A student went to his teacher once and asked him to describe what a dragon looks like. The teacher said "let me think, I can't quite put my finger on it.." and while he thought a snake slithered by. The student pointed to the snake, and erupted "oh! does a dragon look like that?" and the teacher replied "it looks like parts of a dragon." and the student asked "well what else does it look like?" and the teacher pondered "let me think, I can't quite put my finger on it.." and after a time a deer pranced out of the nearby woods and across the clearing. The student again spoke, "oh! does a dragon look like that?" and the teacher looked, replied "it looks like parts of a dragon." again they sat in silence. The student looked at the teacher's mustache, and asked "Oh! does a dragon look like that?," pointing at the teacher. The teacher stroked his beard, and replied "it looks like parts of a dragon."
The student was never told exactly what a dragon was, and so, he never had a restriction on what a dragon should be. But we have to start somewhere.
In foam fighting things are much the same. Take for example a new fighter. When we experience something new like foam fighting we have little understanding of how it operates, what restrictions or rules it operates by. We are open minded. We are experimentive. We see new fighters try new things, new shots, move differently, react differently, or not react at all.
Over some time, the new person learns the rules, and they fall into line with what others are doing. They learn what happens when you get hit, they begin to notice where they were hit, when they were hit. They learn what a valid hit is, and they learn what shots and strikes and ways of moving are available to them.
They become comfortable, and after a point they tend to stay comfortable in this self imposed restriction. Without new perspective they remain fixed. People generally tend to be lazy. They learn a new shot, they play around, maybe they practice it, and there is a point where most people either cannot or will not go beyond, a point of complacence.
They need to break through their limitations. I think "plateau's" - which I find discussed in some manner or phrase in almost all skills and arts - I think these plateau's are where we increase our skill to the level our restrictions allow. People in the plateau find themselves taking the same step, same feint, same block, same shot same combo. They have reached their limitation. The pain and frustration of the plateau is you rising up and hitting your head on your own restriction.
How do we break through these plateau's?
We do this in a variety of ways, I will discuss a couple of them. Growth comes from a difficult experience, a discussion with another, or by practice combined with inspection.
Practice is the simple answer. Once you have learned the basics (and made them solid, which the majority of people don't do) you no longer have to think about making the motions, they have become instincts. Now your mind is free to expand. The chess match of counters, feints, baits, movement, distance, pace, "fight control", etc. All the possibilities open up because you are no longer focused on "when I throw this shot I need to turn my hand to here and then pull my hand back to here" etc.
Practice over and over until your body moves on it's own. Once a shot becomes a part of you, once it has been mastered, it can be manipulated. Timing can be changed, the shot can become a feint, etc. Inspecting the shot and breaking it down allow you to manipulate parts of it.
One of the best ways to inspect and break down is to teach. If you are going to teach someone how to do this shot, you need to examine and break it down to the simple basics. Your hand moves here, the tip of the sword does this, etc. You'll probably find the new person needs a break down even more simple than what you started with. They aren't going to be able to move to their right and throw the shot here and move their off hand here all at once. In this break down through teaching you see all parts and can separate them. You learn what others see when you do this shot. Now you can make that step you start with, and raise your hand to where you would for the shot, and when the opponent moves to block the regular shot you throw from here, you can throw to a different location, or change your timing, etc.
Next, we have discussion. Discussion with another can help you to bounce ideas off of them and see things in a new light. When you are having trouble, turn to a friend and ask them what they see. Everyone will be able to tell you something they see, but not everyone will see something you need to hear.
Our final method for discussion is through a difficult experience. We've all had that frustrating fight, tournament, day, etc. Many people allow themselves to get hung up on the experience. We get frustrated, people see they are getting a rise from you so they push more. You go home and play it over in your mind and feel the frustration renewed.
So how can we learn anything from a difficult experience? Well, this experience challenges us to overcome it. To problem solve. It is a learning experience in itself to not get hung up on the frustration, to let it go. We are challenged to overcome our limitation. What are we doing that is not working? What can we do to make this work? You have that fighter you just can't beat. Watch what they do when they fight others. Approach them from a different angle, instead of walking up and throwing a shot or doing what you would normally do, walk towards them and just watch what they do, who cares if they kill you if you learn something that helps you beat them? "When we can no longer change a situation, we are forced to change ourselves." - Viktor Frankl.
So once you learn the rules, you must break them, you must open your mind. Experiment, be creative, let go of everything you 'understand' - you learned something new and along the way you had to break and sit still on the plateau for awhile. But now, now it's time to re-evaluate your understanding.