Thursday, 9 June 2022

The Physical Adept

Any sufficiently advanced physical skill is indistinguishable from magic. There is a point at which a virtuoso makes something look simultaneously both so easy and so difficult that it no longer appears to the layperson to be the result of mere practice, but of some mystifying and possibly genuinely God-given gift. Here are some examples:

1) Danny Carey's drumming. I have a love/hate relationship with Tool, but there is no doubting the astounding musicianship and skill of the band's constituent members. In any case, watch him go:



2) Brett Lee bowling at Piers Morgan. I don't know if there is a video on the internet that better illustrates the difference between a professional sportsman and an amateur than this one. Piers Morgan, as loathsome as he is, is not a bad club-level cricketer. Brett Lee, despite being a few years retired and way past his prime when this video was made, makes him look like a toddler. 



3) Paco de Lucia. What can one say?



4) The Chaconne from Bach's Partita No. 2. Consider how tiny and unimpressive a violin looks, and then listen to the astonishing sound it produces in the hands of a master. A Martian could only conclude it was imbued with powerful Earthling-magic. 




5) I hate Arsenal and Robin van Persie but this goal just looks like a wizard did it. It ought not to be physically possible to generate that much power, pace and accuracy from the position which he does. I don't care if you don't like or have never watched football - just watch the last, slo-mo replay at the very end of the video. It resembles something from a Marvel Superheroes film.



6) Roger and Floyd Mayweather working the mitts. Then Floyd by himself, skipping. This is just somebody practising.




7) I don't have a love/hate relationship with Al Di Meola, just a love-love one. Listen to him messing around with "Norwegian Wood" with Rick Beato: https://youtu.be/tU745UovT2g?t=376

8) You don't need a gym to work out, you know.





I could go on. The point of all of this, of course, is to emphasise that when human beings do not need to spend their entire lives foraging for food, escaping from predators, or slaving away in the fields, they can devote vast amounts of time to getting absurdly good at certain activities. Some of them get so good that they can become professional and do almost literally nothing else, and get absurdly better yet. 

In a world in which there was magic, and in which therefore there could be a class of people with no requirement to do serious work at all, what kind of physical feats would they become capable of? The stereotypical D&D wizard is a frail, bookish nerd - Raistlin from the Dragonlance books - but I wonder if in reality they wouldn't be the opposite. A wizard of middling power can charm bands of servants to carry out his every whim, create fool's gold to pay for anything he likes, and is probably mates with a cleric or two who can heal him if ever he gets into trouble. In such circumstances, what excuse would he have not to become absolutely brilliant at boxing, the guitar, cricket and climbing?

Shadowrun had a character class called the "physical adept", which did not exactly replicate this concept, being more of a melee-oriented fighter, but whose title I would like to steal. The D&D physical adept is in truth much wider in scope, and encompasses not merely immense skill in combat, but in any chosen field of excellence. 


30 comments:

  1. While he's an elf in D&D terms rather than a pure magic-user, Moorcock's Corum is a good example of a character well rounded by a life of purposeful leisure.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Man, I don’t know. Most folks just aren’t that dedicated to making every second of their kives a growth experience. The wizard who can command folks to do his chores is more likely to fritter his spare time away…drinking, or hobnobbing with the ladies, or just studying MORE magic (now that I don’t have to worry about raising my garden crops and cleaning my potion bottles).

    It takes a special type of weirdo to be a true polymath…a Leonardo da Vinci or Ben Franklin, for example. Most folks who have leisure use it to catch up on sleep or downtime laziness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True, but if you are dedicated enough to become a wizard in the first place?

      Delete
    2. Just look at a professor at a major research institution. Thats the closest comparison to a studious wizard we have in the real world. I don't know too many that are also a virtuoso with a musical instrument or able to compete with dedicated athletes.

      Delete
    3. Yes, but professors have lots of things to do. They have to write papers, do research, teach, do academic administration, etc.

      Also they waste *so much* time on Twitter.

      Delete
  3. I'll never understand cricket. That Brett Lee video just looks like a dude deliberately beaning Piers Morgan a half dozen times in a row. Not that I'm against that . . .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. See below. He is beaning him partly because it's fun to try to break Piers Morgan's ribs or elbow and partly to intimidate him so as to get him where the bowler wants him.

      Delete
  4. Deliberately beaning in cricket is a legitimate tactic allowed- to intimidate the batsman or manoeuvre them around to suit whichever ball the bowler plans to unleash next... only caveat is the ball has to bounce first.

    Back on topic. Wouldn't a physical adept just be a monk?

    I've seen OD&D style wuxia type games where martial artists were used the magic user template & you simply had to explain each spell as a martial arts type move or power (slightly reduced spell list) . So martial artists were like the glass cannons next door to regular sword & armour fighters & ninja-like or ranger like rogues etc

    Vancian magic as martial arts powers worked surprisingly well and fit the genre/films where you usually only see the martial artist use their "big moves" once or twice a film instead of spamming them & the hero often loses fights/gets beat up & treks off to learn new secret techniques (spells)...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A Shadowrun physical adept was basically a monk, yes.

      Delete
    2. Monk was my first thought too, but I'm not sure it fits. A monk starts out aiming to achieve physical/mental mastery, whereas I think you're describing a scenario where a mage achieves mastery of magic, and then achieves physical mastery, because she (or her society) has the spare time and/or incentives to do so?

      How's this for a setting: Advanced magic is commonplace, but hard to mask, so magic users vie for status through non-magical prowess. Actual life-or-death combat would be trivial if you were facing a non-magic user (or destructive if both combatants were magic users). So honour systems or social codes moderate the use of magic as a tool to resolve conflicts. Imagine a dungeon crawl conducted as a sort of trial between a party of high-powered magic users who would lose face if they had to use their magic to overcome the actual obstactles. Akin to Twitch speed-runners who self-impose rules of conduct.

      This setting must exist somewhere already, but I can't place it.

      Delete
  5. The Earthdawn RPG was the prequel to Shadowrun in the FASA timeline, where all character classes were physical adepts. My group fell in love with the 1st Ed of the game back in the day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I used to play it as a teenager but I've almost forgotten everything about it.

      Delete
    2. I used to play it as a teenager but I've almost forgotten everything about it.

      Delete
  6. hey, so Piers Morgan could retire a million fucking times over if he wanted and devote himself to cricket or whatever other physical activity, and here he still is completely getting beaned by the other guy. what gives?

    anyway, agree with the other comment that what you're talking about is elves. Elves cast their first spells a tiny fraction of the way into their ineffable lifespans, a wizard might not cast his first spell until he's pushing 30. takes a certain kind of human to devote themselves to that shit with no promise of any sort of reward for years, and that certain kind of human is probably a fucking nerd who would rather blast someone with a cone of cold than so much as imagine punching them. if a normal well-adjusted person wanted to blow something up, they'd get some oil and a torch and shit, not spend years practicing their fireball.

    anywayyyy, you're also ASSUMING here that there is nothing ACTUALLY magical going on in any of the videos you linked. not sure that's a safe assumption to make, but yolo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You often pop up here and in other blogs to leave semi-coherent and rather scornful, obnoxious comments. Please be more polite.

      Delete
    2. buddy this is just how I talk

      Delete
    3. Well, you can do it somewhere else from now on.

      Delete
  7. We can quantify such things. The British boxer Ricky Hatton delivered blows generating up to six-and-a-half times more energy than a normal person of the same height and weight (5’7”, 147lb). That’s what geometric fighter progression looks like: almost miraculous. There is no need for any wuxia wire-work nonsense for that build.

    SJB

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2JhhzYqaB8&t=1s

      Delete
    2. Dead link, but I’m guessing it’s one of those embarrassing videos in which a sensei gets pummelled by an MMA guy?

      Delete
    3. No, it's a video of Bas Rutten punching a life-sized replica of a human torso and breaking its spleen. Try this instead: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2JhhzYqaB8

      Delete
    4. Got it. Good point, well made. Pity about the pig, of course.

      Delete
  8. Damn, I saw some semi-amusing meme about a buff wizard the other day, but can I find it now? Of course not.

    There seems to be a big craze for kids doing insanely talented stuff like this lately, so perhaps a spare lifetime is not required after all. I mean... most of them lack nuance, but the chops! I found myself watching this video about half-a-dozen times, not so much because of the talent (though she's got that in spades) but because her joy is infectious:
    https://youtu.be/JaPPVioejBw

    11 years old! Crazy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think this phenomenon is partly the "Roger Bannister effect", whereby kids see someone do something really impressive on Youtube and treat that as a quite achievable baseline, and partly the crowd-sourced, cumulative effect of Youtube as a educational resource that users learn from and then contribute to, accelerating the pace of achievement. No doubt there are skills that still require decades of time and effort to master, but I wouldn't want to bet on what they are.

      Delete
    2. Is it not just the case that these ultra-talented kids were always around, but now they are more noticeable because they are recorded and put on YouTube? I mean, I know it's a cliche, but I cite Mozart. And Michael Jackson.

      Delete
    3. I'm sure they have always been around, although perhaps the awareness of others does now make them a little more common. I just thought it interesting in terms of the original post - perhaps a prodigy could skill up in wizardry *and* buffness by the time they reach adulthood.

      Delete
  9. I'm sure you have heard of the concept of "flow." Also called "being in the zone" "being in the pocket" and a thousand other names. The quick definition I got when I looked it up was: the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. I think what we see in your examples is a person who not only has trained to their maximum, but who is experiencing flow. I love the one of Floyd practicing.

    Most people have experienced this at some point - you are not consciously thinking - you are pure do and completely in the moment. I have never experienced flow as a writer - probably I am too cerebral in my approach to writing. But I have had other moments when I have experienced it, either playing music (usually with a group which is truly an incredible experience), doing visual art, or on one and only one notable occasion, playing air hockey. I simply could not be beat for a period of a few hours no matter who I played or how much experience they had. I think a lot of people who perfect physical skills have learned how to enter a flow state almost at will, whereas for me it is almost always a thing of chance and circumstance - thought I've been trying to change that lately!

    One of the funny / counterintuitive things we have found is that the mental processes involved are almost always reductive. I'm sure you have heard the idea that we are only using ten percent of our brains at any given time; and we might intuitively assume it follows that flow results from using some greater percentage of the mind, but generally what we find is the opposite - parts of the brain actually shut down when someone experiences flow. This makes sense in a way as well - the feeling of being totally focused can probably only result from less "noise" in the brain. It's almost as if the more conscious we are, the less able to enter a flow state we are. Lately I've been thinking about all the amazing shit that animals seem to be able to do so effortlessly and have started to wonder if they live in a constant state of flow.

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts, and the examples - I find the whole idea fascinating!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. I find it fascinating as well, though I don't have anything much to add to what you wrote, other than to say you're probably right. Human excellence is in large part a matter of learning how to cultivate 'flow'.

      Delete