Working Towards Flow

The concept of “flow” is simply a smooth transition from one thing to another.

You might think that flow has to be unrehearsed and random, like a “free flow movement” you see on Instagram. But it never is. Why? ‘Cause those movements gotta be smooth! First you need to practice and refine each move individually before stringing them together.

It’s like music. You can’t just start rocking out without learning and practicing some basic stuff first. There are chord transitions, finger patterns, rhythm; all kinds of important factors to consider.

To get my flow . . .  flowing, I practice individual skills first and focus on smoothing them out while working towards ease of movement. Here’s why . . .

  • Individual skill work in itself is a form of flow.
  • The micro-movements of each skill are mini-combinations of patterns.
  • I like to look pretty when I dance. 😉
  • Individual skill sets, like The Bear, are complete flows once you’ve mastered them.

I’m talking about mastery in the Japanese sense – the daily practice of sanding out all the rough edges rather than just nailing a particular skill and assuming you’re done with it. Because you are never done with it.

Mastery, in this case, means working towards a deeper understanding of each movement. The need for constant refinement of the basics is a never-ending journey. How you improve is based on your awareness of each individual movement during your practice.

There is no mastery without awareness. No mastery, no flow

Flow is present in the tiniest of movements not just in the big, fancy combos. Once you understand the nuances of each separate movement you can start piecing them together. Combining movements further increases your awareness; how you transition, weight shifts, falling.

And, like any kind of skill-learning, it’s easy to get lost and stumble without an example to follow. Orchestrated combinations for study and practice allow for faster pattern acquisition and will lead you closer to “flow.”

Picture this – learning a new language. You start off learning common words and then basic phrases. You practice those phrases, add in the vocab, and shazaam! People start to understand you. You still sound like a kindergarten kid, so you keep practicing while working on pronunciation and fluency.

All that learning starts getting embedded in your long-term memory. Now you can understand words in real time, but in phrases that you haven’t studied yet. So your brain moves beyond individual word recognition and into pattern recognition. The more patterns you hear and practice, the more you get a sense of how to use and adapt them in conversation. Hopefully, you can see where this is going.

Prearranged combos and transitions are really important. They aid improvement and refinement of specific skills. You also learn pattern recognition which you can apply further down the road. There’s a lot happening here on both a physical and mental level that a lot of people don’t even really realize.

The time spent on each move is crucial. You can’t flow if you haven’t spent a lot of time working on bettering each individual movement, transition, and combo. In other words, practice, practice, practice and pay close attention to the details. Remember the focus here is on awareness of movement, working at a level of the movement that allows you to have control of your breathing. That means letting go of the ego and not jumping to the next progression until you’re ready.

Once you feel comfortable with the combos you can start to move outside the box. As I’ve written before, you can do this by restricting yourself. Choose one move and explore it, i.e. see how many different ways you can get in and out of it. I did it with each of the basics – bear, monkey, frogger, and even crab – when creating Elements and that’s how I’m able to “free-flow.”

By now you should get that my “free-flows” are simply long combinations of moves and transitions that I’ve practiced individually and as combos for more than three centuries. 😉

That’s why I have to laugh when people say, “Well, I can’t move like Ryan,” or,  “I tried it once and can’t do it.”

No kidding. I’ve been doing this stuff forever and I’m still refining the basics!

It’s a constant work in progress.

So, to recap.

  • Flow can be found in everything we do. Even in isolated, individual movements. Why? Because it’s all about awareness and mastery of what you practice that day.
  • Bring awareness to individual movements by practicing them countless times; work on the basics every day.
  • Practice combining these moves to develop pattern recognition; practice transitions and combos.
  • Explore movements by restricting yourself and by looking for patterns.

That’s not all I could say about it – believe me I got more – but hopefully, now you know how I think about the concept of “flow.” 🙂

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