Thursday, May 5, 2011

Revisiting the Iceberg

I know a guy–probably most of the folks who drop round here know him, or somebody like him–who has been swimming in the Sea of Violence so long he doesn't have to hold his breath when he dives under the water, because he has developed gills. 

He's not like most of us. He doesn't think like most of us.

People in martial arts, who train long enough, and especially those who use their training, eventually can get to a place that is usually referred to as "beyond technique." That's not literally so, but it can be to a level of functionality that is like zanshin or zen or some altered state wherein they Just Do It. They move with optimum efficiency, they are focused (and not focused, if you understand what I'm driving at here), into that realm where it all starts to look alike. They don't choose one from column A and two from column B, they don't have to think, the tools are part of them. This is mastery of motion, and not limited to the physical actions once things commence, but an awareness that permeates most everything they do, most of the time.

How great that must be. 

These folks are going to be outstanding players, with abilities that will seem almost magic to somebody watching them. Not somebody with whom you want to fuck around.

There are all sorts of old sayings about who can do and who can teach, but the two don't always go together. Because you can do it doesn't mean you can easily pass it along; and you can teach a thing without being able to do it yourself–look at any world-class gymnastics coach if you don't believe that. Doing and teaching are related, but not the same skills.

The ideal is somebody who can do and who can teach, and those folks are rare jewels. 

Brings us to the iceberg. I've used the story for years, talked about it, put it in books, and here, but a recap for those who came late to the party:

In a children's aikido class I watched many years back, the teacher, who was second or third dan, spoke to the students, using an iceberg as a metaphor. About how what you saw above the water was only ten percent of what was there, and how ki was like the ice below the surface, and how one could access that hidden part, and why. It was a great metaphor, he delivered it well, and from where I sat, it was a terrific teaching tool. 

Then a little boy who looked to be about five raised his hand. 


"What's an iceberg?"

Sometimes in martial arts–or in anything, really–the teachers are so far along that they lose track of the fact that newbies might not know what an iceberg is. That a reasoned, well-delivered lecture on a five-strike combination ending in a takedown will blow right past somebody who doesn't know how to make a fist. 

That Just Do It is a waste of time when you are speaking to folks with no knowledge about how to Just Do it. 

You can't run a track race in the Olympics until you learn how to walk. 

Which is why you use baby steps. Why you check the level of the students to see what they know, then build on that. That before you can transcend the rote, the drills, and the pre-set one- and two-step dances, you have to go through them. 

People who think you can skip over all that and get right to zanshin? I don't believe it.

I don't think they believe it, either. They just forgot what it's like to not-know.

(This is part of my on-going argument about why a world-class teacher better spends his time with students who are advanced enough to not need as many baby steps. It's not that the teacher can't teach beginners, it's that anybody who knows the basics can do that; but who is able to teach the advanced class?)

As a writer, I often break the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Sometimes on purpose. I do it for an effect, and because I know what the rules are, but choose to ignore them for my own purpose. I'm not trying to score a good grade in Mrs. Cowsar's English IV class, I'm trying to communicate with a reader, and if I want to use ellipses when I'm supposed to use dashes, if it serves my purpose, then I'm going to do it, and when the copy editor gets all excited and changes it, I'm going write "stet" in the margin and put it back the way I had it. 

Who you want covering your back in a dust-up is a master. But he or she might not be the person you want training you, unless they have that skill, as well. 

Find somebody who can do both? Buy a ticket and win the lottery. 

1 comment:

  1. I remember a few years trying to schedule Guru Dan Inosanto to come to the school I was teaching at to do a Silat seminar.
    I was told by his school director that he couldn't teach a particular art; he could no longer separate the individual arts in his head.
    I was stunned. I had no idea that there was such a place to reach.