Thursday, May 03, 2007

Can you see what I'm saying?

Regarding teaching aikido to people who are blind, Potatoefist commented:
I can only imagine the difficulty of teaching the moves. Thankfully so much is tactile.
There is a lot going on in trying to teach the blind. One thing that I have become more acutely aware of is the necessity of precision and thoughtfulness in the language I use to convey an idea. The NLP guys have a lot of problems with the (lack of) theory underlying their practice, but there are some real gems scattered throughout their system. Predicate matching is one of them. If you pay attention to people as they talk, you will find that they more often than not favor one type of sensory word (visual, auditory, or kinesthetic). For example, the following sentences mean the same thing to a native speaker but different folks will unconsciously choose to use different ones:
  • Do you understand?
  • Do you hear what I'm saying?
  • Can you see my point?
Now, this is not some type of strict determinism in which a blind person will automatically miss my meaning if I say, "can you see my point?" but deliberately choosing a more appropriate form can establish rapport and make the communication process easier. I started to write "...more straightforward" but that was a subconscious choice related to my preference for kinesthetic predicates. I also tend to say, "do you understand," which is kinesthetic, but nobody is 100% wired for a single representational system, as evidenced by my affinity for the expression "look at this" to get people's attention.
Anyway, you're right, PF. There is a large tactile component to teaching aikido. Check out this video of Mytchi feeling her way through a wrist release exercise and you will see her get more sure of herself and smoother as the practice progresses.
Thankfully, we're really trying to teach a set of strategic principles rather than specific techniques. So, Mytchi's aikido can look a lot different from mine and still be "aikido" if it conforms largely to the same principles. The same if true for my one-armed student. The majority of the techniques that 2-handed guys do is directly usable by him, but there are a couple of things that simply do not make sense for his body. It would be ridiculous to try to make him emulate the motion and form of these techniques so that it looks like "2-handed aikido." In these cases he has to come up with some way to demonstrate the underlying principles in the given situation in a way that makes sense for his body. Individualized aiki. When you get right down to it, it's kind of a nutty prospect to try to develop an explicit syllabus of objective skills to apply to everyone for rank tests.
At the bottom of this is the fact that we are all handicaped in some way or we wouldn't be trying to learn a martial art. Ueshiba, Kano, and Funakoshi all got their starts in martial arts because they were basically frail wimps and were afraid. We are all blind in certain ways ("A man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest"), so the teaching of aikido has to necessarily be an individualized thing that is specialized for each person's special type of handicap or weakness or blindness or manner of thinking and understanding.


  1. That was extremely profound. I intrigued about your comment about everyone having a handicap. I had to cogitate on that for a while and it felt good. In the video I couldn't even tell who was blind. Tremendous. I don't feel as if I do the amount of thought you put into your posts justice and end up writing emotional responses to your scholarly discourse, but I'm glad that I could assist in the creative process by my comments. The fellow that you mention with the one arm makes me think of a martial art that was developed by a fellow with either a severe disfigurement or congenital weakness that affected his physique. When he taught folks this art they would emulate his style as if they had the same physical issues, but I gather the students smartened up after a generation and used the basis instead of working at it rote. Can't remember what it's called though. Anyway, fantastic insight as always.

  2. Shucks, dude. That's kind of you to say, but I'm no mental giant - I just stand on their shoulders. I am actually closer in skill and knowledge to a white belt than to many of my higher-ups. But I _do_ think about it a good bit and I just write what I'm thinking about.

    I sure do appreciate your reading my posts and commenting on them. Keep on coming.

    You mentioned on your blog that youre about to take a vacation "down south." Where are you going? to the "real South" or just south of your frozen steppes?


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