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Home > Columns > > March, 2006 - Apples and Oranges 2: Imitation and Understanding
by Lynn Seiser

Apples and Oranges 2: Imitation and Understanding by Lynn Seiser


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Which came first, the apple or the orange? If you want to be an apple, do you try to imitate it or try to understand it? If you want to be an orange, do you imitate it or try to understand it? If you want to be an apple, should you spend time trying to imitate or understand an orange? If you want to be an orange, should you spend time trying to imitate or understand an apple?

What is my obsession with the comparisons of fruit? In my years of trying to understand things in the world, like martial arts, I was always told to stop comparing apples to oranges. They are by nature two different things and may best be understood separately, as I mentioned last month in state specific learning.

Many instructors wanted me to just keep training, imitating the technique, until I got it. There was no verbal explanation of the technique, just rote repetition.

Imitate: (1) to follow as a pattern, model, or example, (2) to be or appear to be like, resemble, (3) to produce a copy, reproduce, (4) mimic, counterfeit.
Imitation is one of the most frequently used forms of training. A student watches his or her teacher and then imitates their movement. Imitation is a natural way to learn a craft. It is learning the tactical techniques. It is the who, what, where, and when. It is not the how or the why. One problem with imitation is that there is often something lost in the translation and that is that seldom is an imitation as good as the genuine original article.

Very seldom was I asked to understand what I was doing. For some people this understanding may naturally come from the rote repetition and rehearsal of the physical movements. While this may automate the response and minimize the internal descriptive dialogue, it did not help me to understand the conceptual how and why. I wanted to understand the principles, concepts, and strategies that governed and dictated the efficient and effective techniques that I was training in.

Understand: (1) to grasp a meaning, (2) to accept, (3) to interpret, (4) to comprehend and appreciate, (5) intelligent knowing.
The understanding came through reading, viewing, discussion, and dialogue. To overcome a severe inferiority complex, I became an avid reader after finding there were books about things I did not know were things. Since I could go to see all the great instructors I wanted to train with, I began collecting and watching tapes and discs that contained both the visual image and the auditory directives that contain the concepts and principles. While talking on the mat is often frowned on, I began openly discussing the bigger picture with my training partners. These dialogues and discussions helped me to see the bigger picture, the conceptual understanding. This was the art. Some say if you talk too much you are an annoyance, but if you do it on paper you become an author.

For some people, imitation sequentially leads naturally to understanding. For others, an understanding sequentially leads to a better imitation and execution of the technique. For people like me, the two were not necessarily related. They were as different as apples and oranges.

Thanks for listening, for the opportunity to be of service, and for sharing the journey. Now get back to training. KWATZ!


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