I am very proud to present you the interview with “Creative Monkey” Rodney King, father of Crazy Monkey Defense from Johannesburg, South Africa. Watching Rodney coach and being a member of his personal blog – Inside the Monkey – I noticed that Rodney has a lot to offer, not only to martial arts students, but also coaches from other sports. His unique coaching style is a real life example of constraints-led approach to skill acquisition, along with ecological and positive psychology.
Although very busy with his schedule traveling around the globe, Rodney found some time to do this email interview. Enjoy!
MJ: I am really glad to do this interview for the blog with you Rodney. Before I pick your brain with the questions, can you please introduce yourself to the readers? Who are you and what do you do?
RK: In a sentence, I am a life performance coach that uses modern martial arts as a vehicle to enable my clients to become champions not only on the mat, but most importantly in life.
Educationally I come from a somatic movement and mental game background, so these two disciplines in particular inform my approach.
A movement adventurer would be the two words that best describes me :)
MJ: You are the creator of Crazy Monkey. Can you please expand more on what is Crazy Monkey and what made you to create it and what paths you needed to travel in order to do so?
RK: Crazy Monkey is a modern martial arts program. Originally developed during my doormen years outside of some of Johannesburg’s roughest nightclubs. What started as a ‘street’ art has evolved into a program that now focuses on martial arts as a life performance tool.
While I work actively with military, law enforcement, several world-class competitive athletes and the like, this is only because Crazy Monkey is a martial art that can be easily learnt and applied. What draws people to Crazy Monkey today is firstly anyone can get something out of it, and you don’t need to be the stereotypical meathead, or ego driven male, high on grandiosity and infantile rage to be apart of it.
Simply Crazy Monkey is for the everyday guy and woman!
MJ: I have read your book “The Martial Arts Game“. In this book you present new model of teaching/coaching martial arts and running a martial arts business. Can you please give a short overview of your unique approach and how it fits with Crazy Monkey idea?
RK: The focus is on the individual, on the client. I focus on building peoples strengths and not working from their weaknesses. I am a big believer that people will fare far better on the mat or in life if they are able to identify their strengths and work from them. Sure we have weak areas, but rather than an incessant focus on what we can’t do RIGHT, that leads to little or no real improvement, I encourage my clients to rather manage around them.
Added to this, my clients dictate the form their training takes and I act merely as a mentor. While I steer them to parts of training they need to in order to achieve their goals, I also allow them to explore any aspect of martial art that may interest them. This is very different to the typical master and student relationships so prevalent in the martial art world. This is why some of my clients come to me for either life/executive coaching, wellness, self-preservation or mental game.
More than anything my approach is about offering the most positive, life affirming experience of martial arts possible. We are big on social consciousness, and how the training in the gym impacts our clients not only personally, but also how that extends into the world, their relationships and society at large. I care what they do with what we train. While most people teaching modern forms of martial arts care little about the client once they off the mat and have paid their fees, I care- so much (& Learnt from past personal mistakes) that I will not allow anyone on my mat who feels it is okay to physically dominate another human being, just because the nature of the game i.e., martial arts they can get away with it.
MJ: You are proponent of Positive Psychology. Can you please explain what is it and how are you using it in your own coaching?
RK: I am….but more so strength based psychology.
From the ‘positive’ perspective my coaching is focused on encouraging eudemonic experiences with my clients. I believe many people come to martial arts to get in shape and be healthy. Well-being in this day and age is important to most people. Extending out of this, as a coach if I am able to help my clients with this aspect of their lives, then in theory their happiness levels about themselves will increase, and therefore training with me will directly impact the rest of their life outside the gym in a positive way. That’s my job.
While I coach people how to defend them selves, I also help prepare them for full contact living :)
MJ: I am pretty sure you are familiar with Complex Systems, especially the concept of emergent self-organizing behaviors under constraints. How are you modifying the constraints in Crazy Monkey to teach basic boxing concepts (balance, distance, timing), skills (basic punches, defenses), strategies (runner, counter-attacker, etc) and mental game? Is the sparring and sparring-like-drills the only way to do it, or traditional drills have a role too, especially in technique mastery?
RK: When you say, “technique mastery” what does that mean?
There is clearly a gap in martial arts between ‘perfection’ of movement and the ‘functional’ expression of it. There are many people who train a particular style of martial movement, that rather than been based in reality are codified within the constraints of that particular system they train within. Just because you seek perfection in a specific martial movement pattern, does not mean that by default that this movement pattern is applicable where it matters most- when someone is trying to seriously hurt you.
So if you want to train for ‘mastery’ or rather ‘expressive functionality’ then you need to train within the system it is intended to be used in. Sparring is a good example of this. When you spar, when you work against a resisting opponent, someone who fights back, not just merely stands there and allows you to pull off your technique, you quickly learn that when dealing with a chaotic, complex system, you have to move away from perfection, and rather play functionally. This means things don’t have to be perfect, as in what ‘mastery’ implies, but rather they need to work.
Isn’t that chaos anyway? Seems like it should not come together and work, but it does. Anyone who has spent time in Bangkok knows this to be true.
MJ: Are you familiar with Russian Systema? They really utilize Complex Systems ideas (originally by Bernstain) in their skill acquisition. They go so far that they don't identify any technique at all, only basic principles. They put the learner into a certain context and demand of him to solve the situation (relying on couple of principles of combat). The task is simplified by starting with slow motion which also allows more relaxation. What is your opinion on this? You believe in gross movements under stress, but is there really no need for technique learning at all?
RK: This is a good idea. I would go further and suggest that many people know principles of a subject, but don’t necessarily know how to apply them over time. Training in the way you mentioned is hit and miss. While it is a good start, what is required is consistency and the only way to have that is to have a game plan.
While I too want my clients to find the answers on their own (I even have a teaching model for this entitled the CHAOS Teaching Model) I also want them to have a game plan. A game plan includes the mind, the emotions, the body and even spirit.
What is the basic game plan in all 4 of these spheres when someone is close to me or further away?
How does my mental game change when there is distance to the opponent, compared to when I am moving in?
This is something that a pure emersion in a complex systemic approach may not necessarily be able to solve.
So just like we can say there are certain principles, there are also patterns. The patterns to me represent the game plan. It’s not fixed, its definitely not rigid, it is flexible enough to change in the moments, but combined with the ‘principles’ you now know where to go…. If you don't know where you're going, chances are you will end up somewhere else as the famous Baseball legend Yogi Berra was quoted as saying.
MJ: First time I saw you were in one DVD produced by Straight Blast Gym. I really love the teachings of Matt Thornton and his Aliveness principle. What exactly differs you from Matt's approach? How did you evolve the Aliveness principle?
RK: You cannot evolve a principle that is common sense.
Training ‘alive’ by default means working against a resisting, uncooperative opponent is nothing new.
It’s just that so many martial art styles and their proponents forgot that this is a crucial part of performance. My issues with the concept of ‘aliveness’ is that it took on a darker meaning, implying that unless you were going balls to the wall, unless you were sparring full out, then you were not being ‘alive’. A Tortoise does not have to move faster to be ‘alive’.
I prefer the term progressive intelligent performance.
All modern day martial artists seek to enhance their performance. Everyone wants to get better at actually playing the game, and for most this means sparring. Sparring for performance does not imply throwing someone in as fresh meat to the Alpha Dogs, and if he survives then he learns something. In fact if anything that kind of thinking is counterproductive and downright destructive to the psyche.
The idea of improving performance is a simple one. Start at a place that someone can actually handle the stress you are sending his or her way, but still allowing it to be challenging. Then over time, regardless of how long it takes, increase the stress levels, until the point it is at a 100% and the person surfs the experience effortlessly. This is by definition evolution, the ability to adapt to the environment, while still remaining alive and becoming stronger!
MJ: What is the difference in training for MMA, self-defense, police/army of only for “fun“?
RK: MMA is a sport and has rules, and hence you train within those rules. Self-preservation has no rules, so you train (With safety of course) within that frame of mind and intention. Police on the other hand have restrictions on what they can apply so legal issues of force need to be taken into account. For the military depending on whom you are working with, the idea is to get the fight over and done with as fast as possible.
When we talk fun that is a whole other animal. Even people who train for ‘fun’ have some sort of goal in mind. Fun often implies fitness, strength training and wellness for many people. Fun requires a change of mindset and I prefer this as a focus for training. While there are times to be serious about training of course, you can only train for that reason for so long before it becomes pointless. How long do you actually have to train seriously for the fight unless your job requires it? How long do you want to train to compete until you are either too old or it looses it’s appeal?
Moving into the realm of fun or better still ‘play’, makes you want to come back and do it again. I have fun when I train now so I can see that I will be doing this for a very long time. When I was only training to fight, it wasn’t long before I felt it was becoming way too much, psychologically and emotionally and the thoughts of giving it up was a real possibility.
This is the fundamental difference in the end if this is what you asking, competition requires one to find a way to end the game, while play requires ways to continue it. I much rather play!
MJ: MMA is getting bigger and bigger. In your opinion, what is the next step in its evolution as a “sport“?
RK: Well here is the thing. I don’t consider myself in the sport. Sure I am training one guy to compete right now, a long time client and friend. Sure we have several guys within my program that compete as well, but personally I have never felt the need to compete. I did when I was younger both in karate and western boxing but this was mainly due to the pressure from my coaches. I never enjoyed the experience.
I don’t actually follow MMA at all. I don’t have an issue with the guys who do per-say; if they want to, then go for it.
If you re-phrase the question to, “what is the future of martial arts in general” then I would answer that martial arts needs to return to one of it’s original intentions as a life performance vehicle. I loved the old idea of ‘martial arts as a way of life’ and I believe that for martial arts to remain relevant in the coming centuries, and not merely a spectacle of dominance, this is where it needs to be focused.
RK: Trainers are listed on our home site at www.crazymonkeydefense.com, to become a Trainer can be found at www.crazymonkeytrainer.com and to read some cool articles on some of my thinking about modern martial arts, performance and life it can be accessed here www.crazymonkeyblog.com