Monday, March 19, 2012

Taiso is the Rosetta Stone

The conundrum I've been discussing for the past week here on the blog is, how can an instructor and a student who might come from extremely different backgrounds ever develop a shared context or some sort of basis for real communication?  I've likened it to a similar communication problem from the late 1800's - namely, how to figure out how to read heiroglyphics with no shared background.  That problem was solved relatively quickly when they found the Rosetta Stone, which provided the key for deciphering  heiroglyphics by relating them to two previously known languages.
Sure, the student can imitate the sensei as closely as possible and gradually build up that context.  But we've already seen in the previous post that can take many years to start speaking the other party's language.  What we need is a Rosetta Stone that can create some sort of relation between sensei's background and experience (particularly kinesthetic and sensorimotor) and that of the students.
In many traditional Japanese martial arts, the Rosetta Stone is taiso.  Westerners often mistake taiso for simple warm-ups or calisthenics.  It is easy for many students to let the mind slip out of gear and just go through the motions during the taiso, thinking that it doesn't matter because it's just some warmups before we get to the real heart of the matter.  But taiso should be done mindfully, with emphasis on practicing motions that will be used later in kihon and kata.
So, if you think of kihon as the essential movements found in kata, but formatted so that it is easy to get mindful repetitions, then you can also think of taiso as the building blocks of kihon formated so that it is easy to practice them in a light, rhythmic manner.  The taiso should warm up the practitioner, but it should also build a foundation of movement for kihon, which should, in turn, build a foundation for doing kata.
An instructor and a student doing a set of taiso together provides a common kinesthetic and sensorimotor body of experience that both parties can draw upon when trying to teach or learn kihon and kata.
Taiso is the Rosetta Stone.
Patrick Parker
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