Thursday, June 20, 2013

I Say Potato .....

I admit it, I talk too much. The pictures and concepts I see in my head want a way out. They want describing, refining, sharing and altering, and words seem to be one of the most accessible ways to do this with others ..... But really, how useful are they when teaching a physical skill set?

Language can explain and inspire, yet it can also confuse and misdirect, it is a true double edged sword - our savior and our downfall

Precision can be hard to convey, especially when personal experience differs to the extent that words mean different things to the speaker and the listener .... and this is assuming that the speaker is explaining clearly, and that the listener is even listening!

Say the word 'threat' for instance, and some will not even have a concept of what that might be, let alone have a reference for what a threat from a sword might feel like past some abstract notion.

Some will feel a threat from merely holding a sword in their own hands, some will feel uncomfortable in the same room as a sword, others only accept something as threat when it is within striking range and they have made a defensive error.
Yet others will not acknowledge threat unless the steel is sharp, and even have an issue with accepting trainers as threatening substitutes.

Also, words have different meanings, and sometimes more than one meaning will make sense in a  context, and both parties will think they understand what the other means when really they are talking about different things.

Flow is one of these words. Many think of it as meaning moving smoothly and without stopping - (be water my friend ;-) ), or perhaps a choreographed set piece between 2 people that seamlessly chains a series of counters together.

When I say 'Hey, let's flow', what I mean is 'Let's do some Random Flow Training', a method that is more akin to a conversation, that has nothing preset about it, yet is not sparring. My definition of 'Flow' comes from the ideas of Sonny Umpad and it has a very specific meaning - It is about expression, and about learning to 'see', and though there is continuous movement, it is a learned skill that is much more than the word implies

But wait a minute ...What does 'seeing' mean?

Hmmm ... 'Seeing' - an 'experience of understanding', a real time view of the geometry and the interplay between players, of time and space and possibility .....

Getting into dodgier ground now .... and we haven't even gotten into describing movement, sensations, or the qualities of things.

Like Sonny's descriptor - 'Repelling' - The feeling of two magnets when you try to put two, like, poles together. He used this to describe what it was like to expect contact, but to slip around at the last moment ......

Helpful, or no? I can say that once I felt it, it actually describes the sensation quite accurately when the timing is perfect ... but this is naming something after the fact. Knowing the word did not help me get the feeling, just recognize it afterwards. (As an aside - some people misunderstood his accent and thought he was saying 'rappelling' ... and who knows how they rationalized that with what he was doing .... )

Concepts can also be hard. If I told you - "You have to learn to sell the truth before you can sell a lie", you would probably agree .... but what would that be in terms of sword play? Would knowing this help find the physical manifestation of the idea?

I suspect that words, and thus descriptions and meaning exist to be found after the physical experience, and cannot be used necessarily to create understanding before they are felt. Physical, or movement learning, seems centered in a different place in the body than where words are deciphered.

What words might be useful for, are as motivational stories to lead the student on their path. Also to refine concepts, tweak movement and expand the imagination. Though one has to be careful ...too far into fiction and stories, and the human tendency to rationalize things to fit preconceptions can lead many astray ...

But what's the alternative? No words ..... ? That seems highly inefficient. I think we are far too conversant a species to get away from words, so perhaps then it becomes a game, a long con if you like, using words to sustain the practice, until the student has put in the time to find them to be true.

There is nothing like actual experience, and having experience match the description, especially when the experience comes from the student, and it matches the words of the teacher, is the best way to know that what you do is what you say, and that what you say is real .... well ... real-ish .....


The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Language is tricky as you say the same word can mean different things to different people or the same thing but in different contexts. A word or the words are what sue to try to describe a context etc. is a short hand, the problem is that to ruely understand the short hand you have to have seen the picture or felt and understood it to get it.
It's why students will eventually turn around and say something like... "You know.... I should do such and such" with a slight sound of accusation in their voice. Of course what they are telling you is something that you have told them time and again since their first lesson. The difference now though is that they have finally gotten it, it has clicked inside them and the concept has been revealed. The first thing they then need to do is tell someone about it. In this case it's the teacher who has been telling them all along.
I have also noted with people how have physical skills but who are new to teaching, that they use too many words when they start teaching and try to explain too many things at once. They have had their aha! moments and are keen to pass their revelations on, and think that if only someone could have revealed all this stuff to them they would have gotten it much quicker. They have not yet realising or remembering how long it took them to get there. They haven’t understood that it’s about saying the right things at the right time, speaking at the right time and doing things at the right time.

Jake said...

Back in my Aikido days, there was a bit of lore (I have no idea if it was true or not) that Ueshiba had taught classes without speaking.

Occasionally, we'd have a class where the teacher didn't talk--he'd just get up, demo a technique a few times, and then gesture and ask us to practice. Sometimes it worked. Often, it just resulted in a bunch of students who couldn't figure out whether the teacher had moved left or right, or where he was manipulating uke's arm...

I'm a very word-oriented person, so hearing words helps me. (I attribute this to a combination of a love of reading and lousy eye-sight.) Showing me a move doesn't help much. Explaining the goal, or the feeling, sometimes does. Doing it helps too, but sometimes, especially with a really new skill, I can get lost without the words.

There's a fine balance somewhere...I don't know where it is, exactly, but its' there.

Maija said...

Yeah - I'm with you guys - Not really thinking that teaching in silence is desirable or efficient ... but as you say, EHCG, it's all about saying the right thing at the right time .. which is why I think Sonny used to video his training sessions - he could look back and see what actually worked to move a student up a level.

Jake said...

That is a really interesting idea. Videoing sessions make sense, but it never occurred to me to look at them to see what verbal teaching cues were working. Cool stuff.