No student was permitted to study judo by my martial arts grandmaster until they had earned a black belt in tai kwon do. The belief was that tai kwon do made you strong from the outside-in, whereas, judo made you strong from the inside-out. I can honestly say that my judo training was the most strenuous physical activity I ever experienced.
One day, when I was a yellow belt (the color following white), we had a visiting red belt (the color preceding black) student from a sister-school, with whom I was partnered, as we learned a complex new leg and hip throw. The black belt instructor demonstrated the task several times with another black belt instructor and then it was our turn.
Five pairs of students were instructed to practice the challenging task with the “uke” throwing the “tori” ten times after which the roles switched. The initial move was for the uke to grab the “gi”of the tori, quickly slide the rear foot alongside the opposite foot of the tori, then with a slight but assertive hip-bump, easily and effortlessly throw tori over uke’s hip to the ground.
My red belt partner was several inches taller than I, perhaps thirty pounds or more heavier and at least twenty years younger. Each and every time his hip collided into my hip, I could feel increasing muscle and bone injury. Again and again, until his ten failed practice attempts were finished, I found myself grimacing in considerable pain with a stoic commitment to remaining a worthy tori until it was my turn to be the uke.
Thereafter, I successfully threw him ten consecutive times without fail whereupon, in disbelief, he inquired: “How could a relative beginner accomplish in his first and nine subsequent moves what an experienced judo practitioner was not able to accomplish in ten moves?” whereupon, I replied: “Each time you performed the move incorrectly, I was learning what specifically NOT to do so, actually, you are responsible for teaching me how to correctly perform this difficult throw.”
Our visiting red belt beamed with gleeful pride and for the remainder of the training session was very happy with himself while I, on the other hand, gingerly practiced for the next hour, all-the-while diligently protecting a sorely bruised hip knowing that it would probably take weeks to heal and for all the black-and-blue marks to go away.
The moral of my judo lesson is that there are many ways to learn a particular skill or complex competency but while successive successful approximations to criterion may apply in a traditional learning theory paradigm, one may also derive significant benefit from acquiring those successive unsuccessful approximations to what is NOT the criterion.
As uke, I was immediately able to successfully throw tori, ten times in a row, because when tori was uke, what he did when I was tori, was dead wrong and I was the fortunate, receptive and grateful beneficiary of what the experience of all of his failures eventually taught me when it was my turn, as uke, to demonstrate what I had learned from his mistakes.
Author Note: Dr. Larry B. Gelman is a Clinical Psychologist and a Personal Mentor
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