Friday, October 11, 2019

The Three Levels Of Mooting

How to be a master of mooting?

Three steps, that's all it takes.

Easier said than done, of course. Knowing the steps is as simple as A-B-C. Actually getting through them, that's the tough part. For I can only show you the door - it's all up to you to walk through it.

I know, sounds like some cryptic mumbo-jumbo fortune-cookie wisdom stuff. But trust me, it works for the best mooters, and it'll work for you too.

So the quicker you stop rolling your eyes and start climbing, the sooner you'll reach to the top...

Congrats, you've just passed Level 1...

* * *

Level One: Discovery (Find yourself)

Mooting is like music.

What's your voice range? Do you have a deep baritone? Are you more of a tenor or soprano?

Sure, having a loud, rich voice is good for projection. Some of us speak in rapid fire, some speak with patient deliberation. Some have a British accent, some lean towards an American twang.

But ultimately, there's no one best way of speaking. So long as you've mastered the basic skills of intonation and pacing, the judges are all ears.

Every mooter needs to find their own voice, their own rhythm, their own style.

And that can only be done through constant experimentation, trial and error, and refinement.

Same goes with your language, body movements and facial expressions. There's a bunch of instruments in your toolbox. The art of effective communication is multi-dimensional.

(Failure rate: 25%)

* * *

Level Two: Development (Push yourself)

Congratulations! You've found your voice. A quarter of aspiring mooters don't even get this far.

But you shouldn't take your 'good voice' for granted. You may already sound good, but there's always room to sound better.

By now, you know your limits, your weaknesses, your flaws.

Should you just accept them? If you're happy settling with mediocrity - sure, suit yourself. But if you wish to upgrade into a better version of yourself - then you have to press on hard to overcome them.

English is your second language? Then read more English materials and converse with your friends in English on a daily basis.

Trouble breaking down legal concepts into simple terms? Then submit to laypeople like your Mom till they understand you.

Stressed out easily? Then meditate or something.

The list of problems that mooters face are endless, and so are the solutions. The struggle isn't identifying the solution, but mustering the will to carry it out.

You have to keep practising and improvising to hit the perfect pitch.

(Failure rate: 50%)

* * *

Level Three: Determination (Trust yourself)

Excellent work! You've almost reached the peak of your potential. Only a quarter of the mooting population are on par with you.

But there's only so much room at the top. Only a very lucky few can step up to the podium. More likely than not, even giving your all isn't good enough to sway the judges to crown you champion.

Should you just turn around and walk away? It's quite understandable why most mooters would.

It's hard not to give up and think "Know what, I ain't bursting my ass for another 6 months only to get screwed by some random panel who didn't even read the moot problem!".

It's hard not to move on to more productive activities in law school.

It's hard not to lose faith in your abilities.

But just like any other sport or competition, that's how mooting works. You'll lose more than you win. You'll be heartbroken more than overjoyed.

The truly great mooters are patient and calm. They know that their time will come, one day. And they will keep fighting and fighting till they finally prevail.

(Failure rate: 20%)

Failure is your friend, kids!

* * *

Only 5% of mooters go all the way and rise to the top.

The rest falter at different stages of their mooting journey. That's not to say that they are 'losers' or 'failures', of course. Different people have different priorities in life.

But if you truly wish to experience the best parts of mooting, then you have to stay the course till the very end. Winning and losing are both part of the process. You learn as much from failure as from success - if not even more.

Most mooters give up mooting because "mooting is not my cup of tea". Whilst that may hold true for some, such reason rings rather hollow for those who give up at the early stages without much exploration and effort.

Ultimately, cliche as it sounds, the true value of mooting lies not in the destination, but the journey itself. More often than not, it is the most driven mooters, and not the most skilled ones, who reach the top.

Yes, mooting is a long and hard journey - but that's exactly what makes it so fun and fulfilling.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Closing The Gap, Raising The Bar (UM-NUS 2019)

Finally, after 15 long years of hurt, University of Malaya (UM) triumphed over National University of Singapore (NUS) in the annual UM-NUS Friendly Moot Competition.

It's a 'friendly' competition between two neighbours who once shared a common origin until Singapore broke up and 'consciously decoupled' with Malaysia.

It's a 'friendly' rivalry intended to mimic the spirit of the Oxford-Cambridge rowing tradition.

It's been a rather lopsided battle that has seen Team UM getting its ass kicked over and over again...

Has it really been 15 years? Honestly, I don't know. That's the number I hear from people. We've lost so many times over the years that it's easy to lose count (and conveniently forget). There were a few years in which the competition didn't take place, so I'm uncertain as to the actual number of losses...

Anyway, what's certain is that this is the first time ever in 15 years that we defeated NUS. That's how historic the victory means to Team UM. Makes us feel embarrassed and proud in equal measure...

Malaysia Boleh!

* * *

Why we did finally win after so long? What changed this time? Have we found a winning formula?

There's much to reflect and dissect. Some things come to mind on why we faltered in the past. I've been spectating some of the matches, off and on, for the past 15 years (even the first match in 2004 or 2005, if I recall correctly). So that makes me qualified somewhat to make an objective assessment.

Generally, our failings can be broken into three phases, in roughly chronological order through the years:

First, we were unprepared. Our mooters made rookie mistakes. We tripped over questions posed by the judges. We fell apart in the face of pressure. It's not that we were bad. We just weren't good enough. We were untrained.

Second, we lacked self-belief. We saw ourselves as inferior to NUS. The poorer neighbour. The weaker sibling. Consciously or unconsciously, we didn't think we could win. We went into the match mainly looking to 'gain experience' and 'for the fun of it'.

Third, we had a narrow tribal mindset. We tend to slip into this "us" against "them" mentality. We were fond of 'stereotyping' NUS mooters - robots, academic, legalistic (none of which are true, of course). We insisted on mooting the 'Malaysian' or 'UM' way (whatever that means). We treated the moot as a clash of contrasting cultures, not a contest between two closely-connected neighbours (as it should be).

* * *

This time round, our team managed to overcome the mental block. They didn't see NUS mooter as the 'enemy'. In fact, they even applied some of NUS' good habits picked up from our previous duels. They kept an open mind, trying out different styles and strokes.

Ultimately, as much as they desired to win, they were focused more on giving a good performance.

They didn't let the pressure get into their heads. But they also didn't take their foot off the gas. Even until the eve of the competition, they kept improvising and improving.

And when I say 'they', I mean all four members of the team, both oralists and researchers. 

Kai Sheng and Jia Shen, the oralists, were definitely the stars of the show. Their submissions were the best that I've seen from them compared to any of their previous practice sessions - which is quite an amazing feat, considering how mooters typically under-perform during the competition day itself rather than 'peaking' as they did. Kai Sheng won the Best Oralist award too!

Jacqueline and Saradha, sitting in the sidelines, were more than just mere 'researchers'. They helped to refine the team's arguments. They were really good cheerleaders - boosting the morale, lightening the mood. And above all, they took their 'backstage' role seriously, hardly ever missing a session, without any hint of envy and dissatisfaction.

The Fabulous Four (l-r): Saradha, Jia Shen, Kai Sheng, Saradha

* * *

Yes, we have turned a corner.

But the turn started long ago, when we defeated NUS last year in LAWASIA 2018, and most recently in NAMCO 2019. In Jessup 2019, we lost in controversial and heartbreaking fashion - by memorial points, despite winning the majority vote from the oral judges.

And let's not read too much into the results. Taking a match or two off from NUS does not make us better than NUS. Nor even on equal terms. We're closing the gap, but the gap remains.

Their trophy cabinet is more laden than ours. Their international reputation far exceeds ours. If there was a world ranking of law schools based on all-time mooting achievements, NUS should be firmly in the Top 3 (whilst UM is somewhere in the Top 50 at most).

Of course, we're not quite up to the level of NUS yet. But we're catching up fast. Our victory in UM-NUS marks yet another incredible milestone in our meteoric rise.

No doubt, NUS will be reeling from this defeat. But I'm sure they will take it positively, as an opportunity to reflect and learn. They'll come back stronger, and so we will. Perhaps this will mark a start of a more symbiotic relationship between our law schools.

That our constant duels will strengthen both our mooting ranks.

That our friendly rivalry will push each other to even greater heights.

That our combined successes will make South-East Asia the best mooting region of the world.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Mommy Treats Your Heart, Daddy Trains Your Mind

Why do students fail?

Why do they misbehave?

Why are they so entitled nowadays?

They don't get enough care and attention from both Mommy and Daddy, that's why. Especially Daddy. No, not because Daddy goes missing. But because kids these days tend to run and pour their hearts out to Mommy. They're too scared of getting their ass spanked by Daddy.

Now, before you get up in arms, hear me out. I'm just being metaphorical. I'm not really talking about parenthood. Nor am I being sexist by stereotyping gender roles. When I say 'Mommy', I'm referring to the traditional teacher with a soft nurturing touch. 'Daddy', in contrast, is the old-school bad-ass drill sergeant. A man can be 'Mommy', and a woman can be 'Daddy' (for instance, an Asian tiger Mom). It's all down to personality and philosophy, not genetics and genders.

And when I say things like 'ass spanked', don't take me literally, of course. It's just a figure of speech.

And if you don't like what you're reading so far, then just bugger off. You're just proving my point how you really need some good old-school Daddy spanking...

"Come come, Daddy just wants to talk..."

* * *

Every student will turn out fine, with the right balance of Mommy and Daddy advice. One is not superior than the other. Both are needed in equal measures (perhaps one more than the other in certain situations, and vice versa).

But in my own personal experience and general observation, the scales have tilted towards Mommy's side. Modern kids are not getting enough hard love from Daddy (whether from male or female teachers). And that, at least for me, is a main reason why students fall to the Dark Side...

It's a thought I've been harbouring for some time, but re-triggered due to a recent drama at 'school' (specifically, the law school I teach). The details are unimportant, so here's the abridged version...

"At the start of the week, there was an assembly for all students and staff to attend. The principal gave a typical welcoming speech. Same old, nothing unusual. At the end, the principal opened the floor for Q&A. A student stood up, and launched into a long rant and laundry list of injustices inflicted by the school administration which went on for a good 2-3 minutes (which may have gone on far longer if the principal had not gently interjected 'So, what is your question exactly?')"

Did the student had a point? Perhaps yes, perhaps not. There's a lot of stuff to unpack there, which is of no real general interest.

Anyway, the more critical question is whether the student picked the right place and right time to voice out such grievances - to which the general consensus among the adults in the room was no.

But then it got me thinking: why do students behave that way? It's not the first time I have witnessed such 'outburst', albeit on a lesser scale - more often tha not, it comes from the bright students.

And then it hit me: we, too, as teachers, should bear some blame when students take a wrong turn...

The Millennial Dream

* * *

So back to my theory - that most modern teachers have grown 'soft'.

We spare the rod, hence spoil the child. We sing them high praises more than give constructive criticisms. We care more about guarding their feelings than repairing their failings.

(See also my previous article: The Role Of Teachers - To Be Learnt, Not To Be Loved)

There are many facets to this theory. Here, the focus is on the Mommy-Daddy dichotomy.

Mommy is a doctor who heals your wounds, Daddy is a gym instructor who builds your fitness. Mommy catches your fall, Daddy lifts your flight. Mommy feels, Daddy thinks. Mommy knows your heart, Daddy reads your mind.

To paint a clearer picture, here are some examples:
  • Mommy will send you to class and pick you up an hour or two later. Daddy will get down and dirty with you outside, whether at the football field, swimming pool or boxing ring.
  • Mommy will give long stirring lectures over vague feel-good Fortune-cookie soundbites on 'hope', 'passion' and 'grit'. Daddy will just shout in your ear to stop watching 'High School Musical' for the umpteenth time and get a part-time job.
  • Mommy will console you each time you fail, cradle you as you cry your eyes out, bemoan about your bad luck and how you deserve better, gently tell you to try again, and so on. Daddy will simply shrug and say "Do. Or do not. There is no try".
  • Mommy will read you bedtime stories about fairy godmothers and boy wizards until you doze off. Daddy will instruct you to read Sun Tzu's Art of War and won't allow you to sleep until you've finished reading the book and passed his pop quiz.
  • Mommy will buy you gifts and throw you a big party at KFC Texas Chicken some new Korean fried chicken joint (standards upgrade over time) whenever you win gold for your school's Sports Day. Daddy joins the party just in time to pick the bill, and remind Mommy to 'call it a night' since your training for the State team is tomorrow at 8am.

"I hate you, Daddy! I said I wanted an iPhone XS for my birthday, not the XR!"

* * *

Again, this is not to say Daddy is a better teacher than Mommy. Nor too belittle Mommy's half of the work that's necessary to groom a wholesome child.

It's a Yin-Yang dynamic. Two sides of the same coin. Good cop, bad cop.

Okay, enough of metaphors. I should really stop droning, otherwise I'll start sounding like Mommy...

Just kidding!

But you do get the idea, I hope. That every student needs both types of teachers in their lives. Not necessarily in two different persons, of course. Every teacher should be able to play both Daddy and Mommy interchangeably. Or if that's too hard, a Mommy teacher should regularly refer a student to a Daddy teacher, and vice versa.

Ultimately, the goal is to ensure students get equal share of Mommy and Daddy lessons.

Right now, most teachers want to play Mommy. We need to step up more as Daddy!

And a word to you kids out there:

Don't only run to Mommy when you have problems. Daddy may be cold and hard, but he can help you in many ways that Mommy can't (or can but won't).

Don't feel abandoned if Daddy goes quiet and aloof. Daddy does a lot of thinking, and sometimes, his silence and inaction is really for your best interests (which you may only understand much later in future).

Don't be scared of Daddy. Daddy loves you too!