I’ve always had an affinity to the abstract and the intangible and my learning process has been by capturing concepts, whatever the subject in question, and putting it into practice for reinforcement, experience and functionality.
When teaching karate I often get questions as to how did I punch ‘that punch’. How much I moved back when I pivoted my leg back in ‘that drill’, how close I got towards uke when performing a specific technique, etc.
The student often focuses on the specifics and this blurs the vision of the abstract concept. It makes sense you start looking at the specifics first since we learn through our senses, what we see and feel in general. However, I always seek to bring another layer to the students’ learning process; an ‘awakeness‘ if I may, to bring clarity to the concept. The concept of the punch, the kick, tai sabaki, centre of gravity, bio-mechanics, breathing, timing, distance and so on…
To explain concepts I’ve always relied on metaphors and, interestingly, I’ve recently learned that this is the language the unconscious mind understand as well as understanding that all learning is unconscious! You might train consciously, read a book with focus and concious attention to what you are reading, actively listening and concious of doing so; but actual learning process inside your mind and cells is an unconscious process.
When you understand the abstract concept then you understand it for the infinite number of specific possibilities. Newton didn’t need to test the Law of Gravity on every single object in the world. He worked it out as a process of internalisation. Newton decipher the Law of Gravity from a conceptual abstraction by observing and analysing the specifics.
This intellectual understanding of the concept, combined with the tangible absorption of the feelings you get from karate refocuses your attention. You no longer seek for answers of how ‘that’ punch works, how close you must be to the opponent in ‘that’ drill, how and when to kick in ‘that’ occasion and so on…, for all these specifics are infinite and subject to external (and unpredictable) environmental conditions.
When Karate makes conceptual sense from within then it does for all its infinite possibilities you might encounter. When you learn to focus on the concept, something pretty special happens: you become your own teacher. Furthermore, when the concept is not clear or well understood, all the infinite specifics won’t sustain over time. .
This might be true in karate as much as with life itself.