I wanted to be a science nerd really bad in high school. There was a problem with that for me. With my family’s frequent moves and the differing school systems I’d been exposed to, as well as some issues with no one noticing I needed glasses for many years, my math skills sucked.

And math is really important in physics and chemistry. So chemistry in particular was a massive drag for me. Physics I could get by in because the teacher was sort of taking it easy on everyone, but the chem teacher was a martinet. Probably because the students were damn close to immolating themselves a few times. So my scores were abysmal.

Until we got to molar equations. The rest of the class fell apart for this subject and couldn’t keep up, but to me it was childishly simple. Same when we covered ion rings and energy state changes in physics. I soared through those parts of class like a champion. I couldn’t understand my classmates who saw the whole thing as complex. To me it was simple and clear as day. But then, I learned how to do all this stuff in grade 3.

In grade 3 we moved to one of the wealthier neighborhoods in Canada…scratch that, THE wealthiest city in Canada, and education was a little different there. During one of our classes, we moved into the kindergarten wing of the school which was built in the experimental Pod fashion. In this case, a literal pea pod shapes area. The main building in the pod area was large and circular, and had ringed coliseum style seating all around the central floor.

One enterprising teacher had some students cluster about in the center, and some on the rings. She explained that we were an atom, and explained the parts. Then she had one kid jump down a ring, and explained how that meant some energy had to be given off, and that energy would be a photon. Photons in alignment is what made up a laser. Neat. She made us form into different atoms and we had fun for a bit and that was that, never thought about it again.

Until high school when we hit molar equations and I realize it’s just a bunch of kids moving up and down steps and how easy is that? Molecules are just a bunch of pods of kids with some kids swapping from one pod to another and how easy it that? So simple. Couldn’t see the complication at all.

So of course bringing this into the martial art discussion we may be tempted to say that gosh, we should have started training earlier. And that’s the wrong message. It’s as wrong as the message that success only comes from lots and lots of boring reps…which is true but not the way you think. Or rather I should say it’s true but only for some kinds of success.

The adult mind is an interesting thing. Molar equations are hard because we are taught that they are hard. We expect that they are hard. Gosh darned it, that’s why you have to learn things in a set order. You have to lay down all the educational foundations first before a brain is prepared to work on the awesome complexity of more difficult subjects!

And after enough years of this stodgy correct layering, we have nicely organized minds that have to be correctly prepared before they learn anything. Want to learn a new language? Gosh, better get all the grammar down first, in helpful little drabs.

Want to learn a martial art? Well let’s start you off with the basic simple things so you don’t get confused. You have an adult brain now and that thing is fragile and easily confused, don’t you know? Gotta hold your hands and give you basic tidbits, one after the other. Don’t rush or you will mess up the holy writ of Ten Thousand Reps by doing incorrect reps!

I learned to do molar equations not because I was young and had a plastic mind, but because some bold young teacher didn’t see the point of waiting for the correct time to teach something. She either ignored the apparent difficulty of the subject matter or just didn’t see it as all that hard of thing to teach. I am fairly certain she was an alien visitor from another planet, honestly.

So the point of all of this is that difficult things may be difficult because you expect them to be difficult. You expect them to be difficult because you’ve been told they are difficult. And when you go to learn them you will damned well find them difficult because that’s how life works.

And that’s a level of bullshit that I absolutely hate.

Plasticity in the brain is habit you must develop. I am a firm believer in throwing out all your internal structures once in a while and starting all over again from scratch.

As I’ve written time and again, I think it’s necessary for martial arts development. As if I didn’t have enough reasons to deplore bigotry in all it’s forms, it’s a sign of a brain fixed in place. It’s rigidity is not crystalline and pure, but more of the nature of plastic that has been left out in the sun too long, after a lifetime in dish washer. It’s clouded with millions of tiny fracture and ready to shatter at the first blow. The plastic of our minds should be frequently kneaded, strong enough to hold the shape we need it to, but neither so rigid as to break nor so soft that it can hold no form.

We start that by getting rid of our expectations of difficulty. If a child can learn molar equations in a short session, so can an adult as long as that adult is willing to let go of the dross in their mind.

Martial art is the hardest kind of equation, the most difficult thing some people will ever approach in their lives and it’s necessary that we work on our minds in order to prepare ourselves for what our bodies might be capable of. We need to do this because martial art isn’t a skill, despite what you will be told over and over again. Martial arts is not a skill. It’s an equation that no one has written out yet, nor will they ever. You have to work it out and understand it for yourself uniquely in ever single situation. There is no single tool or skill that can always be relied on, aside from the ability to rapidly understand the problem and divine a solution.

The brain must be malleable enough at all times that we are able to create a solution on the fly for the problems that we are presented with. In my last little set-to with an angry martial artist from another style that was losing his shit on me, this was very apparent. He exploded out at me, throwing all sorts of techniques, chaining together responses with great speed to react to everything I was doing. And I just sort of floated through all of it. It was easy to see the patterns in his responses…patterns he’d built with loads of reps under stress. They were easy to see and to trigger, which gave me plenty of room to move between the angles and land shot after shot. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good bit of a tussle, but even well-trained reflexes aren’t going to work so well with an opponent who is comfortable with chaos.

Find your molar equation.