Thinking of an after lesson talk with my student last night reminded me of a story I once read. Basically, the talk was on over-analyzing a movement to the detriment of practice.
You see, my student professes to over-analyze what she has learned, to the point where it paralyzed her practice. My opinion is if you get stuck just carry on with the practice. As more mistakes are made there will be a point where the mistakes actually settle down to a handful. From these handful we can then make the critical corrections to getting the movements right. This is why masters like to tell students to practice, practice, practice.
OK, back to the story. There once was a German (ironic, isn’t it my dear C?) inventor (picture below), self taught, who discovered many interesting things about nature. In the years to come he would be criticized by well known and prominent scientists but many of his views proved to be correct, if not then, now.
There was an incident, Zen-like, between a well known scientist who was also a professor in a university. As I remember it the scientist heard of this inventor and went to see him.
The inventor and the professor was standing by a river, I think it was in the Black Forest, when the inventor pointed to a worn stone in the stream and asked the professor if the water was colder before or after it has flowed around the stone.
Well, I have to confess if I were to be asked this question I would give the same answer as the professor because logically this was how I would think it is so. The professor said “There is not the slightest doubt that the water is colder before it has passed the stone.” because the friction against the stone as the water passed it increased the water temperature.
Ah, so logical. And interestingly, logic and scientific reasoning proved to be utterly wrong as the inventor said that the water is colder after it has flowed past the stone.
The professor would not take such an illogical reasoning lying down and a forceful debate ensued. Out came the flow charts and temperature diagrams as the professor drew them in the sand to prove his argument. The inventor listened for a while and then said :-
“Would it not be simpler if we measured the temperature of the water to see who is right?”
Isn’t this like what I had been telling my student about just getting on with the practice instead of trying to analyze what she had learned? The reason is practice will allow her to discover what is right and wrong whereas analyzing is basically thinking and assigning right and wrong values without the benefit of practice data.
The thing about mastery is it requires a lot of practice and making mistakes before one gets on the right path. So the longer one delays the inevitable the longer one takes to get there.
So coming back to the inventor and the professor – so after saying that it would be simpler to settle the argument the inventor walked into the stream, measured the water and told the professor that the water was indeed colder after it had flowed past the stone rather than warmer as the professor had theorized.
The professor refused to accept the finding and said that the inventor must have measured incorrectly. He waded into the stream, measured the water and faced the fact that he was wrong and the inventor was correct. Oh, this professor was 72 years old at that time so he was not some fresh out of school, wet around the ears young pup that could be fooled easily by the inventor. The professor was convinced and became a proponent of this inventor from that day on.
Reading about this inventor and his discoveries informed me of a lot about nature that I did not know about. He was feared by many professors and one of them even said that if they did not put him and his discoveries down they would lose their jobs because all the textbooks would have to be re-written.
One well known insight spoken of by the inventor back then in the 1930s was that for an aircraft to be able to be successful for flying at supersonic speed the shape would have to resemble that of the body shapes of deep sea fish. If you take a look at the shape of today’s Stealth type planes side by side with a drawing of deep sea fish that appeared in a book about this inventor the point is obvious.
Oh, did I mention that Heinkel (Professor Ernst Heinkel) who invented the first jet plane stole the inventor’s ideas to start a covert program to improve the performance of his 1,000 kph fighter, possibly the He 280 (see video below). When Heinkel got stuck as he did not fully understand the inventor’s patents he even attempted to get the inventor to collaborate with him but nothing came of it as Heinkel’s misdeeds became known.
I don’t like to accept things on faith but if you are venturing into unknown territory sometimes this is part and parcel of the adventure. The journey to Master Tai Chi Today is one such adventure.
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