vocabulary and determining the meanings of words

We had a lovely aikido class this morning, and an issue that has been kicking around in my head for quite some time crystalized at one point in our discussions of one of the techniques on which we were working.

For quite a long time now, I’ve pondered the issue of how an experienced person should teach something to a beginner.  This relates closely to issues around teaching, but that’s another thread and I want to speculate on one specific aspect of this.

Let me start by saying that I do believe that it’s possible for an experienced practitioner can teach a beginner.  But what I am coming to see, and what crystalized for me this morning, is the importance of developing vocabulary.

As we spent time learning something, as we spend time journeying from beginner to experienced practitioner, we develop a vocabulary in common with those with whom we’re undertaking that journey.

This has long been clear to me as a mathematician, if only because as mathematicians we have developed a structure in which to discuss mathematics.  We set our axioms and our definitions.  From these axioms and definitions, we prove lemmas and propositions and theorems.  We build grand edifices, elaborate structures of logic.

But it is hard for the novice to explore these elaborate structures on their own.  It is hard for the beginner to understand the subtleties being explored because of the sheer elaborateness of the structure within which we’re working.

The same occurred to me this morning, during our aikido class.  We are working to understand how we are built underneath our own skins, muscles and tendons, bones and ligaments.  And we are working to use this understanding to improve our aikido, how we move and how we move our uke through our own movement.

Again, we use words and phrases to try and describe what we are doing: relax the shoulders is one of the most common, and it is only now that I am beginning to understand what we mean by it.  I am also sure that my understanding, while greater than a beginner’s understand, is as a beginner’s understanding to those who are my seniors.

And that fact, that I will always have so much to learn, that there will always be vistas to explore beyond those I’ve already explored, is a large part of why I find these undertakings fascinating.

~ by Jim Anderson on 7 February 2016.

2 Responses to “vocabulary and determining the meanings of words”

  1. Mmm. I knew I wasn’t cut out for a particular mindfulness course when our initial exercise started out “…and now relax your toes…” and I thought “how do I do that? How will I know when I’ve done that?” Words are so useful, and so tricksy. One good flute teaching tip I picked up was to avoid the negative; rather than “don’t lock your knees” (which immediately puts the idea of locked knees into the student’s mind) I try to say things like “let your knees be springy, a little bit bouncy” (for basic standing flute playing, if the knees are good, the pelvic girdle is good, and if the pelvic girdle is good, the airway is good, and if the airway is good, the shoulders are probably doing fine…)

  2. […] those 25 years of regular practice. This is something I wrote about so long time ago (see here and here), and I’m aware that I need to go back and look through those old posts again. (Indeed, one […]

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