never fight a clown...

Sunday, October 6, 2019

the simplicity of breath and water...

I’d just like to frame this up for you before we go at it. As I age, I am continually striving to refine many aspects of my life both creatively and holistically. One of my recent curiosities into simplicity is the role water and breath play in our lives and their interconnectedness. The beauty of anything that appears wonderfully simple is that there is a complexity behind its design.  

To help you with the framing process of this week’s musing I have been recently re-reading sections of The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. As such the way in which I would invite you to view water and breath is through the Japanese elemental meaning / definition. (which for the benefit if this musing I have taken from Wikipedia)

Sui or mizu, meaning "Water", represents the fluid, flowing, and the formless things in the world. Outside of the obvious example of rivers and the lake, plants are also categorized under sui, as they adapt to their environment, growing and changing according to the direction of the sun and the changing seasons. Blood and other bodily fluids are represented by sui, as are mental or emotional tendencies towards adaptation and change. Sui can be associated with emotion, defensiveness, adaptability, flexibility, suppleness, and magnetism.

Fū or kaze, meaning "Wind", represents things that grow, expand, and enjoy freedom of movement. Aside from air, smoke and the like, fū can in some ways be best represented by the human mind. As we grow physically, we learn and expand mentally as well, in terms of our knowledge, our experiences, and our personalities. Fū represents breathing, and the internal processes associated with respiration. Mentally and emotionally, it represents an "open-minded" attitude and carefree feeling. It can be associated with will, elusiveness, evasiveness, benevolence, compassion, and wisdom. 

The simple act to breathe in times of stress and anxiety can make a big difference to how we make sound decisions. Good breathing technique can make all the difference to remaining calm. Calm and chaos are both extremely contagious. So, let’s focus on the calm. What happens when we breathe with a view to remain calm and engage the parasympathetic nervous system?

I’ll just back it up at that point for those not as familiar with our nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is the branch of the nervous system that carries out the vital functions of the system without conscious control. This system is again divided into sympathetic and parasympathetic.  Put in basic terms the sympathetic nervous system role is to gear us up in moments of fight and flight response for example heart rate, blood pressure, sweat secretion and pupil dilation.  Whereas the parasympathetic nervous system basically does the opposite. Decreases heart rate, blood pressure, and prepares the body for digestion rest and sleep. 

With a focus on the exhalation cycle in our breathing we can start to tap into that part of the parasympathetic nervous system and begin to regain some control. There are many techniques out there and I’m sure Dr. Google will help you. Basic ones are box breathing, 2-1 or 4-7-8. Which ever you choose the focus in on the ‘control’ of the exhalation is the key. Where my current training is taking me, I am focused on the box breathing. But that is where I am at. 

There is enough research out there to know that dehydration adversely affects us, even in very small amounts of dehydration our visual tracking and short-term memory are affected. Our brains are about 75% water. Water has a vital role in our body’s overall health, including keeping your neurons firing well!

Neurons send signals that allow your body to move, talk and function. Water makes the myelin sheaths (the thing that covers the neurons) thicker, thus helping it to work better. Put simply drinking water keeps you brain fuelled. Given your brain has no way to store water it’s up to you to provide that constant flow. 

Breath and water. Their interconnectedness to and affect our nervous system is wonderful. The simplicity of it is amazing and yet the complexity is magnificent. The mindfulness that we can bring to it as a simple daily task could have a huge effect on our overall life. When in doubt; take a sip of water and a breath of fresh air. When hit with an emotional front – take a sip and a breath. When learning something new – sip and a breath.

to be continued...

Sunday, September 22, 2019

acting is being... not acting

I had a couple of thoughts to share this week. I'll keep it simple given that’s my theme this year.

Be aware strong car mechanic metaphors ahead!

Acting is about 'being' not acting. For me our craft is about just being – being present, being available and being open. If we can achieve that simplicity, we are in a good place. We are positioned to service good work. To that end, keeping any instrument running efficiently it needs to remain highly tuned.

My observation over the last 30 years of many acting students has been they stop learning upon graduation. Certainly, in Australia anyway. In my opinion graduation it is just the beginning of true investigation of education and a deeper learning.

What I am trying to achieve in my movement drop-in classes might therefore be better thought of as a garage. A place to bring your instrument in and get a serious diagnostic and tune up. Then using the information from the diagnostic to inform your personalised development with a view to create a more biomechanical, functional and economical instrument. Moreover, helping you with gaining agency over the way in which you continue to build on that knowledge over the years to come. The drop-ins are there for you to keep tinkering on areas that need work.

It’s not until you put the car up on the hoist and really look under the chassis and or under the hood do you really see where the problems are. A lot of cars look nice and shiny and have great paint work but doesn’t mean it is running well.

I would invite you to take part in the drop-ins for you to start really taking an honest look at your instrument. I will be there to aid you in your self-improvement. After all I’m still learning too after all these years.

To be continued no doubt!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Wonder of Gravity II

(Previous blog about gravity: link to Wonder of Gravity I)

Gravity has a huge effect on our body. It impacts on our blood pressure, our bone density and our muscular system. The two areas that are of interest to me are the bones and the muscles. Bone density is what helps our structure and muscles (for the sake of this musing I’m including ligaments and tendons here) gives us stability. 

Because gravity is acting on us all the time these two areas are getting a mild workout continuously. The ongoing force of gravity is by default ensuring you maintain some form of structure and stability to remain standing. Essentially our joints are either collapsing under the force of gravity (pronation) or it is using resistance against it (supination). A delicate balance of both pronation and supination are required for a fluid balanced motion.

This delicate use of pronation and supination combined with our base (what our feet are doing) help to determine the best placement of our centre of gravity (CG) for any given physical task. If our CG moves past the line of our base, we will fall (see what I did there) victim to the forces of gravity.

What does this investigation into gravity have to do with mastering learning to fall as an actor? For me there are two forms of falls we can do as actors. 1. Where my feet remain on the ground during the fall and 2, when they don’t! One of these falls obviously has a higher degree of risk. My focus here is on the first where my feet are on the ground.

Something causes the body to fall, the effect is; it falls over.  Simple enough. Simulating a human falling means to embody the force of gravity. We are essentially feigning that our CG has moved past the line of our base. The conundrum is that if we replicate that we endanger many parts of our body; coccyx, wrists, skull and kneecaps to name but a few!

Therefore, the art of falling lies in our ability to disguise the safe harbouring of our CG within the base line so as to not actually topple over and yet give the impression we have done so. A wonderous physical alchemy of the supination and pronation of ankle and knee joints combined with an acute use of and harmony of gravity.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Four Seasons

"There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens." (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

What are the four seasons? What do they mean? How can I draw on this natural occurrence to inform my life and my flow through it? Spring, Summer, Autumn & Winter. Simple enough. A Christian view could be to crawl, walk, sit & stand. A Daoism view could be interpreted as: no form, form, life & death. Something to keep in mind is that I have no control over the seasons. With this reminder comes acceptance, a signal of the inescapable or the unavoidable of my experience in life. When I come to be at one with that then I create less resistance or grind to trying to be in control of the outcome. Like a sculpture working with the grain in the wood rather than against it.

The seasons remind us there are opposites that work in tandem and complement each other. With life there is death. To totally understand beauty of something it is good to see the entire picture, which may include acknowledging the opposite. In this way it is a healthy prompt that over coming adversity is sometimes best done through yielding and I don’t mean submission but exercising control through using the power of the overwhelming situation against itself as found in the martial arts.

We are (in southern hemisphere for my northern friends) about to enter Spring in a few weeks. This is an opportunity for renewal. A chance to reinvent. An opening to see yourself afresh. I have sought to find a new venue for my classes. To shake up my own terrain and the awareness that this is happening as Spring is about to blossom is not lost on me.

With Spring comes a time for reassessing. An opportunity for growth… to crawl. To revisit the discipline of your movement skill base. Seeing this skill through the lens as the craftsperson that you are: an actor. With discipline comes rigour, with rigour comes consistency of skill. With this solid consistence skill can come informed choices in movement sequences or combat choreography.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019


Couple things to get out of the way up front in this musing. The definition and the etymology of the word. The reason being there are some fascinating things to unpack here in terms of how sword work is taught to actors and whether or not one is really ambidextrous of just slightly comfortable in their non-dominate hand.

Definition: Ability to use left and right hand equally.

Etymology: Latin dexter originally meant "related to or situated on the right side," but since most people do things better with the right hand, "dexter" developed the sense of "skilful" (as demonstrated by our word dexterous). In 1646, English physician and author Sir Thomas Browne combined "dexter" with the Latin prefix ambi- (meaning "both") in the first documented use of "ambidextrous": "Some are . . . ambidextrous or right-handed on both sides." The word can now describe the kind of physical or mental agility demonstrated by one with multiple diverse talents. (care of merriam-webster online dictionary)

What is interesting about being ambidextrous is that there is apparently a connection to synesthesia. What this could suggest is that to be truly dexterous one may be operating at a frequency differently to just one hand dominate persons. If the dexterous person is experiencing more than one sensation at once there is a full body experience going on. A richness if you will.

The main key to being ambidextrous lies in the concept – to be interchangeable without hesitation. By this I mean a task can move between hands with ease. The key word here is with ease. My reason for this rabbit hole in today’s musing is that I am fascinated when I ask actors sometimes if they are left or right handed. Some actors feel the need to say: “oh, I’m ambidextrous!” I would honestly get that answer four or five times out of ten. The reality is that ambidextrous people only make up about 1% of the population. So, when asked if you’re right or left handed might be better to really be honest with that answer.

That said to seek being ambidextrous as an actor is admirable. Some key ideas to consider when starting to train yourself to be ambidextrous.  You will need to focus on fine and gross motor skills. Break your learning tasks into those groups. In order to start to develop an over all experience of ease and in order to lead to a synesthesia experience you’ll need to do some deep re-wiring. Some examples of retraining tasks might be:

Fine motor skills. Brushing teeth, flossing, handwriting, turning the page in a book and move the computer mouse to the other side!

Gross motor skills. Balance, catching a ball, hitting a ball and hand eye exercises.

To conclude I just wanted to also make the observation about the old notion that you have to teach all actors to sword fight right handed. In my opinion this serves no purpose at all. To allow left handed people to start on their dominant side will always pay dividends and will lead to a stronger sense of synesthesia when they switch the right. Interesting to note most ambidextrous people started left handed. By forcing adult learners on to the non-dominate side all you are doing is slowing down their learning process and clouding the motor skill development.

I know that there was a time when some teachers would maybe suggest: “oh it’s a new skills so start on your right” – but the reality is it’s not a new skill really – the building blocks of fine and gross motor skills is already there. All the student must do now is; build on those skills. I suspect it may have been more about convenience for the teacher having everyone use the sword in the same way, and or to have everyone to do a stage combat exam fight with the same fight choreography on the right side. I say” Pffft to that.

To be continued…

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Fibonacci Sequence!

For those who are not aware of the Fibonacci Sequence. The Sequence is the succession of numbers: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, ... The following number is discovered by adding up the two numbers before it. The sequence is also expressed in many forms. This image below is the most common – but it won’t take you too much to do some ‘googling’ to find more images and manifestations of the Fibonacci Sequences in nature.


I thought I’d have a look at my own work and see if I could find it. So, I screen shot a couple of flips and discover some. Have a look.

Then I took a still of a friend of mine doing a sword cut – here is Casey Kaleba doing a cut. See if you can see any? I can see a great one in the water. It maybe just projection but hey it’s fun to try!


Now start to have a look at some of the old manuals and see if you can start to see it!!

What we also gain from this maths is the golden ratio (symbol is the Greek letter "phi" shown below) which is a special number approximately equal to 1.618. Google this ratio and you will have a field day! It appears many times across, art, geometry architecture and many other areas.

1.618 x 1 = Golden Rectangle

Here is something interesting to close on. Thought I’d keep looking at some of the old manuals as I was was curious if  the  'golden rectangle' ratio would pop up. Here is one place I found it! WHich does't surprise me.

Worth noting we all know the triangle is a strong structure – right! If you draw a line from our friends’ foot on the right to where he hits the mark; it makes a triangle obviously. No doubt the power at that point of impact must have been intense! It’s it great when science and art comes together!!

To be continued no doubt!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

mental rotation

Firstly, what is ‘mental rotation’? The most helpful definition I could find was at Wikipedia.

Mental rotation is the ability to rotate mental representations of two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects as it is related to the visual representation of such rotation within the human mind. (Thank you, Wikipedia!)

Great! Now we have got that out of the way – what does this have to do with movement training? On a simplistic level one’s ability to see things in space is one thing. But if we dig a little deeper there is a relationship between knowing your left from your right and mental rotation. 

Having a high level of mental rotation ability has a direct correlation with being good at sport. So, it would help the actor to develop this skill especially when learning choreography or movement sequences. Why? 

Let’s look at an example to help provide a context for why. Often, we are choreographed to do something on the right side of our own body. Further to that you could then be directed to cut your sword (or a punch) to your fellow actors left low side while you may have to move to the right. Complicating that you may also be asked to move to the left of stage or camera left. It may even be your left-handed and your fellow actor is right-handed. All these directions and orientation can sometimes overwhelm some actors and ‘freeze’ their brain. Yet for others they can digest the different directions and orientations in the blink of a thought and just do it. 

Regardless of your ability in mental rotation or left and right differences, it would a be skill to develop. Thankfully research suggest that this ‘muscle’ can be developed. So, if you feel you do suffer from these learning difficulties luckily there are ways to develop it. Tetris comes to mind even doing jig saw puzzles can help. Of course, my old favourite has proven to help as well – juggling! These are just a few ideas. Do yourself a favour and do some more research into further training ideas and I guaranteed you’ll enjoy the challenge!

to be continued...