Thursday, May 11, 2017

Cross domain teaching of understanding

As practitioners of martial arts, or combative disciplines if you prefer to call it that way, we strive to achieve the best possible command of the technical tools we use in such endeavors. Saying the full mastery of techniques could be somewhat presumptuous, but that would be the goal to aim for. But, how do we know when our technical understanding is on a satisfactory level? Don’t’ you love it when answers come from unexpected places?

I guess we all seek to find the right criteria and diagnostic approaches to find an answer to that question, especially so if we’re instructors and wish to monitor the progress among our trainees. Well, after years of building some resemblance of a coherent set of criteria, I got an excellent, almost ready-made measurement “filter” from my music teacher Anthony Wellington. Ant is a superb instructor with solid curriculum and great pedagogy when working with his students. So, he told me that a person learning some piece of music needs to have four dimensions of understanding in place, in order to attain the full command of what they’re working on: intellectual, visual, aural and tactile. 
From this...
What he said immediately struck a chord with me, as it only took a slight modification to apply the same reasoning to one’s training in any kind of fight training. this!
Since the aural grasp is not so much pertinent for our purposes here, the domains we need to get a grip of are the following:
-          Intellectual;
-          Visual;
-          Tactile-outgoing;
-          Tactile-incoming.

Intellectual understanding, basically, means the ability to explain (verbally) what is required of a practitioner who is performing an action. The less you need to resort to the physical demonstration, the better. Also, it entails being able to explain why the thing are done the way they are done.

Visual understanding, as you probably presume, means being capable of understanding what is going on when you see a technical maneuver in action. For example, if you’re watching a boxing or grappling match and have no “what has just happened?” moments. The lack in this domain is typically why the grand majority of lay persons find BJJ or other grappling types of fights confusing and boring.

Tactile-outgoing sphere is developing the feel for the right technique. When it is accomplished, you don’t even need anybody to watch and comment your performance, or analyzing the video footage, to tell you that some details of your technique are flawed, or what needs to be worked on. Also, such tactile awareness helps you adapt to the actions of your opponent/training partner. However, even if well developed, this field of tactile insight is still just one side of the coin, hence the need for…

Tactile-incoming perception, which is how I call the ability to figure out what is going on and how it is done, while you are on the receiving end of a maneuver. This is especially important for some of the more intricate holds and tactics, especially in clinching, grappling and similar situations. I love being the demo dummy (or uke for the more traditionally oriented people out there) during seminars and regular training sessions[1], for this exact reason.

Four-pronged approach to understanding
Naturally, the best learning situations are those in which a few or all of those aspects are accessible. Let’s take the example of a seminar. Ideally, the instructor conducting the session would be highly eloquent (but not a logorrhea-suffering type) and well-articulated with his explanations, as well as able to answer the questions accurately and succinctly. Also, his demonstration of whatever technical actions would be clear and well executed, while the participants would have a good an unobstructed view of the action, maybe even from more than one angle. Next, the said participants would then have ample time and opportunity to practice executing the techniques on more than one partner, but also to feel those techniques being applied on them.

Over time, the four domains of understand start melting together, thus enabling a more holistic understanding. I mentioned before my inclination to serve as the dummy for technical demonstrations. At this stage I have developed enough kinesthetic and proprioceptive perception to make it possible for me to see the action being done with my “inner eye”, while having it executed on me. On the other hand, seeing it done with someone else (or maybe on video) often elicits certain physical sensations in the parts of the body that would be affected by the hold in question. Sometimes the same goes while hearing a good explanation from a good instructor. You get the picture….

Hopefully, this article will help other practitioners and instructors in doing more efficient analysis of their training and spend less time trying to figure out what is going on and how to proceed with it. Have in mind that developing this level of understanding takes time and the process needs to be engaged again many times, when encountering new and unfamiliar type of moves and techniques.

[1] Of course, if the instructor at hand is not of a sadistic predisposition and/or prone to inflicting injuries and hurting people just to stroke his ego or prove something.