think they are safe, or not throwing shots when they are in range, because they feel they are out of range. Basically, the glass of water can lie to itself in the short term, to prevent it from boiling off into steam...ie, passing into super-criticality.

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Reading now the 45 page article on criticality:

Criticality in the brain: A synthesis of neurobiology, models and cognition

the PDF here:


Very good overview, and some clear examples, like those in this graphic below, showing the criticality balance between sub-critical and supercritical basins:



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If - as sited above in studies of rats who lost the criticality curve for 48 hrs when vision was cut off, and then rebooted it in darkness - if, the brain basically rides a critical line, between "dumb" phasal order, and "supercritical" overwhelm, whether it is dealing with environmental inputs, or not, this creates a very loose context for thinking about things like Buddhistic ideas of Life equally suffering, if suffering itself is the critical line on the wave of life and cognitive living. Perhaps, no matter the intensity of the inputs from environment, the brain will surf that line. No matter the size or intensity of the wave. If small, it will create criticality, as well. The difference between the monk withdrawing into a cave (minimizing inputs to a very high level), and a fighter putting herself/himself in the ring, and attempting in the Thai manner to generate "Ning" and "Oton", under a maximization of inputs, triggering all kinds of instinctive, survival responses, is broadly the same. It is managing that wave, and learning how to surf it, the line of criticality that determines life and cognition.

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Adding to the concept family that could support Brain Criticality is the metaphysics of Simondon, a largely forgotten influence on the Philosopher Deleuze. His appeal to Dephasing and Metastability to understand how things become individuated in the world matches up with much that has been discussed in this thread. A great overview article is here: Gilbert Simondon

An Excerpt:



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    • Sparring was each day, it's part of the training, also each day you go the bagwork and the pads, so i don't know where you got that idea from.  You never go  without hiting the pads or having spar in the Thailand, unless you're in a really bad comercial gym, but the spar there is way different than in other countries, you develop technique there and go sparr without power, by either legs, hands or clinch, depending on the day . As for technique, they always correct you and try to teach it the correct way, they made a good amount of adjustments in my kicking techniques, sweeps and clinch while i was there, i didn't go into such small details because it would take a whole book to write about how much small things they see and try to work on that. Also i don't think you fully read what i wrote in the blogs, because i don't really remember now all the things i wrote, it was a long time ago, but i went on and re-read the first day i wrote, and it already said i did a lot of pads and clinch , knees and elbows , so i don't know where you got the idea that i didn't do pad work. 
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