Knowledge Frameworks

Imagine you decided one day that you wanted to learn how to build a house, so you answered an ad in the paper that was looking for home builders, no experience needed. When you showed up on the jobsite, an architect puts you in front of a house lot, gives you some lumber and nails, and gives you a quick peek at a set of plans that you don’t know how to read. Then he turns you loose with a bunch of power tools and says he’ll see you next week.

That’s essentially what happens on our first day in Jiu-Jitsu class. And it doesn’t matter if we’ve trained in different fighting systems, or wrestled, or done traditional martial arts. We don’t have a clue what we are doing.  A good instructor may spend some extra time with us in the beginning trying to help us understand the basics, such as how the foundation is designed, how to read the plans, or maybe how some of the parts fit together. But essentially it’s up to us to figure it out by practicing and watching our instructor and the others in our class.

Do you remember your first day of class? Nothing made any sense. No matter how good your instructor is, and no matter how basic the technique that he taught was, it probably didn’t stick with you. And even if it did you missed all the finer details and were only able to focus on the big movements. You probably had questions that sounded something like “which leg should I be using?” Or “what side should my arm be on?” These questions indicate a very basic level of understanding. Even if you were able to mimic the movements that were shown during class, you couldn’t apply them when rolling. And a week later you might have forgotten them completely.

But over a period of time certain things started to make more sense. You began to understand some of the finer points of particular techniques.  You started to be able to apply more and more of what you learned while you’re rolling. You might find yourself asking something like “should my thumb be in or out for this grip?” This type of question indicates a much deeper level of understanding for a particular technique.

Now that you’ve been training for while you find that you understand some things right away and can pick up on the finer details, while a things are still very difficult to grasp. Why is this?

Humans learn by creating frameworks of knowledge, much like the framework of a house. We need a framework to hold together all the technique details as we acquire them. If we just try to acquire lots of techniques but don’t build our knowledge framework, it’s like having a huge pile of lumber, doors, and windows on the construction site with no organization. It’s a big mess.

When building a house, there is no place to hang the doors or the windows until the walls are built. The walls can’t be built before the foundation is finished. And it doesn’t make any sense to spend a lot of time picking out paint colors before the roof is in place.

If you find that you are having trouble understanding a particular technique, it might just be that you haven’t spent enough time building up your foundation or your framework, so there’s no place to hang the details of the technique. It doesn’t mean that you can never understand it, it just isn’t time yet.

Building the foundation and the framework takes a lot of time and hard work, but it always pays off in the end.

 - Bill Thomas