Benefits of Aikido Training Feed

183. My Eidetic Works Pretty Good, How's Yours

One of my senior Yudansha has a thought about how people learn; one that I’ve always liked and agreed with that has to do with how a newborn zebra patterns his behavior (and who his mother is) after the first set of adult zebra stripes he sees, with no two zebras having exactly the same pattern.  Another way to look at it (but with a different species) is when a baby duck comes out of its shell the first motion it sees “becomes” its mother; demonstrated by a science experiment in which a human squatted and waddled around while quacking and the nest full of new baby ducklings begin to follow him around.  The baby zebra and the baby ducks are both genetically programmed to pattern (imprint) after the first thing they see; a basic genetically encoded survival skill that makes them follow the adult for food and protection.  This is eidetic memory, or the ability to vividly recall someone seen possible only once.

Humans can gain knowledge (translates into learning new skills) through watching an experienced person perform a physical or communications skill, or even simply being near that person and watching how their body language reflects their interpersonal communnications. Their way and method of doing things, and even their knowledge, can be passed on to someone else, especially if the learner really wants to understand it (or literally “get it” dynamically, something Heinlein called “grok”).  The student observer is looking for practical and experiential knowledge that in the Japanese martial arts is sometimes referred to as “direct transmission” or doing something and looking (patterning) exactly like the teacher regardless of whether real understanding (of the model’s actions) has been achieved yet.

In Western cultures this learning method may also be referred to as “mentoring” which causes people to seek out, surround themselves with, and strive to spend their time with respected or powerful figures, even emulating them down to matters of detail such as copying comments made in conversations (“Ah yes but of course, my lineage is from the Smiths of the London Smiths Parkway, an upscale gentrified trailer park just south of town”), way of dress (“Hmmm, preppy or morning coat and tails, decisions decisions), table manners (“Ok, where is the salt cellar …. dammit … there is supposed to be salt cellar with that cute little spoon”), and even the preferred cocktail at business gatherings (“Dude …. I really hate gin …. is there any bourbon around here I could work on”)?

This method of learning is probably known (or suspected) by everyone since we started (as small toddlers) by patterning our parents and siblings; learning by copying until the copying becomes who we are, with later learning done more deliberately and methodically as we mature and set our own path in life.  Unfortunately, as we grow older and begin that self-programming of our own path, we can sometimes skew sideways and lose sight of the goal.  Thus, the need to look for the better example, or mentor.

"Mitori Keiko" means learning from other people’s practice.  It also implies that practice through watching may be just as important as the actual practicing itself.  As you carefully observe other people’s movements you realize how you can improve your own movements.

The more normally seen Western oriented methods of logical and scholastic learning, when employed by themselves or as a matter of habit acquired from grade school, interrupt this way of study.  This is one idea behind the phrase ‘learn how to learn’ that we hear many times that people repeat but never really follow through on.  It is commonly heard by students’ of ancient traditional schools but especially in dojo that have a higher focus on learning by transmission.

Part of this is the Decay Theory; a theory that proposes that memory fades due to the passage of time. Information is therefore less available for later retrieval as time passes and memory, as well as memory strength, wears away. When an individual learns something new, a neurochemical "memory trace" is created.  In many ways a continual use of mitori keiko helps avoid decay and improves long-term retention and these memory traces are reinforced.  This has been illustrated by Olympic athletes mentally imaging how they will compete to the point to where the muscles themselves react to the mental imaging.  So how to utilize mitori keiko.

First, you can notice positive points of other player’s practice.  If you are a regular member of a dojo, there should be other members who practice together on a regular basis.  Regardless of the martial art being practiced every keiko is different person to person so this should provide the opportunity to see (and compare) positive points of practice that different deshi may have.  These can include footwork, favorite waza (esp. during randori sessions), posture and so on. Through noticing these different positive points, you will be able to garner ideas from these other players, and by copying improve your own practice.

Second, you should also be aware of negative points. Every deshi has both strong and weak points in their practice.  This unevenness in their overall performance should be apparent enough from the outset for you to be aware of it unless you yourself are a total beginner.  You should become aware of any negative points remembering that unless you are the Sensei giving advice on how to correct that deshi’s negative points is not part of mitori keiko.  You are learning and not teaching.  In a sense however, you are teaching yourself and while observing should be internally questioning yourself with, “Am I doing the same movements?  Do I walk like that?  Do I have that stutter step in my initial attacks?  Do I ever break my posture forward like that?”  Conducting this private internal dialogue with yourself is a part and parcel of mitori keiko.

Lastly, mitori keiko enables you to use practice time efficiently since you should not be doing it during your actual physical practice but instead, during your break or down time.  Basically you should have no “real” downtime while in the dojo since you are either in the fray or are actively watching and evaluating.

Mitori keiko can be a great positive if used as an internal dialogue with yourself.  Over a long period of time a senior player can notice a difference in the overall development of deshi who engage in mitori keiko and who use it for self-improvement.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan

Houston, TX

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