Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Basics vs. fundamentals - and taiso

Mark MacYoung has this interesting article at his website about the differences between basics and fundamentals.  The gist of his assertion is that the basics are just starting points - like kindergarden abecedario type instruction - not much content but just a launching point for instruction.  Fundamentals, however, are the foundations upon which the rest of the study is built - the "meat" of the subject in which lives the principles that make everything work.  MacYoung talks about how students can resent being told to "go back to the basics" when the instructor actually means "focus on the fundamental principles of what you are doing." 
In our aikido classes, we have both fundamentals (how to stand, how to enter, how to turn, how to deliver power, how to follow, etc...) and basics (like the wrist release forms - we might argue about their combat utility, but they provide a great starting point to talk about a lot of the material). 
We have this pedagogical desire to review all of this material very frequently, but we don't want to bore the student senseless or make them resent being "sent back to the basics."
So, we use taiso (warmups) as a way to get the review and repetition of the fundamentals in the beginning of every class.  In most of the classes that I have experience with, the warmups consist of a little (useless but mostly harmless) range of motion - arm waving and twisting, followed by the "walking kata" - a set of taiso developed by Tomiki Sensei to teach weight shifting and footwork and body coordination in a sport-specific way.  The benefits of using fundamentals as taiso are (at least) three-fold:
  • Students get a nice warm-up and get loosened-up in a dynamic, activity-specific manner
  • Students get the desired repetition on the fundamentals of stance and posture and footwork and coordination and power-delivery)
  • The instructors and students all get a common basis of sensorimotor and kinesthetic experience that they can use as a context to communicate "higher" ideas - a common ground.
So, in summary, I think it is important that your warmups (taiso) that you do before every class consist of far less empty arm-waving range of motion, and far more activity-specific fundamental motion.
Patrick Parker
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