KineOasis - Unlearning to Learn and the path to empowered creativity

PART II - Unlearning to Learn

“A 3-Part article deconstructing the modern cliche of Martial Arts”

PART II - Unlearning to Learn

“A 3-Part article deconstructing the modern cliche of Martial Arts”

This is Part II of a 3-part series of articles deconstructing the modern cliche of Martial Arts. 

Before anything else, let’s explore why “unlearning to learn” matters, but please remember the context of this article: human development as individuals, not as parts and gears of society's mechanism, AND more specifically, related to Movement.

In Education, regardless of its niche, there are established ways to teach and established expectations on how to learn. This means that the “establishment” creates the rules, methods, and frameworks for how information flows, what information flows, and to whom the information flows. This, in return, grants the “establishment” a predictable outcome that fits a predetermined and expected outcome. I think of this system as “anchored education” meaning that whatever elements and factors are involved, there is a strict anchor that holds any and all learners in just as strict a grip as the anchor itself.

One will argue that within our societal rules and structures (including professional layers) this system serves in some way or another our overall purpose as a civilization. Whether this is valid or not is beside the point of this article. What matters is that traditional systems of education are anchored in often very rigid frameworks. This is more so enormously evident in Martial Arts training and sports like Gymnastics.

It is important to keep in mind that while most of our professions require various degrees of precision and specificity, our development as human beings does not.

In Nature, highly complex tasks are accomplished almost from the beginning of life, but under limited and restrictive contexts. For example, a baby Orangutan will begin to climb and hang very early on, but it will be kept close to safety by its mother. The SAME movement patterns will be found later on as the baby grows, but in higher risk situations, increased speed, and with added levels of difficulty and complexity.

In Martial Arts, traditional systems require long years of basic forms and patterns for as long as necessary until specificity is fully engrained in one’s movement abilities, but this comes at a huge cost: decreased adaptability.

Rarely does the complexity of movement begin to resemble a free-flowing context - one that forces (and liberates) a person to move with a high level of adaptability. Very few martial arts schools abandon their style and framework to allow their students to expand their movement abilities beyond the required forms. In addition to that, each school argues that their system is best or at least better, and even within the same style one can observe lineage differentiation that prevents “cross-pollination” of skill building. 

Permeating this entire aspect of martial arts training is the fundamental driving force of how humans have been conditioned to learn, thus creating a perfect perpetual system of transmission - what we call…traditional.

Should anyone wish to explore, their learning process would have to be driven by different parameters - such as curiosity, freedom to express, adaptability to individuality, a lesser level of standardization, and a higher level of originality of functionality that is absolutely always under the scrutiny of critical thinking and stress testing. If we pause to think about it, the above statement pretty much sums up the meaning of PLAY.

Unlearning to learn is a necessary task in a society focused on efficiency and specificity. Unless, of course, we envision the human species to become akin to the Borg in Star Trek, a fusion between organic life and automated processes in the service of an automated society existing on auto-pilot. 

There is nothing wrong with being a reflection of past knowledge automated into an auto-pilot expression of living, but it is also a mere fraction of what we humans are capable of, a tiny glimpse of our true potential as INDIVIDUAL living beings.

The irony is that while we praise originality and creativity, we also suppress their expression through every means available - standardization taking the leading role in such a counter-intuitive approach of an apparent contradiction.

So how do we unlearn how to learn?

This is where the difficulty rises. Unlearning, in this context, also means questioning (among other things), and questioning suggests that the person expressing their curiosity beyond the imposed framework is also displaying signs of behavior regarded as negative in a standardized society. Thus, choosing to unlearn how to learn will also be met with some level of isolation - more or less extreme. For that reason, and because life is short, I stand by my recommendation that one should first explore in solitude, in a mental space where there are no disturbances or judgements. Doing so requires some level of strategy involved - either from the parents of a child, or later on from mentors, and eventually self-directed as one matures. 

This is different than hiding from the world, and rather a higher reasoning decision to create a sanctuary of learning within oneself in order to progress at the pace and rhythm allowed by nature and undisturbed by people. Alternatively, my hope is that we all find - sooner rather than later - a community where individuality is truly cherished and celebrated.

Another powerful aspect of unlearning to learn is that the entire process is driven by trial and error, not by success rate. In other words, when we step outside of the standardized framework, we exponentially increase our “failure” rate - as it is perceived by the outside world. This requires a higher degree of self confidence and determination, or in other words one’s sense of adventurous curiosity in exploration must override one’s sense and need to be perceived as a success.

Discovering or creating a sanctuary for empowered learning is not a small task. It requires courage, intelligence, modesty, and an unlimited supply of mutual respect among all involved. When embarking on such a journey by ourselves, we must first realize that everything around us is a source of knowledge and experience, thus all judgment subsides to allow the world to be observed and absorbed as the powerful source of teaching that it is. That is the first step in unlearning how to learn and the dissolution of right versus wrong with regards to which “way” is better or best when it comes to the realm of learning.

The One Million Dollar question becomes - can the two approaches coexist? Can we learn within standardized frameworks while at the same time unlearn how to learn in order to begin learning modularly and independently of any framework?

Yes and No. It depends.

We would be required to follow two fundamental principles, ironically belonging to scientific method: (1) we would have to accept the natural laws of nature and (2) we would have to objectively stress-test every finding we arrive at.

For example, 1+1 = 2 and humans do not - naturally and unassisted - fly.

Real Scientists and real Artists are excellent at this. They understand that the natural laws of nature cannot be cheated, so the choice is to seek out the widest range of points of view possible. They understand the limitations of the laws of nature and stress-test against it through creativity, ingenuity, daring to fail, and an uncanny drive to explore and research that which is contained within their mental field of view, given their current level of knowledge and access to information.

In Martial Arts, a departure from the standardized framework means a delay or even impossibility of being rewarded with a high rank, medals, and trophies. In many cases, not following the steps dictated by the school may lead to rejection and even expulsion. Sadly, young students are conditioned from the beginning to obey, hence to be rewarded by being praised, granted colorful belts and shiny trophies, and being accepted as equals - for as long as those parameters of the framework are followed and obeyed. 

The standardized frameworks of learning are leveraged against human innate desire and need to belong and then enforced through a complex system of punishment and reward that applies pressure at individual and societal level throughout every moment and aspect of our lives.

In other words, we suck the wind out of our own sails as explorers and creators. We celebrate individuality when it succeeds in following our norms and standardized frameworks. This is a far cry from what celebrating life ought to be and the true recognition of the unique individuality of each human being that comes with it.

Let’s place the spotlight on an example.

Take a deck of cards. We begin to build a castle out of the cards. Our progress is determined by our skill and patience, but confined to the laws of Gravity, the level of Friction between the cards and the surface you are building on, the atmospheric conditions - if we are doing this outside - and, of course, time.

As we build, we realize that there are only a limited number of ways in which the cards can be stacked or propped against each other. We can create multiple levels, connect different cells, and expand horizontally and vertically, ALL within the confinement of how many cards we have available and the above mentioned physical conditions at play. When we use up all the cards on our deck, we are done. Our only option from here on is to recombine those cards in multiple variations.

Now let’s assume that we can build using the same deck of cards, but also using ANY other object we want and can choose from our world. In doing so, we instantly increased the number of possible variations of what we can build to..infinity. However, even though we now have an infinite number of possibilities to explore, we remain bound by the SAME laws of nature and forces at play: Gravity, Surface, Natural Elements, AND the very structure and fragility of the cards - the material we use to build.   

The end result would be quite an extraordinary construction, originally expressed, and fully complying to basic structural engineering. It will only be a construction made out of cards if it follows the laws of nature and it would remain so for as long as no other unaccounted external forces were to be applied. Otherwise it would end up being just a pile of stuff.

Unlearning to learn is not a way to not learn. Instead, it is a way to learn in infinite ways, from virtually infinite sources, building a body of knowledge that, while potentially infinite, would still remain an expression of the natural laws of nature surrounding us.

To accomplish this, we need to make sure we understand the - obvious yet often hidden - tools at our disposal, and we need to strategize the structural integration of time and relationships in our lives or our students' lives.

Coming Soon - PART III - Hidden in PLAY Sight

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May the river of your life flow gently and strongly under the splendor of many Sunrises and Sunsets, and for many years to come.

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