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.
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.