Thursday, February 16, 2017

The hardest things to learn.

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At SJT, there are four principles: Kata, Ki, Musical Technique, and Attitude.  Each one addresses several different aspects within them, and we've used these principles to evaluate new and current members for decades now.

In karate, there are requirements for belt ranks, which greatly differ from style to style, school to school.  Still, there are techniques and forms to learn and improve on as well as an attitude expected depending on the wants of the school.

Not every taiko group has requirements to "pass" something or to get into a different level, but there are always categories to work on, areas to improve on.  After years of teaching in different arts, of watching people in various workshops, of seeing people progress around me in different ways, it's interesting to see patterns...

Most people, with the right teachers and the right mindset, can improve on physical things.  I can tell you how to hold your form.  I can literally take your limbs and position you over and over again until muscle memory kicks in.  I can tell you "yes" or "no", "right" or "wrong" according to what I'm trying to teach you.  I can break down minute details of technique and work on repetition until your body accepts it as dogma. Not everyone learns at the same pace as others, but physical forms, style, and movements can be learned at least by brute force alone.

Endurance, strength, and flexibility are also things that are easy enough to improve, if you work at them.  More running, more pushups, stretch more, etc.  Doesn't mean it will be easy, but there are routines and trainers that you can turn to to make significant progress, if you're willing.

Expressing spirit is less natural for some, but often more about overcoming a self-imposed barrier than a physical limitation.  For kiai, it's hard for some to allow themselves to be loud, to be out there, to show how much joy they get from playing.  It might even feel embarrassing for some people to do it, until they do it enough to get over it.  In some ways, this can be a harder barrier than a physical one, but it's definitely overcome-able.  (I know, that's not a word.  But it's my blog, so there.)

Then there's the mental aspects, things like attitude, being peripheral, respect, thinking of the group's needs first.  If these things don't come easy from someone, they very well may take a long time to come about, period.  Teaching by example, lecturing, positive reinforcement - those may or may not work, because it's really about the other person willing to accept those lessons.  Stubbornness might be easily fixed in something physical by putting one in the position desired, but you can't "make" someone help out, "make" someone think positive thoughts, etc.  If a person doesn't want to improve, doesn't want to help the group where they can, then you're often stuck with a problem rather than a solution.

Finally, the most difficult thing to learn - in my humble opinion - is musicality.  I've written a lot of posts about this, I've had conversations about it on the FB group, I've taught workshops on it at conference as well.  Being able to play a diverse variety of patterns, being comfortable with improvisation, knowing when and where to use dynamics, things like that are very difficult to teach someone past a certain point.  Everyone can improve on these areas somewhat, but it's way harder to teach someone how to feel music than it is to teach something tangible.  I can give you music to listen to, but if you don't "get" the funk in this song, or the syncopation in that song, if it's not sinking in enough to incorporate into your head, then it may take months, years, or it might never get there.  Another reason why I say this is the most difficult one to learn is that with all the others, if someone really wants to improve, they can, with exceptions here and there.  With musicality, even if you really want to get better, this is the one that so many people struggle with, even with focused practice.

It's not that it's fruitless to try to get better at the things that are hardest.  In fact, quite the opposite!  The things that are the hardest to get better at are the ones that can use the most attention, but for the most part, they have to be worked on on your own time.  Your instructor has to teach a bunch of people at once, and it's more efficient to correct things like form and technique than it is to explain how to be "more funky" in your solos, easier to explain when to give more energy to the song than it is to show someone how to look around and help out where it's needed.

And I'm also not putting a value on these categories (which are a partial list and there are others I didn't get to!)  Is musicality more important than spirit?  Mindfulness more important than basic form?  That totally depends on you and your group, and will change from group to group - as well as within you, over time.

Even if there are multiple goals you or other people want to achieve, knowing that some are intrinsically more difficult than others gives a greater perspective to your training.  And you may read my list and disagree with the rankings, but that's fine!  Just don't base them on just your own strengths and weaknesses - think about your group and the other players you've met, and make your own!

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