Sunday 1 July 2007

Learning is not Perfecting


The countless times I have seen students equate learning something as `mastery’, is rather perplexing to me. It goes without saying that once something is learned, for example, a pianist knows how to play Beethoven’s `OP.13 Sonate Patheteque’ from beginning to end, this is actually where the real practice (real learning)begins. They don’t say ``I know it now, so I don’t need to practise it so much any more’’. Likewise they don’t play the piece in a sloppy manner, once they know it in full. They maintain and try to further refine their skills. They can never practise in a lazy manner; otherwise, their overall piano performance skill level will suffer. Slack technique or `short-cuts’ never work, and ultimately lead to the technical demise of the individual who takes them.

Technique is pointless unless it is truly perfected in karate. Perfection of technique is firstly the perfection of form, and secondly the perfection of function (or applicability). These two points are inseparable, that is, form is dictated by function, and `optimum’ function is dictated by the `perfection of form’. Understanding these two points is essential, because they are nucleus of the Shotokan, as handed down from the Japan Karate Association (the base of Asai's Sensei's karate). Learning motions is not enough, skills must be autonomous.

Once these two principles have been addressed, then we must groove our perfected techniques into our subconscious mind, also into our ‘muscle memory’. This can only be achieved via many thousands of disciplined repetitions (and continues throughout our karate life regardless of rank, age and even physical disabilities). Fortunately in karate, this discipline is far less mundane than most other physical activities, such as competitive swimming, where the athlete just repeats lap after lap in the pool, doing exactly the same limited body actions, over and over again. Knowing how to do a technique well is useless, without being able to use it effectively, and more importantly, instinctively. If you have to think, you are too late. This is the prime reason why in Shotokan, we opt for quality, as opposed to quantity of techniques. The Shotokan syllabus is defined by its simplicity and depth.

When practising, it cannot be overemphasized that when doing repetition training, technical form must be exact. Otherwise, the training is counterproductive, resulting in less efficiency, and in some cases, long-term injuries. This is why one must always train underneath an internationally qualified and licensed instructor. This is something I will address in a future article.

Obviously karate is not only a method of fighting, but also an `art’, in saying that, unless ones technique is effective, for goshin-jutsu (self-defence), its artistic beauty is lost. Likewise, if one can merely fight ferociously, but has no technical form, they cannot be considered as a true karateka. Next time when repeating a technique, basic drill, or basic kata in class, remember that it is `basic’, but `basic’ certainly does not imply `easy’. Nor does `basic’ imply ‘low-level karate’. Kihon (basic) training is the `base’ or `foundation’ of everything, and therefore is also the most advanced training method. Only by tens of thousands of repetitions of a `correct technique’ or kata can we truly know it, and use it automatically when under pressure.

Always remember that learning a skill, never equates to perfection. If it did then musicians, athletes, and other artists wouldn’t practice so strictly. Also keep in mind that the by-products (bonuses) of physical repetition are increased endurance, muscle strengthening and toning, and mental discipline, among other things.

''Never use the excuse that 'perfect karate' is unattainable. This can only lead to excuses to not self-practice, or worse still, practice lamely. Perfection is ongoing and self-challenging. Those who teach karate must train the hardest, harder than their students, otherwise they shouldn't teach. Todays karate must be better than yesterdays karate.'' - Tetsuhiko Asai Sensei

© André Bertel, Japan 2007

No comments: