Physical Training Oct 2009
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Learning Styles, Paradigms, and Digging Deeper

copyright 2009 Chris Gilham, all rights reserved

Peter Boylan wrote on iaido-l recently: On of the things I've noticed is how little independent practice goes on in North America. Maybe it's just the dojos I have been part of in Japan, but we usually don't have everyone doing the same things at the same time.  Most iai practice time is spent working on your own, and the teachers come by and make corrections as the see fit.  Everyone in the dojo may be doing something different.  Until the end of course, when we all do Mae together a few times. 

It strikes me that our practice style here may well be a reflection of how things are taught at large seminars, rather than how they have been, and are, practiced at established dojo in Japan.

        From Kim Taylor's blog. ( Sept 8, 2009 entry)
Peter has once again identified a set of phenomena discussed before. Kim has responded.

This is, and should be, an ongoing discussion. Why? Because, I believe, the discussion revolves around dominant discourses, or discursive formations (Foucault), or paradigms (Kuhn), if you will, of societies. Paradigms change, we exist within them and in many ways, it is argued that the paradigms define our everyday world(s) and who we are (self). It is often the case that current dominant discourses are not thought about. Much is taken for granted, the flat, the way it is, the lostness of what it is to be human. Critical thought on why things are the way they are is not easy - it requires intentionality - the breaking of deeply instilled habits to simply be in the world as the rest of us are being in the world. The identification of different teaching styles is the first step in the path to genuine understanding. One must break into the solidified paradigms to see what highly complex and fascinating components have come together to make them the stuff of our everyday.

The important question therefore is, why are things the way they are? In this particular context, why is it that teaching styles seem to differ? Kim Taylor sensei has pointed out a couple of potential reasons for the phenomenon. I suspect that if one took the time to dig deeply, one would find more complex historical origins for different teaching styles. The purpose of this paper is not to dig deeply into the phenomenon. To do so would probably be the foundation for graduate work or an interesting book. I would like to briefly explain a possible starting place, one of many, from which the researcher's spade could start however. The spade will only touch upon the western teaching style.
It is more likely the case that western martial arts teaching is more whole class because this is the typical and traditional mode of teaching we have experienced in schools. Schools have traditionally taken this course because the school is one of the disciplines, like medicine and prisons for example, which it has been argued, have a similar complex origin. Bentham's Panopticon was the essential technological mode of surveillance (though never actually built) with the purpose of keeping people under control, observed, watched over. Society shifted from the sovereign reign to that of the disciplines, where, Foucault argued, people became controlled with an order to keep society in check - a form of powerful inclusion that did not require public demonstrations of torture and death to maintain civil order on a large scale. The disciplines became the experts, through which people, families, children, were advised as to what was best from health to hygiene, to conduct and manners. The great machinery of the disciplines became the technology of power and knowledge through which people could not  only be observed, but trained. 

The training of the societal body was for utility - especially economics. Members of society could become useful producers, in short.
I have just poorly summed up Foucault's Discipline and Punish in a few sentences. For now it should suffice to bring us to the early twentieth century when economic production began in full swing with the assembly line.
A Taylor, not related to Unka Kim, created Taylorism, a movement efficiency system used to eliminate excess movement and time wastage on production lines. 
Frederick Winslow Taylor was apparently hired by American school officials to help schools become the places for the miniature production line, as it were. At the time this was needed. Unfortunately, school bells and schedules still ring with precision, in an effort to keep us all well trained in the producer consumer machinery. We may not sit in tidy rows but many educators still 'tell' knowledge, rather than help students to think about how to do knowledge. 
So it is, I argue briefly, in one small aspect of a fantastically complex thread of processes, that we teach the way we were taught - as empty vessels in mass, sitting in our rows, silent, waiting to be filled up with knowledge. It's what most of us were brought up on and so it's what we know, thus what we do. There's more to this but I want to move onto another complex area related in many ways and current with recent articles, mainly by Kim Taylor sensei.
The second long and ongoing debate has been around the statement some hold that one cannot learn the martial arts from books. I think the responses Kim has given, including his new experiment, answer one interpretation of what the question asks - the most easily answerable. Of course one can learn martial arts from books, or videos. Especially if by learn we mean, the fairly accurate repetition of a series of movements. Kim's approach to martial arts learning is indeed very ahead of its time and represents what is now being coined in educational circles as 21st century learning. Students today learn from multiple modes, in multiple ways, most of them personalized because they have the technology to do this and the convenience as well. Long gone are the days of sitting in a classroom and learning all that needs to be learned from the sermon up on high - from the teacher. Kim is ahead of the curve and I would argue that from his position, he's been leading western martial artists along the path of personalized and paradigmatically new learning approaches. This stuff is coming to the discipline of education, without doubt! These kinds of shifts take time for many reasons, and though we might seem to be there in many ways, the arguments from the entrenched in the older yet still current paradigm are proof enough that we haven't shifted yet.
Now, it's important for us to consider whether or not the statement "One cannot learn martial arts from books or videos" entails more (or different) than the sense of learning I have described above. I think I would say that there are critical aspects of the traditions of Japanese martial arts that cannot be learned from a book or video because by their very nature, the critical aspects of the learning must take place within the trust and respect of genuine and healthy human relationships. I may be learning Jodo from Kim's videos, his email replies to our queries, and his once a year visits, however, this is not the same as what it is to learn jodo from a sensei one spends time with consistently and over a long duration. I do not think this position surprises anyone, however, it is important to consider and remember because our typical responses to the statement of learning from books and videos captures only one aspect or position on what one is learning and what it is to learn. The interpretations of what one means when they say this statement needs to be fleshed out if we want to make some understanding come to light in this debate. There is always so much more said than what is actually said in the words and this is an event between people - a dialogue. Someday I would love to do this fleshing out more fully. For now, I will end this with reference to Nietzsche: "One times one. One is always in the wrong but with two, truth begins."

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