One analogy with learning aikido which strikes me ever more forcefully each time I think about it is learning a foreign language, especially a language like Japanese, where the grammar is relatively simple, usage is very difficult and the writing system is positively diabolical.
The analogy holds in this respect, that both are complex skills of which the aim is production, effortlessly and without any 'meta-thinking'. There is no point in learning a living foreign language unless you can deploy the skills immediately in meaningful written or spoken communication with native speakers. The analogy fails in one respect: there are no 'native speakers' of aikido (except perhaps for the Founder and his successors?) but I think everyone has an image of what he/she is working towards, usually embodied in a high-ranking shihan.
I think with language learning there is definitely a stage where learning how to learn becomes vital, but not at the very beginning. At the beginning you need to acquire a knowledge of the basic structures of the language and the process of doing this is different from the later stage, where you have acquired a mental map and are in a position to direct your own progress to some extent. Learning kanji, for example, definitely requires a learning method: it will not do to approach kanji as one would Latin verbs.
Language learning, of course, has all the joys and frustrations of aikido. There are the times when native speakers are oblivious of the fact that you are a foreigner: in aikido this is perhaps like throwing your instructor and he/she accepts this as nothing unusual. Then there are times when you have just uttered the 'perfect' sentence and everyone nods politely, not having the slightest clue of what you are talking about: in aikido the instrctor comes and looks at your technique and cannot even figure out what you are doing, let alone trying to do.
It takes time to progress from learning to learning how to learn and different learners might conceive the details of this latter stage differently. For me a crucial component of learning how to learn was to develop a mental map of all the core movements and techniques, against which I could 'read off' the different ways of executing these, as learned over the years from a large number of instructors.
This process, of course, is still at the SHU stage of SHU-HA-RI.
Last edited by Peter Goldsbury : 12-24-2002 at 06:02 AM.