Friday, July 16, 2010

Wax On, Wax Off

Do you recall the original 1980s cult movie The Karate Kid. Pat Morita plays Mr Miyagi, an apartment maintenance man who is also a karate expert. Ralph Macchio plays Daniel, a high school student being bullied by students experienced in karate. Daniel discovers Mr Miyagi is a karate expert and asks Miyagi to teach him karate. Miyagi agrees under one condition. He tells Daniel, 'I say, you do.' Daniel agrees and they proceed with the first lesson.

Anxious to learn karate, Daniel is confused when instead of receiving karate instruction, he is instructed to was Miyagi's antique automobiles. He is then instructed to sand the extensive wooden decking in Miyagi's back yard, paint his fence, and finally to paint his house. When receiving instructing Daniel, Miyagi specifies the precise arm movements to be used in these tasks.

After four days of performing these seemingly irrelevant and arduous tasks, Daniel finally loses his temper and confronts Miyagi, charging, 'Four days and I haven't learned a thing, except how to be your slave.' Mr Miyagi responds simply, 'Not verything thing is as it seems.' To which Daniel replies, 'Show me.'

Mr Miyagi positions himself in front of Daniel and asks him to demonstrate 'wax on, wax off.' Daniel performs the circular arm movements. As he demonstrates 'wax on, wax off,' Mr Miyagi unexpectedly moves to the attack using straight punches that are harmlessly deflected away. Miyagi then has Daniel demonstrate 'sand the floor,' 'paint the fence,' and 'paint the house.' For each of these movements, Miyagi attacks Daniel with offensive maneuvers that the movements are designed to block. Daniel successfully counters every offensive maneuver. Finally, Mr Miyagi intensifies the attack using a flurry of offensive punches and kicks. Much to his surprise, Daniel uses all four of the defensive techniques to effectively fend off each potential blow.

The above is a extract from an article published in the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance (Wax On, Wax Off: Pedagogical Content Knowledge in Motor Skill Instruction: Feb 1994; 65, 2, 63-68). The authors of the article, Lynn Dale Housner and David C Griffey, use Mr Miyagi's teaching methods as an 'excellent example' of the use of alternative strategies in teaching sport skills. They suggest that transforming subject matter and presenting it to students in comprehensible forms entails the use of alternative strategies such as analogies, metaphors, examples, demonstrations, and simulations that can build a bridge between the teacher's comprehension and that desired for the students.

Mr Miyagi was able to transform and present the content of karate to Daniel in a way that facilitated the deep, meaningful, and organised representation of the nature of defence in karate. Through the use of the metaphors 'wax on, wax off,' 'sand the floor,' 'paint the fence,' and 'paint the house,' Miyagi helped Daniel effectively build a memory structure of defence in karate.


Chapter ten of the book I'm researching and writing concerning the science behind the tactics and techniques of the martial arts looks at the difference between throwing techniques and takedown techniques. It looks at the classification of techniques designed to take an opponent to the ground and the two categories of these techniques commonly referred to, albeit inconsistently and ambiguously. The distinction between throwing techniques and takedown techniques has not been definitively and objectively identified in any English-language text to date to the best of my knowledge. When discussing my work on this subject with others, including my own senior instructors, I was often met with indifference at best: 'Who cares. Why bother classifying these techniques. What's the point.' Thus, my first task was to answer the question, 'why bother,' about the question 'what is the difference between throwing techniques and takedown techniques.' Firstly, if it doesn't matter, why do people use both these terms as though there is a difference?

Secondly, the question concerning the utility of classification led me to the cognitive sciences. Classification is the identification of similarities and differences. Researchers have found that the identification of similarities and differences are mental operations which are 'basic to human thought' and are considered by some to be the 'core of all learning.' Research has indicated that there are four 'forms' of this activity which are highly effective: comparison, classification, creating metaphors, and creating analogies.

Metaphor and analogy compare two seemingly dissimilar things and highly similarities, but they do so in slightly different ways. 'War is hell' is a metaphor. War is not literally hell however the understanding of hell is used to facilitate understanding and insight into war. When an explanation of why war is like hell is provided it becomes an analogy. An analogy has been described as an extended metaphor. Pulitzer-prize winner Douglas Hofstadter believes that metaphor and analogy are the same phenomena and refers to them as the 'core of cognition.' In each case, the familiar is being used to understand the unfamiliar.

The four forms of identifying similarities and differences are all interrelated. Identifying similarities and differences (using the four forms) are how we subconsciously make sense of a complex world. This is how we think, how we learn, how we create, how we discover, how we communicate, and how we understand. When people ask 'why classify,' I'd suggest they are unknowingly asking why explicitly classify as we subconsciously classify all the time. Aside from the issue of intellectual laziness, I'd suggest when people ask 'why classify' it may be because they are unaware that this is part of the core of all human learning and cognition.

This first part of my chapter answers the question about the question. Answers 'why classify?' The rest of the chapter is devoted to answering the question 'what is the difference between throwing techniques and takedown techniques?' For the first time, to the best of my knowledge, a definitive classification of techniques designed to take an opponent to the ground is presented. A definitive, objective classification based on biomechanics. This classification is then taken for a 'test run' to see if it does in fact facilitate the understanding and study of techniques designed to take an opponent to the ground. It does.

In answering the question about the question, I've learnt a great deal more. I believe you will to.

Until next time.

John Coles

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