Instructor’s Notebook #29: Metaphorically Speaking

martial arts teacher toolsTeachers have tools, great teachers make tools. But that’s not all. Students also make tools, in their minds. And the persistent teacher will go inside those active minds too, creating new ideas and ways to view things. All, of course, to the student’s benefit.

martial arts teacher toolsEveryone who teaches the martial arts can fall victim to micro-management where endless corrections swamp all real promise of the student’s advancement. The patient teacher gets his student through this period as gently or corrosively as needed, with a definite prejudice to do as little damage as possible.

Critic5There are lots of ways to approach this, but one of the most valuable uses tools that are aimed at changing the way the student thinks about something, more than relying on repetitions and just chugging along.

You want to go inside and change the story in the student’s mind–just a little. So we use the brilliance of the language itself. To accomplish this, I want to review two powerhouse techniques of the English language: Metaphor and Simile. Even if you have bumped into this pair in English class and never did understand what they were about, stick with me and it will be easy, like rolling off a log (simile.)

martial arts teacher toolsStart at the top: both of these want you to see a connection or similarity between A and B. That’s it. A metaphor just makes some kind of direct comparison. A simile uses the words “like” or “as” to cement the comparison. What’s the difference? Metaphors don’t weaken themselves by using qualifying words: “The mail slot of his jaw dropped open.” The simile also compares, but with a qualifier, “I watched his jaw drop like a mail slot.”

Does it make a difference? Depends on the situation. For instance, take the sentence, “I just said you were talking LIKE a nitwit. Please put the gun down.” It you can’t see the difference between A=B and A is like B,  you are going to be surprised when you find out that life is NOT REALLY a box of chocolates; just like one.

martial arts teacher toolsIt’s like this: using comparisons can speed learning a thousand-fold, because they plant a new way to look at things directly into the brain, like a gizmo from Star Trek. Example: I want my student, Blaine, to make a wide sweeping punch but his shoulder continues to freeze up. So I tell him to forget the actual punch but I give him an imaginary felt marker and tell him to draw a huge circle right through the air. Voila, a perfect arc. Now this is not trivial. I have already tried a hundred-plus times on Blaine before going to a comparison (sometimes it takes a while to pick the right one) that works perfectly. I still have to make sure that the correct feeling doesn’t leave him. Then I will add more layers of technical nuance, but at least we finally got off that floor and are moving up again.

martial arts teacher toolsThe interplay between body and mind is fascinating. Blaine started practicing the punch with an immediate physical reaction to my words; in other words, an attempt to do right. But this attempt was paired with a mental inability to see what he was doing wrong. Changing his mind, giving it an image, created a completely new physical outcome; almost instantaneously. This is because it accessed a different series of memories and muscular actions. Contrary to what is often said, muscle has no memory, but the neural network does.

TedRochelleDoes this lead to that word I dread: Visualization? No. Visualization is–generally–a visual projection recognized by the consciousness of the dreamer. It is not the dynamic neurological tapping into the system. In other words, we are not trying to create a scene. Our goal is a feeling that goes beyond visual stimulus. It may evoke smell, taste, sound and even strong emotions. But, most importantly, it is not in control. The moment of change is almost indefinable. There is nothing Disney-like about it. No cute cartoon zebras rolling on the high grass.

Remember, a simile is a less committed comparison (this is LIKE that). The metaphor changes one thing directly into another. His headlight eyes flashed brighter.

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