Thursday, January 17, 2013

How okay is proficient?

We're supposed to be about self-improvement and mutual benefit and all that jazz in judo and aikido, right? Well, how much improvement counts as sufficiently proficient? How okay do you have to be at something to be satisfied that you are really okay at that?  
Clarke's law states that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  Well once you meet that threshold of sufficiently advanced, how do you get better? And if you do get better, are you just more indistinguishable from magic?  If you chase your art form to the point that your skill is magical, how much more magical can your magic get?
With me, it seems to be a cycle.  Take gedanate for example.  When I started I (of course) had no clue, but after a couple of years I had a great gedanate!  Then I started teaching and my students didn't seem to be able to get the same effect with gedanate that I'd been getting.  Then I realized I couldn't get the thing to work for me anymore!  My students were so bad at gedanate that they made me forget how to do it! ;-)
My students and I limped through several years of terrible gedanate and I consulted with various gurus and watched all the films, and put in the mat time, and all of a sudden, BAM!  For the past few months, gedanate is amazing again!  Now, though, I am taking that amazing magical gedanate skill with a grain of salt because I'm sure that another layer of suckage is on its way one day.
I think that this cycle is caused by skill and sensitivity improving at different rates.  For a while, your sensitivity is so poor, it seems amazing when you can get any skill at all to work in a consistent way.  You coast along for a while thinking that you've finally got the skill down but in the meantime, your sensitivity is improving and all of a sudden your skill is no longer sufficient to meet your improved sensitivity.  Then you go for a while feeling like you can't do anything right until you can improve your skill.  Back and forth... There and back again...

This seems to happen at all levels of the art - from micro to macro - from the individual techniques (like gedanate), to large subsets of practice (like randori or kata or suwariwaza) to entire arts (my aikido as a whole waxes and wanes in how I feel about it).
I suspect some folks are unprepared for the cyclic nature of the path and are unable to tolerate the cognitive dissonance brought on by constantly shifting levels of sensitivity and skill.  Those folks go so far then quit, while other folks are able to deal with periodic suckage - and those folks thrive in the arts.

Photo courtesy of Stefan Schmitz

Patrick Parker
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