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 .....