Dead languages, martial arts, the Bar Method and ballet

All students who sign up for my classes want to learn.  Some students excel – just look at Vichelangelo’s prose comp piece  (and she’s just a beginner!). Others quit prematurely…

 Those who give up cite as their reason the amount of (boring and repetitive) work they have to do in preparation for class.  The Cursed Paradigms are the focus of particularly intense odium.  Ditto about those gnarly translations, which are a headache without the paradigms.  I don’t know who first saw paradigms as evil to be avoided at all costs, but the idea is dangerously attractive and extremely damaging.  Here is why.

Imagine you are an aspiring martial artist.  If you are like me, you want this type of proficiency:

Ziyi Zhang and Michelle Yeoh are awesome, huh.  So is Bruce Lee’s famous one-inch punch:

To get there, however, you start with the humblest form of basic physical training:

OK, I don’t know if Ziyi Zhang and Michelle Yeoh actually did this, but I am sure they did the Bar Method which is a form of essential physical training, too.   I think both of them also did ballet, which requires tons of stamina and megatons of patience, because you often practice the same movement over and over, until you’re blue in the face.  The ballet performance itself is a piece of cake in comparison:

The above video is absolutely breathtaking.  If you didn’t click on it, you committed a crime.  Burr will be proud of the lead ballerina’s hip position.  And of her balance.

At any rate, to get to this level of proficiency, you must go through paradigms.  Here is the first paradigm in Okinawan shorin-ryu karate:

The first time you do it, you don’t really know what you’re doing.  Trust me, I can do an air representation of this kata; I can even dance it, and have, on occasions.  But I still don’t know clearly how the movements in the kata translate to this:

But I know people who do.  These persons usually have experience with real fights.  I’ve never really engaged in a fight, except with my little brother, whom I gloriously defeated for many years until he gave me a black eye.  If it comes to a real fight, I’ll be toast (I am not even mentioning grizzly bears this time, mind you.)

So if I want to become like the girls and boy above, I have to go through the basic training, the air blocks, the katas, the agreed-upon sparring (which gives you bruises but feels good, especially since you get to do it again and again), and a host of other obstacles that I’ve only heard about.  Daunting, eh?  But the process is fun in itself, so who cares how long it will take and whether or not I’ll ever be able to play pingpong with nunchuck:

Long live katas, the Bar Method and paradigms!  And, of course, last but not least, THE OAKLAND RAIDERS!


5 thoughts on “Dead languages, martial arts, the Bar Method and ballet

  1. It’s easy to look at a master and assume they were born with that mastery. How many of your students have said, “Oh, we can never be as good as Rali, she is just brilliant with languages.” Well, that’s true enough, but I’ve come to realize it’s insulting when said like that, because it diminishes the hard work you did to become a master of classical languages. You did your time with paradigms and vocab lists. You weren’t born with a Ph.D.!
    At the same time, I’m all for any technique that makes studying paradigms easier, and any method that cuts down on rote. Some books take it too far, assuming you can just absorb a language by reading it, but I like approaches like Mounce’s, which is somewhere in the middle. The paradigms are there, but patterns are pointed out, and rote is reduced.
    In the end, if you want to learn a classical language, it will be a hard, long process. If I had known that it would be this long and difficult, I would probably never have started. But studying classics has been the most rewarding thing I’ve done, and the hard work is good for the mind and the soul. Other people can sit in front of the TV watching idiotic sitcoms; I’ll take paradigms any day!

    1. You know, what you say is so true! If I’d ever known how hard it was going to be living in a country other than the one I was comfortably born in, I’d never have relocated. If I’d ever known how difficult being a parent is, I’d have stayed pregnant for life. Generally, life is hard if you think it’s going to be a piece of cake. So let’s think of it as a piece of skirt stake – hard to chew at the moment but tasty afterwards!

      I wish I could sing…

  2. I cannot comment on the martial arts videos because I know nothing about martial arts. As for the ballet video, that is an area where I have a lot of experience. I’ve seen stills of the Chinese Swan Lake, but the video is much more amazing. Credit needs to be given to the man — she is putting all of her 80 (70?) pounds on a one square inch space! It is truly an amazing gymnastic performance, but it is not ballet. And it really is not Swan Lake.

    1. But it a truly inspired transcultural rendition of Swan Lake. Who knows what the Chinese think when we do renditions of their cultural masterpieces.

      I think their def of ballet is slightly different from ours. This gymnasto-ballerina is by far the most graceful I’ve ever seen. But I may not seen enough, so please post your favorite video of the scene!

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