Can’t Teach

Learning Through Failure

In Aikido, I’ve experimented with telling people that their center of balance is unstable, and then observed them perform the technique without changing their form. Then, I experimented with reversing a throw on them. From their facial expression, they are annoyed, but they say thank you, and when they perform the technique the next time, they are immediately better. So I’ve come to the conclusion that I cannot teach anybody anything, but merely furnish the conditions under which they can learn for themselves. Furthermore, the conditions for learning often involve giving the person a safe opportunity to fail.

Getting Feedback

The other side of this is to create the sort of environment where people can tell me what I’m doing wrong. This is hard in Japan, because people are often afraid of offending someone by presuming to know something. So if I’m unable to apply a technique because my partner is resisting, I say “I see. Thank you.” Or if something doesn’t feel right, I’ll say “this doesn’t feel right,” whereupon my partner will tell me what I’m doing wrong, or provide more resistance so that I can have the chance to learn the appropriate way to move.

Good feedback can come from someone of lower rank. Bad feedback can come from someone of higher rank.

Today, I saw a black belt train a technique called shihonage with a beginner, and the beginner, being loose and having no preconceptions of how to receive the technique, simply twisted out of it instead of break-falling. The black belt tried to “correct” the beginner by showing him how to break-fall. Instead of assuming she knew better because of her rank, what she should have been doing was thinking about how to apply her technique so that her partner couldn’t escape.

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