Saturday, June 1, 2013

Sculpture and Karate

Sculpture and Karate teaching both are about creation. When you make a statue, you actually create its form out of matter; when you teach karate, you create a form in a student's mind.

Let us say you have 2 different materials : Clay, and Steel bits and pieces, and you want to create the statue of a standing man.

The Clay Statue : you first take a big chunk of clay and shape it to the general shape of a guy - about as tall and wide as you envision it. Then, little by little, you adjust. You start shaping its torso, head and limbs. Once your piece looks like a crude humanoid silhouette, you get into more details : arms, shoulders, wrists, ankles... Later you get to even minuter details : eyes, nose, fingers, ears and toes, etc... From the beginning, you actually shape the statue by mostly removing unwanted material. This is a global and synthetic way to proceed.

The Steel statue : If you work with steel parts, you are going to cut, bend and weld them. So chances are that you will first create perfect feet and perfect calves, then weld the calves onto the feet. After that you might create perfect legs, and weld them on top of the calves, etc, etc, until you weld the perfect hat on top of the perfect head. This is a very detail oriented and analytical way to work.

Both ways have their plus and minus.

With the clay, you have from the beginning a certain idea of where you are going and you maintain it. There is a certain continuity of goal in your work, but it is going to take a long time before the whole thing looks good : for quite a while your statue might be seen as a gorilla as much as a man.

With steel, there will not be any clear indication of what you are actually building until enough things are put together, but from the very beginning, each individual little parts you build will look good - and you may get quicker a satisfying sense of achievement. The difficulty may come if the individual parts you have built do not perfectly fit one with the other.

Please note one important part : You need to adapt the way you work to the material. You could in theory shape perfect bits and pieces out of clay and glue them together, but you hardly could weld a great amount of steel pieces together and remove parts of them to shape a human form.

Back to Karate.

Different students learn differently. Some love to learn details before they learn the big picture - that is the way to proceed with steel. Some students do better learning the big picture before getting into details - that's the synthetic way better suited to clay.

Instructors too have their preferences.

An analytical type of instructor will spend a great amount of time teaching each individual move in great details, so that the student has to learn the first move of a fighting combination and be able to execute it perfectly before he is allowed to learn the second move.

A synthetic type of instructor will first teach a whole kata without worrying too much about the counts. Only once the student can demonstrate something that sorts of looks like the kata does the instructor begin to clean up each move.

Plus and minus of each way.

The synthetic method may be easier to memorize for Western students. It is more like a dance or a gymnastic routine - it is possible to tune it up so that the final execution of the kata "looks" better faster, which may give the student satisfaction and make him want to progress further.

The analytical method is probably harder for more students - it requires more patience. In the case of learning a whole kata, it will take a much longer time than the global way, and the result may not always look better than the kata learned the synthetic way.

On a strictly actual fighting and self defense standpoint, it is likely that the analytical method will give better results (providing the instructor knows what he is doing). The accurate performance of a few individual move is more important than the ability to demonstrate a beautiful looking kata including a number of moves which the student does not understand.

Why bother with Kata ?

Kata are a tool to help student memorize self defense moves by putting them together within a routine. The past masters took the pain to create and transmit them. They used both synthetic and analytical ways.

We should teach as they did. We should make sure we transmit kata as they were taught to us - synthesis - and make sure each individual move makes sense in an actual fighting context - analysis.

Also lets keep in mind the sculpture analogy : some students nature are clay, some are steel.

Some pure steel type of people are absolutely not able to learn kata - which does not mean they cannot do good karate and be excellent fighters. It would be a mistake to try bother them too much with kata.

Some older or younger people cannot do proper basic moves but can perform beautiful and elegant kata. Their actual self defense ability might be close to zero. However, if they stick around long enough, they will get better and one day be able to actually realize what they are doing, from that day on, you should be able to teach them actual applications of the kata.

Instructors should be able to tune up their teaching to each type of student. No matter what your personal teaching preference is, in order to really transmit karate, you should be able to teach both ways.

And THIS...
is valid for all teachings.

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