Sunday, October 30, 2011

Grammar and Aikido

This Saturday morning I was the only uke at Aikido -- just me and three instructors, all black belts.

"You look a little nervous, delagar," said the head sensei cheerfully, as he was strapping on his hakama.

"A bit," I said, doing my stretches. "I was just thinking, all three of you black belts, me over here with my lonely black stripe." (I'm a white belt, one stripe, nearly as low a rank as you can get.)

They all laughed. The lowest rank of them just got his black belt last month. Also, as I think I have mentioned from time to time, I am not an Aikido genius, and all three of these guys are -- the sensei who just got his black belt (we'll call him New Sensi) is one of the most gifted students I've ever seen. (I've been watching Aikido for about eight years now, since the kid started in it at five, so I watched him go from a white belt to a black belt.)

Over the past four months, New Sensei has been struggling to teach me, who is probably the least gifted of all his students. My brain may be very clever, but my body is an idiot. It won't remember how to do anything, and it certainly can't do anything twice in a row, or learn any sequence of events. Worse, when I have learned to do something with my right hand or right foot, frequently then in Aikido we have to do the same thing with the left hand or the left foot. And this is just impossible for me. I can't seem to transfer knowledge from one side of my body to the other.

Well! Especially for New Sensei, who finds learning sequences of events natural, who can do everything the first time he sees it, who can transfer physical sequences not just from one side of his body to the other but backwards and forwards and probably, for all I know, upside down and standing on his head, this was frustrating for him, trying to teach me (and Head Sensei made him spend a lot of time teaching me, Idiot Student, because that is how Aikido works -- my kid is spending a lot of time teaching the five year olds, down in kids' class).

Anyway! Saturday! I could see he had made a breakthrough. He has figured out how to teach me. He broke the steps of each throw and pin and body movement into micro-steps, and fed them to me one tiny bit at a time. Do this. Do this. Now this. He let me practice each one sixty times if I needed to, before we moved on to something else. He gave me a lot of reinforcement at each step. He didn't add anything new before I got that step. He treated me like the Aikido special needs kid I was, in other words, and it absolutely worked.

I recognized this, because this is what I do in grammar classes -- I mean, I have a few students, maybe eight or ten, each time I teach grammar, who are absolutely gifted, who grasp grammar on an instinctual level. But the rest just can't get it, their brains don't see the connections. They're grammar idiots. So I break it down: I go one steps at a time, I break the explanation into microsteps, I give them lots of reinforcement, I explain fifty different ways, I show them, from various angles, why they're having trouble with this point. And I practice, practice, practice with them.

And I don't assume they're idiots, just because they're idiots at this.

We're all idiots at something. That's a fact. You should hear my father the rocket scientist talk about movies.

No comments: