Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Form

Something that’s pretty interesting (to me, anyhow) is how people get taught the correct “form” for executing things. Or don’t get taught, or get taught badly. You learn a form from one coach, move on to another, and he or she starts having to undo all that horrible damage. Which, funnily enough, your third coach in the future also finds it necessary to undo.

For a given game, you have a certain result that you want to achieve. The ball wants to go in the net or down the field or into a cup. The game imposes restrictions on how you can interact with the elements of the game, from a ball to a stick to another player to the other nine players or whatever.

You also have certain restrictions; specifically, you have the restrictions imposed on you by your body. The more of your body involved in a motion, the more compound and complicated the motion becomes. Little adjustments and changes in one place will turn into an adjustment and change in another.

You try adjusting a swing by leaning a little more on one leg. To complete the swing after you start, you rotate. Because your balance is a little shifted, you tilt a bit as you swing and tighten an oblique muscle a bit extra. Tightening the muscle reduces a bit of the flexibility, which causes you to tilt your shoulder, which changes the angle of the swing a little. One little change rolls all the way down the line (well maybe it does so in a way completely unlike what I just described, I am not a kinesiologist).

In order to adjust for one thing, your body will try and preserve balance, keep you from falling over for no reason, whatever. Sometimes, if you mess with your form enough, you can injure yourself because your body isn’t a magical know-it-all being and hurts itself for no reason. Or it’s just trying to do what you tell it, which was a bad idea from the start.

You want a result. To get the result, you cultivate a form. If you’re going to compete in a given game for a long period of time, you will need to execute that form over and over again. Having a form that works against your body does you no favors, particularly in the long term. You will adjust one thing, tighten something else, over-rotate here, and after thousands of executions you will be seeing a doctor for your chronic pain. You can sometimes cobble a painful (but successful) form together out of bad habits, often by ignoring the specific needs of your body.

In most cases, the purpose of the form is to fulfill the function. The challenge is not to fulfill the function while mindlessly adhering to the form. Unless the form is very specifically stated in the rules of your game, I suppose. But if the goal of the game is “move the ball into the circle somehow,” then everything serves that. Even if your form looks bloody stupid it will become the norm after awhile if it’s better than everybody else’s.

In the context of video games, it’s kind of good that people don’t really stress over form (I can imagine the YouTube tutorials where somebody tells you that you need to make sure your index finger remains 1.25 inches away from your middle finger at all times to maximize muscular flexibility and coordination while inputting shoryukens, and I laugh at the imaginary nerd), though I think it deserves some kind of mention. Cultivating your own form is important. The form exists for purposes of consistency, and consistent performance is an indicator of developed skill.

If you are going to do something over and over again, you want to have a form that permits you to do it the same way. If you position your hands to execute it one way this time, and a different way another time… well, you increase the odds that something little will interfere. Your body learns heavily through repetition. Changing parameters will change output.

Little changes in one part of the body affect others. If you tuck your arm in next to your side a little more today than you did yesterday, it bends, twists, and tenses just a little differently. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the more precise a motion needs to be, the more consistency is demanded. Some games come down to executions measured in tenths of an inch and sixtieths of a second. You do not want anything interfering with your comfort and repetition more than necessary. You already have enough to deal with in competition from nerves making you shaky and tensing your muscles. Position your arm a bit differently and you change the angle your hand and thumb move, and now you are performing a motion slightly different from the one you practiced. Not a big deal, unless it’s the clutch moment and something you should have been able to rely on goes a little wrong. People lose hundreds or thousands of dollars by frames and by pixels. Stuff like that matters.

People obsess over their equipment because little differences (a wider grip, a bit of less tension in something, whatever) throws of little sensitivities you develop over years of practice. Almost any competitor will tell you “ugh, something feels off” when little things are different, and the “off” feeling heavily contributes to discomfort and lack of focus, diminishing performance. If I remember right, Starcraft player Flash was known for using a ruler to measure the distance of the keyboard from the edge of the desk when he traveled to events. Why not? Everything counts when it comes to maintaining form. If you go to fighting game tournaments, sometimes you see players sitting in front of the big crowd on the big stage… on the floor, stick in lap. If that’s how they practice at home, that is what will increase their consistency and make them feel comfortable. It might look silly, but so does dropping bread and butters.

It’s not something people mention a lot (for gaming, anyhow) but I felt like talking about it a bit. Try and practice things the way that you will execute them in competition. On the flip side, when you get to competitions, try and set things up so you are playing just like you do at home. When you practice something, pay close attention to how you hold a controller or stick or approach your keyboard. Get your form down. Don’t introduce pointless variables unless you want to surprise yourself with sudden inconsistencies.

Thanks for reading.

2 comments:

  1. I completely agree with "The challenge is not to fulfill the function while mindlessly adhering to the form." Consistent practice of a form is a great advantage, but a perfect standard doesn't truly exists in any game. There are proven forms and ways of practicing, but its finding the balance between your natural inclinations along side those practiced forms that truly leads to success and growth in any sport. Just look at Shawn Marion! If you want to see a "bloody stupid" way of somehow moving a ball into a circle look no further.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VP7BpkdAiZU

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  2. Hi Wobbles. It's Thin Mint from DFW. One of the reasons I'm such a fan of yours is your wisdom when it comes to technique. I've studied viola for about 8 years now (and suffered similar hand problems), and am constantly seeking methods that can be applied to Smash since I've only been competing for an eighth of that time.

    I've been wanting to write about form (or position and technique) and how my musical experience can be applied to better my game, so it's really cool to see this from you. You explain the precise nature of repetitive muscle movement really well. Excited to meditate on this knowledge and hopefully teach myself better.

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