Thursday, May 24, 2012

Amnesia

Teaching is so interesting, especially the part where you remember back to how you learned.
Certain concepts take a while to 'see'. In Visayan Style Eskrima, you have to flow a great deal, with a variety of different personalities and skill levels, and get to the stage where you relax enough to let the interaction almost take care of itself, let parts of the puzzle become unimportant and second nature, so you can focus on the next ones.
I'm not sure how long the whole process takes, or how long each phase takes, but it seems that it does need to 'get' over time. The hours you put in add up until, almost without noticing it, a light bulb goes off, and there it is, the piece, as plain as day in front of you.
Sonny said we all had his 'curriculum' within the VHS tapes of our own training sessions, and if we watched, we would understand when those light bulbs went off and what led to it happening.
That's good, and prompts me to go watch those tapes again, as there is a strange amnesia that occurs when you have had enough light bulbs go off - You forget how it happened, you forget the pieces that fell into place to create that moment, and you even forget how long it took to get there.
Learning to teach a thing, it seems, may be harder than learning the thing in the first place ...... who knew?

And before you say 'That's why systems were invented', I need to ask - What happens when a system takes away the most important parts of the whole thing? One's freedom, individuality, and ability to adapt on the fly?
I can almost hear the traditionalists comment that this 'freedom' thing is the part that come later ... AFTER you have remembered the contents of the curriculum, the preset patterns, the forms, the drills, the applications. That you have to learn them before you can forget them ... but is that really true?
What if you could teach in a way that involved nothing to be forgotten? No patterns to un learn, no alien context to be added later? Form following function in it's truest sense. Conditioning smart responses to as varied a selection of stimuli as possible, to constitute as complete a picture of the whole, as possible?

From my personal experience of learning the way I did, I think it is possible, but what's funny to me now, is that when I was a student, for years I had no idea if my skills were improving, or whether I was going in the direction I was supposed to ... or even what the end picture looked like. I figured my teacher knew, had a picture in his head about what he was looking for ... but now I'm on the other end of the equation, I only know if what I'm doing is working when the student takes a step .... I have a picture in my head of course, but the knowledge that anything that I have done has worked ... comes from them.

I'm guessing this is how it must be when you are teaching individuals to be ... individuals, but sometimes it feels like being a one eyed king in the kingdom of the blind :-)

7 comments:

Nick said...

Your idea about "What if you could teach in a way that involved nothing to be forgotten?" is excellent: that really sums up what we have been doing in our martial tai chi lessons where we are keener on "habits" than "techniques" or "applications". People can often move just fine; but teach a "technique", and their most comon reaction is "which leg do I step with?" That natural skill is lost...

Jake said...

One of the best, if most grating, things I've had to do as a coach was spend about three years being the "go-to" guy for trial lessons at our Muay Thai school. That meant I got lots of flight time teaching people who had no idea what we were teaching, and in many cases, never had done a martial art before. Frustrating as all get out sometimes, but I learned a lot.

I think there's a lot to the idea of coaching movements, not techniques. Or goals. I find myself lately telling people something to the effect of "your job in the ring is to punch the other guy in the face. If you're doing that, how you're doing is kind of secondary."

I think you can teach without resorting to technique at all, but it's tough. Technique makes it easy. You just make people memorize a bunch of stuff. Teaching people to improv is a lot harder.

considerphlebas said...

I think the key part in teaching someone without structure is being able to recognize dead ends. Especially in a small group that spars with each other a lot (which is just about every group), there are some tactics and behaviors that are very effective at the start, but become dead ends and inhibit growth. It can be hard for some to accept "yes, that works now, but later it won't." as others with technique or body mechanics that have a longer development path continue to grow. In a similar manner, you can get strong results from a natural, aggressive, brawling style, but later in life there are health consequences and chronic injury. As a teacher, I think it boils down to being able to stay open, but also to sometimes say "nope, trust me, that's no good."

Mike Panian said...

Thinking about the human factors.

I tend to think in terms of "natural cycles" where Good Ways of doing things are discovered or re-discovered both technically and in teaching technique.

It it starts with some sort of pinnacle in understanding that is reached by individuals and within organizations. It's a point of greatness. That point of time in an individuals understanding or in an organization is also accompanied by a kind of ostentatious confidence that gets justified in practical ways. The stuff works. Theory and practical together.

This happens when some unique individual appears and expresses things in such a way that it inspires and the teaching approach is copied or followed and a system is born.

But the uniqueness of the individual as well as the time and place (era) is a factor. It sure seems to me that all things, including organizations, rise and fall with time.

The cool thing is: important understandings seem to be discovered and re-discovered all the time within groups and in the world at large and also within your own life. Even if people forget that they ever existed. Remembering things...getting hints, makes that easier of course but...

I guess what I am getting at is that there really is an ebb and flow, yin and yang to "the way things work" including understanding, technical approaches and teaching methods.

Take the example of fighting in a brawling natural style that considerphlebas brought up. Sometimes people figure things out in that milieu and its because of the "battlefield experience" that understanding is born. There are certainly consequences to beating yourself up too much and I daresay that many people stop at the brutal brawling level of understanding and don't notice anything useful to pass on.

So Knowledge can be hard won or you can really waste your time and your life getting the pulp beat out of you.

But the same failure to understand can happen if you go all theoretical as well. In teaching you can create really clever ways to explain things and as long as your heart is in what you are saying and your still inspired yourself then the structure blends with the flow and this is really cool. Or you can lose it and become stale and your students will not completely understand and when they are teachers they will teach funny stuff. They also stop and there may be little knowledge in what they pass on.

That sort of thing gets remedied by getting out there and aggressively testing things.

There is some kind of dynamic between playing off structure and flow, real versus theoretical and other dynamic opposites. The playing off of one against the other is insubstantial but nevertheless the most important and long lasting part of practice. It's the counterpoint that matters.

Things change for each individual as they get older as well. We are only here for a little while. Perspectives change, we learn more but also forget things...we aren't perfect and no one can sustain perfect understanding even assuming that they ever had it and eventually whether we like it or not we pass the torch of whatever we knew to someone who bothered to listen. So we only have to worry about it while we are here :)

It's all good isn't it? Some stuff is passed on, associations change, people walk away and start new things all the time. And important stuff seems to be sustained, passed on and recorded not for everyone but for some...and occasionally new pinnacles form.

I mean...if flow is a cool way to learn and to develop technically then why isn't the concept of flow valid at the next larger scale? The scale of the transmission of ideas and understandings. Isn't flow of crossed swords a metaphor for the flow of understanding? We make errors and learn from them in flow practice and the same thing happens at larger scales.

Scott said...

More language than script. But a totally memorized script in a language you don't understand can be pretty useful. At some point. If it's a good script. So sing. Chant. Throw things at your students, force them to speak the language badly. In water. In mud. In the dark.

Maija said...

Thank you for all the great replies.
@considerphlebas - I think the 'dead ends' concept is very important, thanks for putting that into words.
And Mike - yes, counterpoint and relationship. There's something about flow, time, individuals and timING that seems to warrant more thinking ...
I feel there are 'meta patterns' at work that I just can't see yet ... just a feeling ... :-)

Mac said...

The trick is to "connect the systems" (from Kelly Worden, Natural Spirit) meaning, I think, connect the survival (brawling), emotional (group interactions) and rational (observational and evaluative) elements of training. My approach is to start with (padded) stick sparring (first hit, point-scored) and see where folks is at, then add choreographed duets (such as sinawali) and then solo drills done repetitively to develop base skills (footwork and the like), patience and conditioning.