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mathewjgano
08-06-2008, 09:53 AM
...continued.
"Never ascribe to malice what stupidity will explain."
Amen to that.
What matters more than anything is that you demand more of yourself -- mentally and physically, and try to rely on your teacher less and less for cooking your dinner, apart from providing the ingredient selections of the day).
I completely agree. In the long run, it will serve you more. Still, there's an interesting study on energy consumption needs and the two basic forms of learning, mimicry and innovation, but I cannot find it just yet. Observing and then copying/applying the behavior of others is the quickest way of learning something, but it is in part constrained by the limitations of those who innovate.

mathewjgano
08-07-2008, 09:05 AM
Sorry for the split in the post. I just realized I left it a little incomplete.
I still cannot find the study I was reading. The gist of it (as I was able to gather) is that it's far quicker and more efficient to copy the behaviors of other people. However, without continual innovation of some kind (something which generally takes a lot more energy and coordination), the skills/lessons copied stagnate or regress into uselessness.
As students who essentially copy the abilities of our teachers, it's crucial for us to make sure our teachers are effective. Beyond that it's innovation: applying what you've learned in ways that are new to you. Innovation is far more demanding, but I think it also creates a connection with a greater dynamic quality. Both are crucial though.

SeiserL
08-07-2008, 10:41 AM
Still, there's an interesting study on energy consumption needs and the two basic forms of learning, mimicry and innovation, but I cannot find it just yet. Observing and then copying/applying the behavior of others is the quickest way of learning something, but it is in part constrained by the limitations of those who innovate.
IMHO, see/do (mimicry) is the best way to skill acquisition, learn the craft. After you have learned the craft, then be the artist (innovate). First learn the form, then variations of the form, then no form.

The problem with see this as two basic styles of learning is that both have their up/down sides. By seeing them sequentially, you get the best of both worlds.

Everyone one wants to be th next great rock star, but only a few will learn to play guitar first. Everyone wants to write the great American novel, but only a few will learn to spell first.

IMHO, first mimic, then innovate. (Don't try to innovate before you have a clue about what you are doing.)

John Matsushima
08-10-2008, 10:35 AM
I think the bad thing about mimicry is that students can only copy what they can see and understand, which may be completely different from what is actually being done.

Keith Larman
08-10-2008, 12:08 PM
Insert obligatory post about "Shu, ha, ri" here. ;)

or... Everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die.

Keith Larman
08-10-2008, 12:27 PM
And after I posted that... I remembered something...

Years ago when I first started working on Japanese swords I was faced with the issue of basic shaping. I was holding a blade that had a poorly formed tip. I wondered where to terminate the tip (kissaki). On a well done sword there is a delineation line called the yokote. I remember asking where it should go on the sword. My instructor asked where I'd put it. I sat there and couldn't seen any rhyme or reason why it would be one place rather than any number of other places. So I tried a couple times (drawing over a scan of the blade). Finally he took one I'd done and said "Yes, that's correct". I looked at it for hours including looking at all my other attempts. After a while I came to realize that the one he said was correct did in fact "look" best. I just had no idea why. I asked. His answer was "that's where it goes on that blade".

Okay, I was looking for some "rules of thumb" or some deep insights into why it should be there rather than 2mm's lower or 1 mm higher. But no, the only answer was "that's where it goes on that blade". I kept bugging for a better explanation and finally he said that once you've had enough experience looking at enough really good blades the issue of where it goes pretty much becomes a non-issue. It just goes where it goes. When it is right it will look right.

And fairly recently someone e-mailed me a photo of a blade they had made that they were working on. They asked about the tip and I told them it wasn't quite right. They asked why... And you know, I couldn't say much of anything more than it just didn't look right... ;)

Of course I could talk about the subtle differences between the kissaki shaping of early Yamato-den swords vs. Kamakura Bizen, but that's just one detail among thousands. And therein lies the point -- once you have enough experience seeing enough good examples you start to see the patterns. Until then you have to struggle, approximate, and mimic the best you can. But over time the patterns begin to emerge and you get the feel for things.

You start in sword making and/or sword polishing by trying to mimic the best examples you can find of the thing you're working on. Over time you have enough experience doing that to begin to implicitly understand the core truths expressed in those things. Which allows you to start doing things with less mimicry and more understanding. And after long enough working at that level you begin to grasp a more complete understanding. Then you can start to innovate.

Too many try to innovate before they've even gotten past mimicry. As my instructor in sword crafts told me when I first asked him to explain why the yokote should be placed in one particular spot rather than another his answer was revealing. "You don't know enough yet to understand the answer. And frankly if you knew enough to understand the answer you'd realize your question isn't even the right one in the first place."

So here I stand, firmly rooted in the ha phase of my career, both in Swords and Aikido... Just with a great deal more acceptance of my status.

mathewjgano
08-10-2008, 07:13 PM
You start in sword making and/or sword polishing by trying to mimic the best examples you can find of the thing you're working on. Over time you have enough experience doing that to begin to implicitly understand the core truths expressed in those things. Which allows you to start doing things with less mimicry and more understanding. And after long enough working at that level you begin to grasp a more complete understanding. Then you can start to innovate.


I really liked that description, Keith! Thank you. My only "disagreement" (for lack of a better word) would be with the seeming implication that mimicry and understanding aren't denoting the same thing here. Mimicry is a form of understanding...as I've come to understand it, at least.
I view these two models of learning not unlike the yin/yang duality. In all cases there is a bit of both, but depending upon the specific situation, we should be focusing a little more on one than another. I tend to view it like you seemed to describe, where mimicry precedes innovation. I think that's the standard student-teacher relationship: the teacher presents something; we see it and based on what we see/perceive, we mimic it. If we keep paying attention to what is being presented, hopefully we see more aspects to mimic instead of copying the same things we perceive over and over again. This is where I think the innovation "dot" compliments the mimicry "swirl." We have to create new learning from what we've consistently been copying. Eventually, with an active mind and with as little presumption as possible (applying zanshin and beginner's mind, in my view), those subtler lessons seem to simply reveal themselves.

Keith Larman
08-10-2008, 08:32 PM
I really liked that description, Keith! Thank you. My only "disagreement" (for lack of a better word) would be with the seeming implication that mimicry and understanding aren't denoting the same thing here. Mimicry is a form of understanding...as I've come to understand it, at least...

Well, it is an interesting point, but I'm not sure I'd classify mimicry as a form of understanding. I would call it a means of putting a student into a position where they can discover the important stuff. So in polishing when I was learning on the first blades I did I learned a *huge* amount about why things were done the way they were simply by doing. Nothing can replace the experience of handling the things on a stone and learning to work with them. However, there was so much I didn't see then that I see now. Which makes me wonder what I'll notice 5 years from now... But I digress -- the point is that the mimicry is a means of "setting up" realization. In aikido we work on getting their footwork correct. We get their posture corrected. We get the right balance of tension and relaxation in their bodies. We show them how to grab the hand, move their bodies, then apply something like kotegaeshi. Hopefully at some point during all of this they feel the flow, the movement, the control and the power. We try to get them to approximate what we already know so hopefully they can feel what we feel. And once they "get it" that light bulb goes on. Of course it is really a long series of never ending light bulb lightings because each one thing you get right will illuminate the next 5 things you need to do better. So I suppose we could say we continue to mimic but we just get better at it as each small bit unfolds in our understanding. So getting one part opens the door to the next one and we notice something else we weren't ready to see yet. And so it goes...

So I'm not sure I'd equate mimicry with understanding. I'd say that as you work to approximate what you see your understanding grows allowing you to in turn approximate it better. They improve together and are intertwined, but I'd hesitate to say they're the same thing.

mathewjgano
08-10-2008, 09:03 PM
So I'm not sure I'd equate mimicry with understanding. I'd say that as you work to approximate what you see your understanding grows allowing you to in turn approximate it better. They improve together and are intertwined, but I'd hesitate to say they're the same thing.

I don't mean to say that mimicry is understanding. I think there are deeper levels of understanding that mimicry can never acheive and that's where the creative/innovative aspect of learning takes over. I mean that mimicry is a portion of what falls under the heading of understanding, and that insofaras a person is able to demonstrate an ability, it equates as an understanding which is part of a greater potential whole. For example, i might be able to do many of the aiki skills so many folks have been talking about lately, and people would generally say I understand aiki. Yet when it comes to describing the concepts involved I might not have a clue how to do this. Behaviorally speaking, I would understand aiki; conceptually, i wouldn't.
...i think, anyway. :)