Over the Snake to Wonderland

Bleary eyed at 3.15am we set off on our journey over the Snake Pass, 
a couple of hours later we boarded our flight to Salzburg and 
dreamed our way to Ostereich. Two and a half ponderous but safe 
steady driving later through the German corner and back into Austria 
under a sullen, moody sky that sprinkled our coach with weak 
intermittent showers. Our guide, a nice lad from Huddersfield 
helpfully pointing out things on the way such as the mountain range 
over which the Von Trap family were filmed escaping over to the 
Swiss border for the final scenes of 'The Sound of music', I grew up 
with that film, we watched and sang all the songs, its part of my 
family. Their escape route over these mountains led not to 
Switzerland and safety, but to Germany and the Eagles Nest, Hitler's 
50th Birthday Present from his Folk. Artistic licence, I know.

Some lovely mountains.

We arrived at the Hotel Austria in Niederau tired but with lifting  
spirits as a scorching sun came out to greet us. Hotel Austria, the  
Hotel California with a Teutonic twist is a classic huge four storey  
mostly timber chalet type building with verandas and flowers so  
representative of the region. Walking through the village is like  
walking through the lid of your very own chocolate box, the hilly  
topography is patch worked with forest and meadow, cattle, sheep and  
goats graze peacefully and all is lush and green. I love this 
country, I love Germany too. Maybe it's a deep pull from ancient 
Germanic ancestors we share, maybe it's the form of Englishness, 
that grew viral like after the arrival of Hengest and Horsa in 499 
Britain and their eventual conquest of our Islands. Maybe our 
warrior blood was forged in such beautiful but harsh environments, 
who knows?

Late this afternoon after a lovely Sautéed Liver with Buttered Rice  
washed down by a couple of glasses of crisp, chilled Riesling in the  
glorious sunshine followed by a hours kip, I settled on our balcony 
to relax before dinner, its all go but somebody? has got to do it, I 
started to read  'The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do and How 
To Change' by Charles Duhigg, Its cracking stuff, admitted I only 
read the intro and first chapter but it got my brain box a cracking. 
As it says on the back people have puzzled over our habits for 
centuries, the first chapter begins with a couple of cases where due 
to accident and disease two separate people lost all or part of 
their memories. It not technical, it is well written and easy for 
the lay person to understand, it is an idiots guide to understanding 
why we do what we do.

The really illuminating stuff is in how neurologists are able to 
study brain activity in real time and map changing activity over a 
long period. So when an obese, chain smoking, depressive drunk, who 
lives in massive debt becomes a clean living athlete who undertakes 
a degree, is employed for over 3 years in a new job in just 4 years 
they were able to map the changes in how one section of the brain 
created new habits that overrode the old and controlled them to 
allow the changes to become permanent. Want more? Read the book.

This got me Excited as it reminded me of Bruce K Siddle's classic  
text, 'Sharpening the Warriors Edge', where Siddle looks at combat 
and martial arts training and explains how good coaches assist the 
student in soft wiring neural pathways into the brain by 
demonstrating a technique in an effective way and the hardwiring that 
technique in there with repetition. Once again, you want more? Read 
the book. I read this one on holiday in Mexico last new year, see a 
link developing? The whole neural pathways into the many discussions 
I have had with people over the need for coaches to not just have 
great skills, knowledge and ability themselves, let alone some 
Mickey Mouse certificate that is not worth the paper it is written 
on. It is not enough to get the belts, to have had the fights, the 
aggro, spilt the claret. It is in my opinion a moral imperative to 
develop a deep and continually developing knowledge of what it is to 
teach, what it is to learn and the fit between the two. I make it 
sound simple because as Siddle says you do not have to be a former 
Olympic champion hurdler to coach potential Olympic champions but 
you do have to be able to inspire and do so with the appropriate 
underpinning knowledge. The relationship between teaching and 
learning may be simple in conceptual terms but the devil lies in the 
detail and in this case the complex theoretical underpinnings. We 
need to spend some time mapping and studying how our students learn, 
how new habits replace old and how new people emerge as a result in 
the same way that Duhigg. Neurologists map the brain activities of 
their patients.

Any good martial arts coach worth his salt will not shy away from  
engaging themselves in a process of continual personal development. 
If it is good for the legal and medical professions then it is good  
enough for us too. Do not underestimate it, it is a difficult 
journey, like driving over the Snake Pass at silly o'clock in the 
morning. I came to Austria for a holiday, I come on holidays to 
relax, eat and drink well and to walk I beautiful pasture, swim in 
beautiful seas and so doing reward my mind and body for labours 
completed and to prepare for labours to come. My after dinner walk 
through the still sunny village inspired me to come back and write 
this blog, I can feel a raw power surging through me like 
electricity yearning for an outlet. Tomorrow it is up onto the 
mountains for a super ridge walk, boots on, sarnie in rucksack and 
map in hand to venture out into landscapes hitherto unknown and 
experienced. That is where enlightenment lies, it is a journey to 
a wonderland.

Traditional Farmhuse with Barn Attached.

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