Blinded by Goals and Improving the Quality of Practice.

I do not think I am alone in the goals I have. I am pretty sure I share very similar goals to a lot of people in the Melee community who want to improve. Goals like…

Rank #1 in the world. Rank #15 in the world. Rank #20 in the world. Ranked in San Diego. Place top 32 here, place top 32 there. Just win a local. Place Top 3 in a local. Get ranked in my region. Get ranked in my city. Win, win and win some more.

Okay, great. But how?


 

Only literally this week have I taken a look at the hows or whats of what it is I need to be doing to get to any of those goals, even the smaller ones like win a local, or even place top three in a local. And I’ve had those goals since mid 2015, but I have yet to achieve any. Kind of silly. I had never looked at the process that I was taking, or would tell myself I was taking, up until now. . I would kind of just turn on my Wii, play Melee by myself for an hour, watch a YouTube video of a set or two, and think that would be good enough. Sometimes I would do practice in a similar matter to what I want to be doing now, but not nearly enough or as focused as it will be in the future, which I will go into detail later on in this post.

Goals are great to have no doubt, and I do believe I am inspired by them, but I think I have been auto-piloting my improvement process or the process itself to get to the goals that I want to achieve. By just turning on the game and ‘playing’ it every now and then like I was doing for awhile, I’ll probably make no real progress toward any goal. I have been coming to a realization that I need to pay attention. Not that I need to get more serious and hard-core about the process itself and force myself to do one-thousand wave-dashes a day or analyze ten different sets in a week or stuff like that, but to actually realize what it is I need to work on to get me to where it is I want to be. The answers are basically right under my nose, and I am at the point where I can see my problems as clear as day, so what has been stopping me? Ironically, I think my big goals have.

I believe I’ve been so romantic about my goals, how cool it would be to be the best player in the world, or the best player in my city, always talking about it or day-dreaming about it that I have been too naive to actually take a look at what has been right under my nose this entire time: Specific aspects of my game that I need to practice and understand.

These are some goals related to what it is I believe I need to work on the most in my play:

  • Cut down on excess movement (My biggest most obvious problem).
  • Improve the quality of my practice.
  • Work on punish game.
  • Work on corner pressure.

(I realize that Melee is a big game and there are tons of things to work on and all that, I am just leaving it at those four things for the sake of this post).

For cutting down on excess movement, this one is most exciting since it is my most obvious one. I have had a few different peers all of varying skill levels tell me that this is my biggest thing that I need to work on. This will also be tied into corner pressure since apparently they are both related (I keep seeing myself wave-dash a bunch of times in a row when I have someone cornered, and if I work to understand positions better I want to see myself not spazz out on movement and get the job more simply).

Improving the quality of my practice will be my second biggest thing. This pretty much ties all of the concepts together. I have been very inspired recently by this awesome video:

I have been turning off my phone, laptop, and keeping the temperature in my room quite cool while I practice, making sure all of my focus is to what it is I would like to work on, usually tech skill that I feel that I am not that great in that I can for sure use in tournament. Visualizing what my ideal play would look like. How I want to be playing the game, instead of flailing around on the stage for an hour not really knowing why I am doing the inputs I am doing.

Then there is punish game. This is basically something I can practice through watching videos, solo work and friendlies. I feel I don’t need to get big into this since there are tons of resources out there to learn how to improve that. Corner pressure will be tied into cutting down on excess movement and actually learning positions/situations/focusing in a match and all that.

What is exciting to me about these goals,  is that they are actually practical things I can work on and see measurable progress and get real feedback on. They relieve a sort of pressure that I felt I was carrying by trying to become the best player in a certain amount of time. It felt like I was failing to achieve a goal (Win a local) every single Monday when I got home from a Last Stock Local, which was incredibly un-fun for me. These are things I can literally practice and see either progress being made or a lack of progress being made and actually understand why! Which is way better for me than to go “oh my god it is almost the end of the year how am I not rank #1 in the universe yet I am so driven to improve why god why???”…

Moving forward, I know that I can put in the hours. I have the drive, no doubt. Anyone can put in the hours. Realizing that it is more about the quality of the time I spend practicing has been pretty big for me. These realizations will probably not immediately propel me to the top of the game, but rather give me more clarity and satisfaction that I can measure daily.

 

Thank you for reading, keep competing.

Kopaka.

 

 

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Too much preparation.

Hey guys! I want to share with you another experience I had at this years EVO. This is about how I thought I was doing my best to prepare myself for my morning pool matches, but it seemed that I was over prepping myself far beyond what would have allowed myself to play comfortably in the moment. This is definitely still an ongoing process for me, as I’m still learning with each and every tournament I attend. I’ve yet to come to a stern conclusion about what it is exactly that I should be doing at every single tournament to feel the most mentally sharp, yet relaxed. No matter which tournament I attend, the game is always the same. It is always going to be Melee, but yet at each tournament, competing always feels different, even though I know that the game is always going to be the same game that I practice back home.

I was standing behind my pools station at noon sharp, day one of Evo. On my walk from our room in the Luxor to the Mandalay Bay, I had been listening to the song that I decided I would listen to if I had to face Chillindude in bracket. I drank a medium cup of coffee during breakfast, and I was feeling pretty pumped up and ready to get into my matches. As I was standing behind my pool station, a friend of mine from San Diego, (I’ll call him K.K), came up to me and we spoke for a few minutes before my pool started. He pointed out that I did seem very frantic. This was a shock to me. Apparently, from the outside, I must have looked very nervous, or like I was on cocaine or something, otherwise most of these points that he made to me probably would never have come up in the first place. I don’t remember the exact specifics of the conversation but we came to the conclusion that I was definitely on the upper side of the nervous scale. What the heck? I thought I was doing everything I could do to turn the nervousness into excitement to compete! I thought it was a bit ironic that I had been reading much on sports psychology, human performance, meditations, etc, and yet here I was about to compete, experiencing the feelings that I had been reading up on how to combat, though as if I had forgotten everything I read about up until this point.

I was definitely high. Not on any drug, (well, besides Caffeine) but high on expectations. I knew my best performances and my worst performances, how I could either play to my highest potential or blow it completely. The conversation I had with K.K kind of brought me back to reality. It brought me back to Planet Earth in a way. I remember the phrase “You know how to play the game” and the word “Breathe” being mentioned somewhere in the conversation. This is the exact kind of pregame advice I believe is the most effective, at least for me. These words had a much more powerful effect to me to get my head-space at the right level to compete comfortably. It wasn’t too over-hype, nothing like “Dude you’re actually so amazing wow you’ve beaten so and so before dude oh my god!!!!!11!!1!” to get me even more frantic than I was. It was real, honest, and practical. (Plus I knew he knew what he was talking about since he used to compete himself :P). A point I made to him was that in competing, and in many things in life in general, finding the middle-ground of the scale is always the most difficult thing. You can be on the highest side of the scale, feel completely nervous or excited to compete, or completely unmotivated and demoralized by your upcoming matches (or previous matches) and be on the bottom side of the scale. This sort of thing is why I believe we have to practice with purpose, trust in the practice itself come tournament day, and expect curve-balls and adaptations you need to make that you’ve never faced before while under pressure.

They say experience is the best teacher after all, and there is quite a big difference between reading about something, and actually experiencing it yourself, in your own body and learning how you naturally respond to it for real. Every single experience is going to be different. There’s no “How to cope with tournament nerves right after you break up with your girlfriend” article anywhere, at least to my knowledge. Life is always there, and we will always be humans playing the game. We can work to understand the game on a deeper level, improve to the best that we can to better our chance of winning, but honing in your focus to what is most important when you’re at a major tournament and internal and external expectations could be on the line is a completely different game.

When we invest time into something to achieve an outcome we prefer, the game changes. Winning is always desired, but we have to find a way to accept losing as an outcome and put the excitement to compete far beyond the fear of an outcome we do not prefer. It is difficult. I believe it can be done, and it is something I would like to keep practicing for as long as I have a desire to play the game.

 

Thank you for reading, keep competing.

Kopaka.



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On my set with Chillindude829

Hey guys! I’d like to share with you a little bit of the overall experience of my set with Chillindude from Evo 2017, some context to my Smash history, and what I’d like to do moving forward.  The support I’ve gotten has been wild, and I’d like to share my experience as a hopes of it being encouragement to someone out there who is aiming to do great things with this game. This will not exactly be about the set itself so much, or how Chillin and I played (or how I went for wayyy too many fthrow -> fsmashes) or whatever, but rather how the whole experience felt.

This was my third Evo, and it was the one where I felt the most internal pressure because it was the first one that I had attended since I began to take training seriously, both in physical skills and mental focus. This Evo felt completely different than the previous two. During the first Evo I attended, Evo 2015, I was very nooby. People at that tournament would tell me how I have nice movement, but I would be doing really nooby things in game and I had such a weak understanding of the game itself during this time. Evo 2016 was a little different. Around this time I had a much more practiced mental-game but I still vastly lacked in-game skill and understanding. I was also having crazy trouble sleeping at night and was depressed around the time of this tournament, and there were many times where I felt like quitting during that year. The weeks going into Evo 2017 were spent working my job, training in-game solo and with partners, battling lapses of tournament-focus, and picking up a habit of meditating at home. Ultimately though, I had decided that I wanted to compete. Not just compete at Evo, but to just compete. I wanted to improve, and compete, and perform on the big stage. Making those decisions alone sort of smoothed out a path for everything to kind of just flow. For me to be at ease with the training and focus that is required to perform, and swallow the fact that outcomes that I do not prefer may sometimes just happen no matter how much I train.

I woke up the morning of day one, and started practicing with a local Vegas player we were rooming with. I was not exactly feeling ready to compete after the short practice session, nor was I happy with my play during practice at all. I knew I had to swallow it though, and focus on what was to come. They say friendlies do not really matter,  but when you’ve come all this way, and spend a lot of money going to a tournament with the hopes of performing well and have trained a lot for it, you kind of want any interaction you have with the game to be meaningful, right? It is “The big one” after all (Despite a drop in attendance this year).

I went downstairs, ate the soggiest oatmeal I had ever eaten, put my headphones in and began the trek to the Mandalay Bay from the Luxor. Eventually I got myself to where my pool was being held at noon. Right around when the pool matches were being called, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around, and this group of about five or six friends from high-school were there as spectators of the event itself. This was huge for me! I tried to hold back tears, but to no avail. I had ran into a few of them at Evo 2016, but I completely forgot that they like going to this event so it was a huge surprise for me. I had not seen a few of them in about four years, which made mentally preparing for my matches even more difficult, since seeing all of them had begun to make me cry. I hugged all of them and did my best not to become more of an emotional wreck. I then remember just sitting on a chair in front of a free setup, completely unaware of the fact that I had a setup right in front of me to warm-up on and instead sat there trying to dry the tears from my face while talking to my friend Erin.

Her and I talked for a bit, which was quite relaxing and got me a bit more at ease and focused. Thanks Erin! My match was finally called after I got a measly twenty seconds of warm-up time (Thanks, emotions). I had to play a Falco player for my round one, and the winner of this set had to play Chillindude in the next round. The set began, and the Falco player took the first stock off of me soon after the set started. Not a position I had never been in before though, and while it was quite awkward, I won the first game. During the second game I felt a little bit better, and ended up winning the set 2-0. Then a TO came up to me, and told me I had to play Chillindude on stream, on the big stage. I actually popped off and shouted “Fuck yeah!” when I had heard this. Not because I had just won, but because I was just told that I get to play Chillindude on the big stage. I began walking with the TO to the stage, and the TO handed me a piece of paper on which I had to write my name, my tag, what region I am from, a fun fact about me, and my favorite commentator. Besides the obvious answers, I wrote down Wife as my favorite commentator, and “I love playing on the big stage” as my fun fact. (Please go check out Wife’s Blog as it’s amazing!)

I sat down in front of the stage, and waited for the set Amsa was playing to finish. The amplified game sounds booming through the area gave me goosebumps. As I sat there and as I walked on stage, I felt no fear of under-performing, making mistakes, losing or letting anyone down. I just remember being very “there”. Being very present. Maybe I was a little bit afraid, I certainly was right after I had woken up, but once I got on stage, none of that stuff seemed to weigh on me as heavily. I felt I had to just perform. Giving it my all? Maybe. I do not remember feeling like I was over-exerting, or over-performing or pressing any button on my controller really hard or popping off when it felt unnatural. I was just focused on the game, and it was the most exhilarating time I have ever had while playing Melee, and an experience that has given training a much more clear definition.

The set finished with Chillindude winning. I turned to him, gave him a fist-bump, and stood up to unplug my controller. When I stood up, I did have the “Well, dang. I lost. That sucks.” feeling, but at the same time, I felt pretty awesome actually. I felt I had overcome a huge fear, a real fear of how many things could go wrong. A fear of losing focus or a fear of getting frustrated or choking. The support I was given from my friends and smashers after the set was just such an incredible thing for me.  Ka-Master walked up on stage and just as I was about to finish packing my controller, he hugged me and gave me some really awesome short words of encouragement to keep going. That was amazing and meant a tremendous amount to me. I walked down the stairs and all of my friends were there to tell me about the match. As I was walking back to my pool, this little kid came up to me and told me how I was so close, then his dad showed up and he told me the same thing. A little kid and his dad, whom I had never met before, were telling me about the set. Pretty crazy. Then sometime during the day, I can’t remember when exactly, two or three people I had never met before in my life came up to me to tell me about it too. This was so crazy to me. It has been such a crazy experience to have been playing this game competitively since August 2013, suck for two years, decide that I really want to improve around mid 2015, feel like giving up/go through depression while I wanted to improve through most of 2016/early 2017, and then have this set on the big stage at Evo, and have complete strangers tell me that they’re fans. Once you get momentum, it is hard to let go of it when you finally get to experience the outcome you have only dreamed of so many times in your head before, for years. It has changed how I perceive locals, and changed why I practice in the first place. Of course I would have liked to come out on the winning side, but to come out on the side of the bracket you’d prefer to come out on, you have to explore a side of yourself you never thought was there before.

I certainly was the underdog here, and moving forward, I would like to practice how to handle any fear of not living up to this performance (especially at locals), and any sort of new internal pressure I have not faced before that might come up after a performance like this, through meditation. I am human after all, and I want to better understand how I can accept the human part of the game and how to cope with the anxiety or burden not meeting internal and external expectations, both good ones and bad ones. Overall, I want to be satisfied, and make the most out of my opportunities with this awesome game.

 

If you made it this far, thank you for reading.

 

— Kopaka


 

I would also like to play my opponents when they are playing their best, that way if I win, it feels way more amazing. (I’m sure Chillindude can play much better than he did during our set and it would be very exciting to get to play him again when he does).

This is the song I was listening to during the set:

 

“Your mind gives up too easily.”

This is about a very simple but oh so powerful piece of advice that I was given to by my main practice partner and dear friend. I’ve heard and seen so much advice given to myself and other players like.. Oh, just space better. Watch x player play the matchup. Do this, do that. I’ve heard it all, from everyone I’ve talked to. I’be given advice like that. But a moment like what I experienced is rare. It was powerful. It might even sound completely absurd for someone who plays a competitve video game. OkamiBW is an extremely nice guy, so is Captain Faceroll, so is Armada, so are a lot of extremely good players of our game who can give really great advice on melee or life to just about anyone in our community.  but I had to be the one that heard “Your mind gives up too easily..” during a practice session. It struck a chord, man. Do you think I remember the dozens of times I heard “space this grab that don’t Bair over there, run up and shield”? Nope, it’s all noise. Something that penetrates the noise and funk of what everyone says to you to improve really sticks with you, and I got just that on that night. Real raw shit, it actually blew my mind up, even though it really just meant “when you get combod you still have some control over your character”. But my mind gives up too easily? I live for these moments. The’s profound penetrations of my perception of what’s really going on in front of me and how I play the game. I love it. I hate the basic. It was simple, but powerful. I understood what he meant because I felt exactly what was going on. It was obvious.

I don’t think I personally would have gotten the message harder had it been worded differently, and since I’m crazy, I instantly made connections to his phrase to my own life. WHEN SHIT HITS THE FAN, DON’T LET YOUR MIND GIVE UP TOO EASILY WHEN LIFE COMBO’S YOU, is how I’d say it to a smasher. It makes sense to me now though, I knew what it meant when he said it, but the impact it had on me was big, and I’m extremely glad I heard it that way, because a great mentor knows, just like how he knows the game, how and when and why saying “Just DI up”, would ever be different from telling someone “don’t let your mind give up”.

Reflection on The Inner Game of Tennis!

Recently I made a vlog on some of my favorite books ever. I want to go more in depth on how I feel about some of them here soooo:

Inner Game of Tennis: As I’m opening up random pages, (page 113 to be exact) and re-reading the material, it’s such a…strange feeling I’m getting, I’m not quite sure how to describe what it is. I basically began reading this book somewhere around 2015, around the time I was hired at my very first job, when I didn’t have a car, and I had to either Uber or walk to work. I was basically fresh out of high school too, and in this period of my life, there was a lot of muck in my mind about what I wanted to do with Melee, and what I wanted to do with my life. Despite all the muck and feelings of complete emptiness and directionless in my mind at the time, I was a complete sponge to this sort of material, and I have no idea why. I just felt like I had to read it, so I did. I guess I was just born with natural EQ to material like this. 

Despite the directionless feelings, despite the confusion, despite feeling that a lot of my competition being ahead of me in skill, I read the book. It wasn’t that I even just read the damn thing, I tried to live the book. It took practice to understand and internalize the book, and make the most important parts, a part of me. I’m extremely glad that 2015-Kopaka read and re-read this book as many times as he did, because it’s been well worth it right now. Months and months after reading the book however, (and even very recently) I would still get very upset over tiny little things within the game. The book couldn’t completely change my entire view of the world, that I had to learn much later. On my part, it took a ton of real effort, real forced effort, to practice the material. Now I look at it just as I look at physical practice. It’s mental muscle memory. You practice something until you can do it with tons of certainty! Thats the way I see it now, it just took me in particular a lot of time to practice it, since it didn’t really come natural to me, unlike playing video games, which always has. I think that’s super important so I’ll say it again. Playing video games has always come natural to me, but winning the mental, human battle we have with ourselves, never did. Actually, now after reading some other books that I’ll mention soon, I dont even look at it as a battle! You dont want to fight two battles at once, right!? It’s hard enough to play to your opponent! Don’t make it a 2v1 if you don’t have to! And if you don’t know how to do that, check the book out! It may help you get started.

I’ve thrown my controller, cried, yelled, slammed my fist on tables, slammed doors, thrown my car keys at full force onto the ground having it shatter to pieces, cried, broken down and cried, walked out of a venue and shouted into the air, “what’s wrong with me?” after losing. Despite all of that making me feel helpless, depressed, directionless all distraught, I wanted to learn how I could really play the game that I wanted to play.

I had to put a tremendous amount of more work into that sort of thing than anything else. People would tell me advice, like, really great simple advice, I had people giving me really great help honestly. I’ll never forget the night that Oats said to me, at one of the early San Diego Melee Donut Panic bi-weekly locals, “Don’t be so hard on yourself!” after I had thrown my controller for the very first time. Why was I being so hard on myself in the first place? Probably because I was trying to be Armada in a week, probably because I wanted to prove, more than I wanted to learn. Oh, I wanted to learn alright, but even the mere action or thought of learning means so much more to me now than it did back then.  

The process of working at that whole thing never really stopped, it eventually just faded away into my subconscious. To me, a lot of people discuss the book, but few seem to be practitioners from my experiences. You can read about how a wave dash works one-thousand times, see it that many times, but you’ll never understand it yourself without trying it one-thousand times.

It isn’t all that special.

So the last three tournaments I attended all happened last weekend, but I wanted to write about them anyway so here I am. I beat people and lost to people at all three of them, 2 San Diego locals and one SSS #59. One thing I noticed at all three events, is that in bracket, whenever I started literally thinking about “I’m winning/losing” , I started playing sloppily. The crazy thing to me and basically the whole point of me writing this, is that these “problems” or whatever you want to call them, can happen and has happened to anyone ever in any sort of competition period, probably just in different ways for different people. What I’m realizing is that I’m no longer alone in these sorts of things as I compete and learn more about clarity of the task at hand. Like, no matter how engaged you are, and I was really engaged in some of these tournament sets, like REALLY engaged, i dont think you can ever stop thinking, its impossible, you just have to refocus your mind on the task however you can or something about motivation, I have no idea it’s different for everyone lol.

Something else that’s really blowing my mind right now, is as I’m reading through the “ask ppmd about the tiara guy” thread on smash boards starting from page 1, which dates back to 2008, literally 9 years ago, I’m seeing that a lot of ideas or stuff I do even unconsciously in the game, people have been doing for 9 years. Like, to me it feels like I’m no innovator right now, I’m sort of just dusting off the ways the ways people (Cactuar) established things nearly a decade ago, and adding ME to the mix as in my own style and expression. Which, to me, isn’t all that special if that’s the way it’s been done in any sort of art that takes years of practice.

 

I’m no innovator. I’m just taking what works, and adding me to the mix.

 

 

 

 

No one knows who you are at EVO.

Something that a dear friend of mine said recently was that “No one knows who I am at EVO”. This friend is very skilled in Melee, his name is known among a lot of people from the area he competes in, and can compete with people as skilled as he is. But no one knows who he is at EVO. No one knows who I am at EVO, and no one knows who you are at EVO as well. Unless you’re Armada, unless you’re Mango, unless you’re Leffen, unless you’ve got a real foundation, unless you’re competing in a place where everyone’s eyes (and I mean everyone’s) are going to be looking, which is Top 8, of tournaments everyone’s eyes will watch (again, everyone), no one really knows you. If your goal is to be the #1 best player in the world, if that’s who you think you are right now, why are you getting so sad when the #1 best player in the world doesn’t win? 

Because you’re not who you want to be yet. When did Armada become the best player in the world? When he won Genesis 2. Did he have more patience than anyone in the smash community has ever had? Yes. Did he force the opportunities to show how much he believed he was the best, start his own Genesis, because he wanted to be the best player in the world so desperately enough that he couldn’t wait any longer, and then make a complete fool out of himself if he had lost? Hell no. He waited. Key word, waited. Why do you think you can even be the best player in your region tomorrow? Why do you even need to be the best player in your region tomorrow? What the hell are you even doing today that’s going to make that a reality anyways? Are you practicing for tomorrow, or are you practicing just to “win” for today? It just doesn’t matter if you’re “winning” the practice today. It’s how patient you really are, if the things you want really matter.

Think about the legacy that takes place there, and think about the times that people remember when Armada or Mango lost. Everyone remembers those times. Everyone remembers when Armada lost to Hungrybox at EVO 2016. No one, and I mean literally no one, remembers the time you lost at Weekly Local #45. No one remembers when Armada lost at Weekly Local #45, and no one actually remembers when you lost in Losers-Quarter Finals in Pool #A200 at EVO 2017. The eyes aren’t there. If you want to be remembered, look at where you’re playing. Look at where you’re winning and look at where you’re losing. Are you losing when everyone in the smash community wants to be watching, to see who places 9th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 1st at a super national? Or, are you losing at a place where no one really cares who’s going to get 129th?