Monday, June 02, 2014

Parts and Wholes

Planning the section on defense for "InFighting." And there's a snag. Not a big one, probably easily solved, but it is part of the schism between learning and doing. Or talking and doing. Or, obviously, writing and doing.

Infighting is close work. And fast. You have to do most of it by touch. And defense becomes about controlling space and structure, not intercepting attacks. You need drills to get this down, just like anything else. But the drill isn't the thing.

In order to teach or communicate, you have to break things down. Defense and offense. Foot and hand motion. For infighting: locks; takedowns; structure manipulations; spine manipulations; hand, foot, elbow, knee, head, forearm,shin, shoulder and hip strikes; crashing; gouging...maybe biting. Plus the general stuff of orientation and controlling pockets of space.

But no matter how good you are at defense, something will get in eventually. So in addition to protecting yourself, you must finish the threat. And for infighting especially, this is simultaneous, not a sequence. (Really struggling with how to write about the perception of time to fighters, BTW). Not protect and attack. Not even simultaneous block and strike. Your attacks are your defenses, your defenses are attacks. Not in the sense that you can hit someone upside the head with something you usually call a block. In the sense that the elbow driving into the left side of his neck prevents him from lifting his right foot for a knee strike.

So you have to learn defense and you have to practice defense and it seems easiest to do so in isolation. My dad made me practice shifting gears with the engine off before we tried any driving. That's the way we teach, the way we communicate. Because time is linear, maybe, or we can only use one word at a time. But none of this stuff is used in isolation, at least, not if you're any good.

But the very fact that the defense chapter is separate from the other chapters risks putting it in the student's head as a distinct category. Creating one of the mental boxes that makes most people so inefficient, uncoordinated. Not integrated.

This disconnect must be everywhere. We learn pieces of things and sequences that by their nature are parts of integrated wholes. And there must be a training for the integration. I have that for infighting, not worried... but how many other life skills are learned in pieces? And because it is the normal way to teach, it becomes the normal way to learn. But is it the only way? Or the best?


Ymar Sakar said...

Beginners tend to get lost with information overload. They don't yet have access to the time distortion many acquire during adrenaline cocktails.

So training wheels in the beginning is fine, but eventually they must be tested to see whether they can actually put all the pieces together or not.

Tests are like questions and answers. The right questions and the right answers, will produce results. But if a person doesn't have the right questions, then it doesn't matter if he gets answers as he can't use it yet.

Jake said...

Interesting question. Certainly, breaking things down and then integrating them later is the common way to teach most skills.

The other option is--what? Starting with the whole picture? Sink or swim (that's a terrible method, but it exposes you to everything at once)?

I'm trying to envision the alternative, but I'm having trouble picturing what it would look like. Which may just indicate that I haven't given it enough thought yet (or that I'm too trapped in standard teaching methods to see the way out).

Neil Bednar said...

Perhaps one alternative is found in a completely different field, where it's not even part of the conversation to break things down. I can't name one right now but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Maybe there is an endeavor where you get the "gist" of the thing first, and then you break things down later after you have good skill. I'm sure this must exist somewhere and if it does, then maybe we can use it as a model.

Anonymous said...

Might be worth a timeline graph. This way you can show all the pieces happening at the same time. I see it forking out from the initial response: You, him, mechanics, perceptions, etc... then merging back from all those forks into the final result. In early training, we only focus on a couple of the forks at a time, but eventually, all are covered.

pax said...

Struggling for clarity as I write this, so please forgive any disjointed thoughts. But:

It seems to me that Part-to-Whole isn't the "normal" way to teach, or to learn. Just ... the most common in school.

Going back to our earliest learning experiences, and a teaching experience all parents share. A baby doesn't learn to walk by being shown (errrm, step by step) how to do it. You don't sit down with your infant and say, "Okay, Babyface, here's what you do. See that big toe right there? Yup, the little piggie that went to market. You use that toe for a lot of your balance, so today, let's work on some drills to help you learn how to use that toe..."

Nope. Instead, you play. Encourage. Play some more. Baby learns to walk as a gestalt, not as parts-to-whole.

Sure, later on, after Baby has learned to walk, a PE teacher or the gymnastics or running coach will explain some of the bits and pieces, and how they fit into the whole. But the whole comes first, not later.

Same thing with language -- the first one, the mother tongue. The only one we all learn well. We don't start out by giving newborns careful lessons about the building blocks of grammar, the rudiments of sentence structure. Those things come later.

We start with play. Babble. Noises and giggles. More play. Exposure to the whole of the language (and we censor ourselves, mustn't let the children hear!, only after they begin to understand what we're saying). We don't teach babies to talk by working from parts-to-whole, but through babbling play with the whole of the language.

And the better we do that, the more complete and joyful that exposure is, the better the child learns. Why else would Dr. Seuss hold such a warm spot in the hearts of children, parents, and teachers? Why else would a child whose Daddy read Kipling's Just So Stories to her as a toddler, grow to love language so much as an adult? That early exposure to word play isn't "just" play. It meets a genuine need.

Not sure where I'm going with this. But ... maybe just saying that you're looking at structure within a structured setting, and being dismayed to find it, and wondering how to do without it. But maybe you're looking in the wrong place for models of learning. Maybe look at learning across the whole spectrum of human experience, because maybe learning does not have to be as piecemeal as the school structure makes it seem.

Mike said...

Pax, I think you've got something there.

Ymar Sakar said...

The reverse of pieces to object is deconstruction and reverse engineering.

Now it is not often the case that people are attempting to reverse engineer alien tech they have no fundamental comprehension of. But in the case that it is necessary, it is still possible. It is possible to reverse engineer a more complicated project into something that works in a simpler fashion, without comprehending the fundamental principles.

Jake said...

To my understanding, there is some pretty good research showing the value of play as a learning tool. I've not delved deeply into it, but Rodney King (Crazy Monkey Defense) has written about it to an extent (I think Rory has referenced some of it too).

The idea of looking at children's learning is interesting, but it also makes me a bit...wary?

For one thing, Infants/Children aren't adults. Their bodies and brains are different in some rather significant ways. It's been a long time since I did developmental psych, so I don't have specifics, but there are things that children of certain age just cannot learn. And things (like language) that become more difficult to learn as we age.

My other thought comes from watching my own son, who had a minor delay in both gross motor and speech skills. It is essentially gone at this point, but he spent a year working with a couple of early intervention specialists to "get up to speed" for lack of a better term.

And a lot of what they did was, in fact, drill. It was drill disguised as play, but it was still drill. Never to the level of detail of "use this big toe for balance", but certainly sometimes actually showing him how to move his leg, or his knee. Sometimes as broad as setting up an object that he could only reach by successfully standing (or whatever).

Which, as I write it, seems like a model that could be interesting to work from. Directing toward the goal, without specifying the result. (I.e., Goal: make your partner fall down without falling down yourself.)

Though that starts to drift into a "sink or swim" kind of model, if you're not careful.

Interesting stuff to think about.

Neil Bednar said...

Yep it's play. Nobody is ever shown "how" to play. Of course there are general rules to go by but then it's just DO IT! The technical tactics and strategy by breaking things down comes later. I use play a lot in my martial arts instruction, its invaluable.

Josh Kruschke said...


My thoughts on this.

Offense and Defense are labels for classes of effects or outcomes that we want to accomplish with certain actions. Offense can be thought of as any action that's goal is to cause harm or an effect on ones opponent. Defense can be thought of actions that's goal is to prevent harm or an effect to oneself.

We can call these a primary effect, but all actions also have secondary or more effects, intended or not.

I think the trick… I don't like this word, sounds gimmicky, so I will still and paraphrase "That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen" by Frédéric Bastiat. "It is to not enough to just look at what is easily seen, but to look for what is not easily seen." In other words to look at our actions for the  intended effect and any secondary effects. By asking, what are the consequenses of our actions; negative and positive, intended and unintended?

With the ultimate goal of initiating actions with multiple intended effects.

To also not get hung up on the labels.

Is a flurry 'attack'  offense or deffense if it both cause harm to our opponent and prevents them from harming us?

Is controlling the spine offense or defense?


"The other option is--what? Starting with the whole picture? Sink or swim (that's a terrible method, but it exposes you to everything at once)?"

A possible answer:

Start with the Principles? Then work on how to apply them to achieve effects & multiple effects; with Rory's Drills (Or ones you come up with yourself.), formal and informal insruction, scenarios, sparing or games, and if it is fun and engaging it's all play.


Jake said...

"Start with the Principles? Then work on how to apply them to achieve effects & multiple effects; with Rory's Drills (Or ones you come up with yourself.), formal and informal insruction, scenarios, sparing or games, and if it is fun and engaging it's all play."

It's the "then work on how to apply them" part that I think it is a sticking point.

I remember reading an example from Mike Gillette (I think...this was years ago) that went something like this.

Teacher: In the X style, we have the principle of "defanging the snake", where you attack the armed limb to stop your attacker.

Student: how to I do that?

Teacher: Well, as the strike comes at you, you hit the striking limb with your own weapon.

Student: do I do that?

Teacher: So, if I'm attacking with a #1, you strike back with a #3 like this...

(Note that I am paraphrasing a half-remembered examples, so if I'm messing up either terminology or angle numbers, ignore it)

I think principles are important, and you certainly can start with them, but those principles need something concrete to hang on. I think it's easy for experienced martial artists to forget that the experience of moving the body in a martial way is totally alien to a significant portion of the population. Even in the example above--given the instruction "hit the attacking limb", I could probably try something without further instruction, but I have a lot of experience doing this kind of thing. Someone who can't even fathom how you're supposed to make a fist or swing a sword (to fit the example) may find the exercise just confusing.

I suppose a lot of this depends on your student. Some people are probably comfortable that you could start them out with some of Rory's drills (or other principle-based games) and they'd be fine. Then go back and make technical corrections. Some people may find the whole process so alien that they need some kind of technical work (however minor) to get started. Though you could do principles, example techniques, then go play...

Erik Kondo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erik Kondo said...

Along these lines here are my thoughts:

There are three distinct categories of learning: Vertical Learning, Horizontal Learning, and Connective Learning.
Vertical Learning is the process of learning in a step by step linear fashion. You begin with the basics and build on the basics with successively more complicated concepts, skills, tasks, etc. Learning math is an example of this process. Additional and subtraction leads to algebra with leads to calculus, and so on. Vertical Learning is typical in the martial arts where basic skills are taught to beginning students and more advanced skills are taught to students that have mastered the basics. Colored belts that designate rank is typically a mark of Vertical Learning.

The entire post maybe viewed here:

Josh Kruschke said...


"So you have to learn defense and you have to practice defense and it seems easiest to do so in isolation. My dad made me practice shifting gears with the engine off before we tried any driving." - Rory

I'm going to use my own example of learning to shift gears.

When my dad taught me to drive (it's what I know best) every thing he taught was from and with the context of the whole in mind.

Context… Parts to have meaning must, to insure you're not instilling bad habits, be trained within the context of the whole.

Nothing happens in a vacuum... Well that's not exactly true... But that thing or event wound have to be independent, change nothing and have absolutely no effect on the world around it.

Teachers should all ready have an idea of what the whole looks like and have it, what ever it is,  broken down into a parts list and a idea of how they go together. We as a teachers do not need or have to start at the micro and build up to the macro while teaching. Even if that might have been how we discovered it and learned it. It doesn't mean we are obligated to teach it that way. 

Shifting gears is a small part of Driving, and pushing the clutch peddle to the floor is a small part of shifting gears.

Would or should we teach driving by starting you off with 100 left leg foot extention peddle presses; when they get to the point where we think they're doing it right, we will then have them move on to right leg peddle presses, because this is the model we often use to teach Martial Arts and self-defense?

We can teach the Macro, big picture, while breaking it down into the parts, and I don't see any advantage in not doing so. All I hear in opposition to this is we want the students to feel like they are learning something so they will stick around. Or they just won't or can't understand the big picture until they lern the parts. But they're not going to learn the big picture by having it keept from them till the teacher determines they're ready for it sometime in the future.

To learn to sheft gears, and do it well, you need to understand how all the parts; i.e., the engine, clutch, fuel system, transmission, power train and how they aply force though the supension onto tires to the surface of what ever is being driven on, fit and interact together.

And you can't do that by learning about all the different parts in isolation.


Jake said...


You are arguing against an argument I didn't make.

I have no problem with starting with big pictures or principles. Which is why I said, "I think principles are important, and you certainly can start with them". But eventually you need to get down to brass tacks and show the students how those principles work.

"All I hear in opposition to this is we want the students to feel like they are learning something so they will stick around. Or they just won't or can't understand the big picture until they lern the parts."

I've made neither of those arguments. I certainly didn't make the first one.

With the second point--well, maybe. They certainly can understand the big picture before getting into the parts, but learning the parts can reinforce the big picture.

As you say, context matters.

The "do 100 pedal pushes" example strikes me as absurd, but I don't know anyone who teaches martial arts that way. Maybe I've been fortunate, but every teacher I had gave me some context before teaching me movements. At the beginning, that context was quite brief, but it was enough for me to get a glimpse of the bigger picture. (At least, as far as I can remember. My TKD teacher when I was twelve may not have done this, but I really don't remember that time very well)

There's a back-and-forth between micro and macro, at least, as I've always taught and learned.

It's easy to take both sides of this conversation and exaggerate them into ridiculous versions of themselves.

Geoff Nelson said...

Dualities are inefficient, but Western thought is dualistic. When you talk about things being two things at once, people call you a hippie. However, simultaneous attack and defense is a Wing Chun principle. It may be progressive: we master the elements before we can do the alchemy. That's not problematic except in that the Bad Thing may happen before the apprentice is ready.