Thursday, December 3, 2009
Understanding vs. Skill
But learning to do things is a little more complicated. Usually this is because it involves the actual doing of something which requires the senses and the body.
Knowledge about skills trails behind the actual development of skills. It is like a culture for the skill to reside in. First there was Jazz music in the form of players pushing the boundaries of what sounded good and "what worked". Later Jazz chord and scale theory emerged to explain what was happening. You can learn everything about how Jazz is played but it doesn't mean you can play it.
To play it would require integrating your instrument with your body learning how to listen and feel and developing a sense for harmonies and rhythm and a whole host of other things.
I have taught my share of English in Taiwan and I was often faced with the dilemma of teaching the skill of speaking English vs. teaching the students to be able to test well. The tests are often testing their knowledge of English rather than their ability to use it. You can memorize the dictionary and every rule of grammar but that doesn't mean you can communicate your emotions and ideas, tell a joke, convey how to do something or feel a poem.
One thing that is problematic is that when these "knowledge cultures" arise sometimes the skill gets forgotten. When I was involved with salsa, there were thousands of "moves" that people would teach each other. If you memorize enough moves, you were good. After a while, you might start teaching those moves. Meanwhile, almost no one developed the skill to actually feel music, interpret it and interact with a partner on a deep level that was fun to do and inspiring to watch. Sure, a couple of people eventually get some kind of skill, but they are the exceptions.
Martial arts as an activity is one of the worst about this. Go in and learn 50 forms and then the names of a bunch of techniques and your lineage and PRESTO, you're a martial artist. That's bullshit. You can't fight unless you develop the skill of fighting. End of story. This is why martial arts such as Muay Thai, wrestling, bjj, boxing, and judo tend to have better fighting skills. They emphasize skills over knowledge of techniques. It doesn't mean the other arts are inferior, just that they may be lost in the learning of knowledge penumbra.
If you are doing a martial art, what skills are you getting better at daily?
The worst thing about gaining knowledge without skill is that even that knowledge is often wrong or not completely right. Tell a musician that you can't play a certain note and he will probably show you a way to do it. If you tell me that you can't lean and do wing chun, I will show you how you can.
Get the skills. They are the only reason the knowledge culture exists. Skills open up your world, but knowing things doesn't change anything.