Tuesday, September 27, 2016

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Becoming a learning machine ...

This is one of the earliest lessons I took on board, on the way to becoming a learning machine …

I remember with perfect clarity, the day I came to this realisation. I had just watched my instructor execute a technique (over and over) in sparring, against a multiple time world champion, and so I asked him if he could show me what he had done. He proceeded to teach me the technique, in simple terms - e.g.: do this, do that, then this happens. 

Now … I had seen the technique many times before, and understood clearly what he was saying, but I also realised there had to be much more to it than what I was hearing … for after all, he was making it work (again and again) against a very high level/elite athlete.

I pushed for the details - but no new info was forthcoming - and not because my instructor didn’t want me to understand , he did - in fact, he seemed somewhat frustrated by my confusion.

It was then I realised that I was asking for details on ‘nuance’ that went above and beyond the normal level of instruction. I was looking for those small details that had perhaps crept into my instructors own practise over many, many years.

I asked him if he would demo the technique again - he happily complied by asking another high level athlete to spar, and again he performed the technique (multiple times). This time though, instead of just listening to what he was saying, I watched what he was doing … and was amazed at how much more I ‘saw’ in taking this approach.

As if I were a deaf person, I analysed every physical movement he was doing, by looking at what he was doing from every possible angle. I saw several things that had never been pointed put to me … and it became evident to me these things were what made the real difference.

And from that day forward, I have noticed this to be the case:

... almost always, most teachers, revert back to simple heuristics (rule of thumb) when teaching moves (or things) they know well. And even if they have (consciously or unconsciously) evolved/developed that move well beyond it’s first basic form - they still tend to describe it as if they were describing it in it’s original form.

I have written about this before - and can go into considerable depth talking about the use of words (optimal order/intonation, etc) but suffice it to say - using a simple heuristic of my own … I find it better (on most occasions) to look at what people are doing and analyse it for myself, rather than to rely on what they are saying to come to an understanding of what is going on.

Also, this is something I found I I could control myself - I could (and did), over time, dramatically improve my ability to see and analyse. Ultimately, I was beginning to take some responsibility for my own learning.

I urge others to do the same. Learn and train yourself (after you have the general idea of how a technique works) to look for nuance - look for those almost invisible things that make all the difference.

This is one of the things we all need to become good at if we are to become better learning machines.

- JBW

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