Improvisation, Mistakes, and Assaulting Through the Ambush

Here’s your super big brain take for the day: learning to play improvisational solos on an instrument, especially in public, teaches lessons that carry over into combat. Sound weird? Stick with me.

As one of my better teachers once told me: “there are no wrong notes, there are only notes you’re not using properly yet.” Sounds like something off of a Bob Ross fan’s Pinterest, huh? But then he taught me a trick to applying it: if you’re soloing, and you hit a “wrong” note, the two worst things you can do are to lock up, or to immediately flub off the note, confirming that it was wrong to your audience. Instead, hold it out and think for a moment, and resolve it on the next chord. Now instead of a wrong note, you have tension that eases into resolution, and people think you’re a genius instead of a guy who saw Co7when the page clearly says CM7.

It sounds easy, until you’re on stage in front of an audience by yourself and screw up for the first time. Every instinct says to stop playing it. Every instinct is wrong.

A very similar mindset is taught in small unit leadership. (I’m going to use a very broad brush tactics summary here. If you want the in-depth, many military training materials are public and can be googled) If you have screwed up and walked into a near ambush, the absolute worst thing you can do is vapor lock and stand there in shock, presenting a nice stationary target right where they would like you to be. Doing the chicken dance while running away would at least get you out of the kill zone eventually, and the people trying to kill you might just fall over laughing.

The better response is to pick the nearest/most exposed assholes, turn everyone at them, and go for the throat. Now instead of sitting in an ambush right where they wanted you to be, you’re nose to nose and pissed off. It may not be how you’d like to be attacking them, but at least you’re now attacking them. And it can be pretty unsettling for the other guy when the people he ambushed turn on him and charge like they’re enjoying the whole matter and eager for blood.

In both cases, you’re taught to get over the “oh, shit” freeze-up, not get stuck on the instinctive panic solution, and instead make the most of what you’ve got. Granted, it’s rare for a poor performance to result in being shot (unless you’re John Lennon), but the basic psychology is the same. Maybe Noise Marines are the way to go after all?

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