The Art of Learning
The martial arts could be described, as Webster does, "as any of the several arts of combat and self-defense that are widely practiced as a sport." Once you're on the training floor, it becomes clear, through the depth and scope of the training, that the term "art" is truly warranted. Participants are constantly studying and experimenting with their movement. They develop, by necessity, a holistic approach to human movement - if that other hand or foot is forgotten, one's technique is clearly less effective and you may receive an unpleasant reminder.
By developing an awareness and sensitivity to the subtleties of one's own and one's partner's movement, the martial artist learns to move with greater efficiency and effectiveness. And as one's form is honed, a graceful and maybe an awesome quality emerges.
This description of the learning process a martial artist engages in is probably familiar to the yoga student, and to someone who approaches any number of activities, from dance to horseback riding to basketball, as an art. It will also be familiar to a Feldenkrais® practitioner.
It is as if Moshe Feldenkrais was able to distill the "stuff of learning" into an approach which he might have called The Art of Learning.
The Feldenkrais Method® develops the student's awareness and ability to sense oneself and one's movement in a way that is so grounded it is a revelation. Pam Parker, a teacher of Iaido, the Japanese sword form, recently began a series of Functional Integration® lessons. She states, "I had the feeling that a light shone along each of my bones as it was touched It's amazing what a difference just being more clearly aware of yourself can make."
Through guided experimentation with one's movement habits, the Feldenkrais student learns to steer toward a smoother quality of movement. After another Functional Integration lesson, Pam got up from the table and said, "I get it, don't do anything extra. I always tell my students not to do anything extra when practicing sword cuts, no extra movements, etc. But now I understand it in a new way - it's also about not putting anything unnecessary into the technique."
Meik Skoss, a teacher of several modern and classical martial arts, including Aikido and Jukendo, had many such moments of discovery over the course of a dozen Functional Integration lessons. He would leave the sessions excited about applying what he'd learned to his practice. Three months after finishing the series, he feels he is still reaping the benefits from these lessons.
During one session, Meik was almost speechless when he compared the ease and effortlessness of his sitting balance compared to the way he normally sat, and how invisible all the extra work had been to him. As he came to stand and began to step through some basic forms, he was struck by the clarity of his movement and his ability to move through each position as if he carried no "residue" from the prior organization.
In the martial arts, particularly those such as Aikido and Judo, where the partners are in contact for the duration of the technique, a smooth quality of movement is essential. When the movement is smooth, it feels natural and doesn't stand out to your partner - so the technique can be executed without being countered.
Chris Griffin is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitionercm and an Aikido instructor at the Bond Street Dojo in New York City.