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Martial Arts

 

Learning How to Learn

By Master C. Terrigno - 6th Dan
Editor, Tang Soo Do World

 

There's a saying that goes, "there are no bad students - only bad teachers." That may be true, but to make it more complete, I would add the other saying, "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear." By that I mean that learning is a two-way affair and students must take responsibility for their training and be actively engaged in the process. This applies not only to the practice of martial arts, but to everything we experience. So, the first step in self-improvement is to readjust our thinking on how we learn.

Confucious said: "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."

Listen

Every day we are bombarded with thousands of pieces of information. To protect against information overload our brains weed out what is unimportant. It's called filtering or selective memory, and we weren't born with it - we evolved to it. Filtered information is discarded almost immediately after it is heard. Unfortunately, we've become so good at it that often, even the good information gets filtered out. Being introduced to someone and then forgetting their name a few moments later is a perfect example. To improve our listening skills we need to be aware of the filtering process and make mental notes of what to keep.

During a class or seminar an instructor will talk about many things and offer suggestions and critiques. Some may be directed to certain individuals, but to guard against over-correcting one person, most will be made to the group as a whole. Since people tend to listen more closely to what is directed to them personally, they may pay only slight attention to the rest. Consequently, they miss information that may have been specifically meant for them all along.

Observe

As with listening, we also filter out information visually. When watching the demonstration of a technique, it is useful to focus your attention on the individual parts, not just the whole scene. In other words, "see" the details of each movement. Was the foot turned? How high was the knee? Where were the hands in relation to the body?, etc. Seeing in this way helps develop a mental image library that can later be accessed as a reference for that specific technique and others as well. As a result,  reconstructing the big picture is much easier once you know what the parts look like.

Furthermore, try to understand the principle of a technique first. For example, in self-defense, moving in small circles increases the speed and effectiveness of certain joint locks and throws. In kicking, thrusting or rotating the hip adds power. Armed with that information, bridge the gap between theory and practice by seeing it in action when demonstrated or in your mind when practiced.

Feel

Everyone knows when something feels right and when it doesn't. A technique poorly done may throw you off balance or actually hurt. Although you may not realize that your head was too far forward or your feet too close together, if pointed out by your instructor, then try to "feel" where your head or feet are the next time you're off balance or in pain. Similarly, when you nail a technique perfectly, feel where the body parts were and try to duplicate it each time. This is constructive muscle memory. I say "constructive" because with enough mindless repetition, you can easily create incorrect muscle memory.

Don't take it personally

We all want to feel like we're "getting it" or we know what we're doing. When we're corrected often for the same technique it usually means that we have not yet understood it or internalized it. Rather than taking it personally and feeling like you're being "picked on" or signaled out, take it as a compliment that your instructor cares enough about you to offer a constant reminder. When we think we know more than we do, learning stops dead in its tracks.

We are all Students and we are all Teachers

As instructors, we should remember that we also learn from our students. Our students tell us many things about themselves and what they need from us in their training. They do this in a variety of ways, not just with words. To become better teachers we need to employ all of the same concepts above in our relationship with them.

 

 

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