Too much information – Nov 11, 2015, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

Too much information

Snake style:

When I started my iaido and jodo training we had limited sources of information, our training with senior sensei came in short bursts during a seminar. At that time the sensei would generally do a core dump of information, or to put it more crudely, he’d throw up a giant bolus containing everything he could get into it. We on the other hand would open our mouths, dislocate our jaws and swallow it whole. We would then spend months or even a year digesting it.

This works because we had that time to digest, like a snake we moved around with a great lump that got smaller with time as we absorbed the information and made it part of ourselves. The bolus took time to become body knowledge.

As you might expect, this method of learning is uncomfortable at best, often painful, but it was what we had. The information wasn’t particularly organized, we didn’t always get the bits in the correct order for best learning but eventually we sorted it into a workable arrangement, usually in time for the next bolus which would help clear things up as we fit the new information into our pre-existing framework.

Rabbit style:

Now, twenty or thirty years later, students can graze instead of gorge. There are sensei who teach every week, who can present the information in the best order for deeper learning. As a result, students today know a hell of a lot more than we did at their time in training. They’d better, smaller packets of information are much easier to convert to body knowledge, and there is someone to fill in the nooks and crannies with extra bits as they go.

Think of a nice block foundation laid with good morter instead of a rubble wall. Both are good foundations, one is light and strong and goes up fast, the other heavy and slow, often filled with who knows what bits and pieces.

The two foundations need different care and feeding. The rubble wall, being a pile of stone, dirt and scrap is dense, it will soak up the occasional truck backing into it, but is more succeptible to erosion at unpredictable places if it hasn’t been packed evenly. The block wall is uniform, boring even, but it deflects wind, rain and snow. It is resistant to slow erosion but beware that backing truck.

Let’s talk corrections. Give a snake style student six or eight corrections at a time and they will simply take them all in, shake off the ones that won’t work right now and use the rest to stuff into those weak spots in the rubble. Being used to large amounts of information all at once, it’s not a problem, our snake student simply uses what he can right now and lets the rest sit in the yard until he needs it and can get around to it.

On the other hand, the rabbit student tends to choke on too much information. Give one correction and it’s done, the rabbit student puts another block into their wall immediately. On the other hand, give them two or three blocks at a time and the first one is likely to end up broken on the ground beside the wall.

To be more specific, I often watch my generation of teachers correct a single thing, a sword angle perhaps, and there’s no problem. The student fixes the angle. Not happy with that, my generation (OK I’m probably talking about me here) will then add a second correction, the foot angle has to change too perhaps, and bing, not only does the sword angle go back to the wrong place, the feet end up crossed.

It’s not that the young student is stupid, although my generation might think so in the deep parts of our rubble wall, it’s that they are used to fixing things immediately. They can’t, because they are good students, just ignore the second correction. They try to fix both. We snake students will just smile and nod and continue working on the first correction until sensei goes away. We won’t forget the bit about the feet, we just won’t get around to it until we fix the sword angle.

I guess what I’m saying is that we weren’t really students at all, we were “book learners”. Just because the book happened to be a living, breathing person doesn’t matter, we got the whole book, front to back thrown at us and we taught ourselves. Long hours alone with our sweat and our blisters.

What do you do with too much information? And why would we figure that giving someone four corrections at one time is a good idea? These days I get really grumpy if I don’t have time between seminars to digest big doses of information because I know it isn’t in the body, it’s in the head only and the head is a crap place for this sort of memory to be.

Head learning isn’t really learning, you have to put it into the body. You doubt me? How much do you remember of the calculus? I’d bet very little if you don’t or didn’t use it regularly. You don’t really know something until you can’t remember what it’s called. I answered a recent question “do we push our tsuka down with one or two hands?” by saying “I don’t know, just a minute” and did it. The answer was two and I trust my body on this.

Too much information is often the same as none at all. On the other hand, if all you can get is too much, learn how to digest slowly.

Too much information is better than none at all.

Kim Taylor
Nov 11, 2015

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