Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ritual and spectacle in martial arts

In modern educational circles, folks like to talk about three domains of learning - psychomotor, cognitive, and affective.
  • psychomotor - learning to do the skills associated with the subject of study
  • cognitive - learning about the subject, vocabulary, history, etc...
  • affective - feeling good about, and "believing in" your increased knowledge and skills
 All three are important parts of learning.
Some people have a need for ritual and ceremony and spectacle in their martial arts practice.  It is part of the affective domain of learning.  They can practice and increase in knowledge and skill all day long, but until the "rank test" or the "belt ceremony" or the tournament or demo, they just don't feel like they have reached the mark yet.
Some instructors are very good at using ritual and spectacle and ceremony in the martial arts to augment their students' affective learning.  Bruce Lee and Ed Parker were brilliant showmen who played the mystique of the East for all it is worth.
I am not one of those great affective coaches.  The phoney-ness of having an American Redneck pretending to be Yoda sorta sticks in my craw.  I remember reading about Chuck Norris failing a rank test because all the candidates had to kneel in seiza while the folks ahead of them tested.  He'd knelt on the cold floor for so long that his legs were asleep when his turn was called.  That's kinda stupid in my book.
I'd rather run through all your material, taking turns throwing for a couple of hours, than do a formal, strenuous rank test with half a dozen inscrutible-looking sensei in hakama or suits glaring from the sidelines as the student sweats bullets. 
I'd rather every class day be a test than build up to one big event.  I'd rather spend the agreed-upon amount of months working on the agreed-upon material and then just toss the next belt to the student after class one day.
But there are students that need (or would like) more ritual and spectacle than I provide.  To those students, I'm sorry.  I've tried for years to build dojo traditions and rituals to help provide some of that affective learning, but those traditions seem to always fall to the side and get superceeded by the practical day-to-day running of the club and teaching of the material.
I'm not against having some of that go on.  I just don't do much of it.
Patrick Parker
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