Slowing Earth’s Orbit
If the world stopped spinning, we’d fly sideways at 1,600km/hour and become blood smoothies.
The world turns fast, evidently. That is true both literally and metaphorically. As you get older, time seems to speed up. One moment you’re writing college apps, next you’re graduating, then you’re thrown off to the real world. Work gets tougher, deadlines get shorter, and everything spins faster. The enjoyable moments decrease while the stressful moments multiply. You tell yourself you’ll relax when the work is done —but there’s never enough time, never less work. Will you ever relax? Will the break come? You secretly hope that it does, but you also hope that it doesn’t, because if you break too long, you’re a blood smoothie on a wall.
It’s tough to relax. Even if you’re busying yourself always, it’s impossible to relax.
I constantly ask myself, “I am practicing, but am I progressing?” Though I may be able to list the reasons why I’m progressing, I never feel like I can answer, “yes,” to that question. I constantly feel the need to keep pace with the world, to catch up with my peers. I’m never able to remove myself from the heel of my ambition.
Only recently did I recognize the double-edged nature of my ambition, for “it is not the man who has too little who is poor, but the one who hankers after more.” As in this, the ambitious man is often the one left endlessly, perpetually unfulfilled. Getting caught up in the rush of the world is a recipe for disaster, for prolonged misery. I’d like not to do that, so maybe it’s time to slow the world down. However, dropping momentum is a tough choice. Without momentum, I may slow down and be trampled by the mob my insecurities conjured behind me. Though, should I choose not to slow down, should I remain in the belly of the rush, this snowball that I’m building may just tip back on me like Sisyphus’s boulder. Trying to do things fast before doing them right is a quick way to find yourself caught in a loop.
In weightlifting, moving from a strong position will always be better than trying to create momentum by rushing acceleration. If you rush, you’ll find yourself in a faulty position while staring down the barrel of injuries and long, looping roads to recovery. The same is true of learning.
Sometimes the answer to accelerated times is decelerated learning. Ever heard of living in the now? Slowing down to remain attentive to the present moment has as much learning importance as it does philosophical importance. Attention is a simple principle of memory (think of memory as the ability to remember, not merely parrot) and one of the most important because “a man must get a thing before he can forget it.” To learn, you need to pay attention. Move too fast and you won’t catch ideas. Move too slow and you’ll get distracted. Attention turns translucency to transparency, philosophically, it turns time to life, and in learning it turns knowledge to understanding. What then comes ahead of all else is attention paid to getting, to understanding.
How to Analyze Anything
“Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” -Michelangelo Buonarroti
Watching a fight or reading a book both look to be passive activities; however, the more active you are, the more you’ll learn. You learn by understanding, and you understand by being active with observation and analysis.
You learn by:
- Being active (analyzing via questions)
- What’s the objective?
- How is the objective achieved?
- Performing each of the acts involved more skillfully (being able to dive deeper with questions)
The questions raised are different from subject to subject, but the most important ones remain the same; these questions are what form the basis of analysis. Fights, books, anything, are the blocks of stone, and you are the sculptor; as it is the work of a sculptor’s hand that forms a statue, it is the work of analysis that forms understanding.
An Introduction to Understanding: How to Analyze a Fight
The beginning of analysis starts at the end. Watching a fight and reading a book are both interactive processes that require back and forth communication between the viewer/reader and what’s being viewed/read. This communication begins with pinpointing through questions how fights end the way they do.
- What was giving the loser trouble?
- In the event of a knockout, what made the hole for the technique?
Think in terms of end results, objectives, and from there you can find the bread crumbs that led to the result: a spectacular head kick KO. But how did Mirko do it? What made the hole for the technique? The answer can be found right before the knockout itself.
The left kick has a similar starting motion to that of the left straight thus making both unpredictable when chained together. Mirko throws a left straight which draws a parry with Igor’s right hand. However, this same parry spells Igor’s downfall by leaving his head defenseless for Mirko’s left high kick.
Mirko ends the fight by throwing two left straights right before kicking Igor into deep orbit.
- The importance of setting up. Techniques thrown with a setup are far more likely to land than one without.
- Throwing a left straight makes a left kick easier to throw because your weight is already shifted onto the lead leg. The same goes for a right straight and a right kick.
As you begin to dive deeper into questions, you will be able to get more detailed answers. Eventually, you’ll see more and more. You’ll pay attention to angles, see whether a fighter is using an inside or outside angle, minor or major angle. You can analyze hip rotation, shoulder whirl, foot position, hand position, weight transfer during a punch, elbow, knee, or kick, weight transfer into, out of, or during a combination, the pattern of offense, pre-entry, entry, exit, and all else under the tip of the iceberg.
Turning Knowledge to Understanding: How to Read a Book
This is where doing things right before doing them fast is more relevant than ever. How often do you encounter speed-reading lessons? This is the rush. It is the mistaken desire to be widely-read over being well-read. One who is widely-read only has loose knowledge while a well-read man possesses an understanding. It’s the difference between a person who knows how to follow recipes and a chef who understands braising, grilling, sautéing, and all other methods of cooking. A collection of knowledge and an understanding are two different things. Understanding is the string that ties all of knowledge together. What understanding builds is a frame that gives knowledge meaning. And as there are recipes that teach skills (braising, grilling, sautéing, etc.), there is a process that creates understanding.
For you to understand something, you need to have a framework that allows you to understand. For instance, is it enough to know a T-Rex is 40 feet long and 20 feet tall? Maybe. But is it not better to imagine how the T-Rex is long enough to fill the length of your entire backyard and tall enough to stick its head through your second-floor window? I vote the latter.
Adler and Doren’s How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading places the T-Rex in your backyard and builds such frameworks. The 3rd stage of reading, analytical reading, lays out the first steps in understanding (bracketed is mine):
- State the unity of the whole book in at most a few sentences (a short paragraph).
- Set forth the major parts of the book, and show how these are organized into a whole, by being ordered to one another and to the unity of the whole.
- To grasp the complex unity, know how it is one. Know how it is many, not a many that consist of a lot of separate things, but an organized many. (Adler and Doren 47-48)
- Define the problem or problems the author has tried to solve. (Adler and Doren 102)
- State the main question that the book tries to answer, state the subordinate questions if the main question is complex and has many parts. Put the questions in an intelligible order. Which are primary and secondary? Which questions must be answered first if others are to be answered later? (Adler and Doren 58)
- [This is easier for some books than it is for others. For instance, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People has the main question in the title while Walter Murch’s In the Blink of an Eye has multiple questions and messages scattered within its pages.]
All the steps enforce recitation and test your measure of understanding, to see connections, similarities, differences, and how and why something is. Something is not meaningful solely because it is connected, but the more connected it is, the more meaningful it is. It is the difference between a pile of bricks and a house. By testing your understanding through recitation and explanation, you’re not only making a house out of bricks but also ensuring them an immovable foundation to rest in, as I will prove.
The more you understand something, the easier it is to learn. You are learning by connecting thoughts. William Chase and Herbert Simon recreated chess psychologist Adrian de Groot’s famous experiment which demonstrates how knowledge compounds on knowledge, how understanding compounds on understanding. They showed a chess position to a master-level player, an amateur, and a novice for 5 seconds before asking them to recall the positions later. The master managed to recall 81% correctly, the amateur 49%, and the novice 33%. The master’s advantage was his familiarity which broke the chess position down to multiple parts, chunking. This showed that the better you understand something, the more you can connect the dots. To see chunking in its simplest form, look at acronyms. Take H.O.M.E.S., for example. It’s one word that provides cues for the names of the great lakes. Furthermore, it tells you exactly how many lakes there are. A total of five: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Eerie, and Superior.
A slightly more complex example of chunking would be organization. Most use recall as the measure of memory, and organization aids recall greatly. Imagine a dictionary with words listed in a random order. How much longer would it be to find anything? Much longer. The alphabetically ordered words are what aids in your search. Much like a dictionary or library, the brain’s retrieval of knowledge is aided by organization. Try recalling as many U.S. states as possible. Chances are, instead of recalling randomly, you start in a certain geographical area and work outwards: California is linked to Nevada, New York to Rhode Island, North Dakota to South Dakota, etc. Organization chunks knowledge.
Being able to find the chunks not only eases the burden on your working memory, but it also provides you with a more cohesive understanding of the material. So, when you’re reading a book, you analyze it by not only seeing how the chunks, parts, chapters, etc., connect to each other but how they form a whole. This is the essence of understanding. If you’re not able to explain something, you don’t know it well enough, but by explaining things enough, you’ll know them well.
Understanding the meaning of each word in a sentence before moving on takes far longer than does skimming. Slowing down each moment of a fight to pick the details is much more grinding than watching it as a whole, but you gain a more cohesive picture by paying attention to detail. It is this attention, to getting things right, that’s at the core of analysis. It is not enough to see the angel in the marble; you have to carve him out and set him free. Analysis is the tool that aids carving. Analysis slows one down and brings specificity; specificity brings attention, and attention brings memory. By looking at single frames, you see the entire picture. This is how being slow produces speed. This is why doing things right is more important than doing things fast. And it is why in accelerated times, you need decelerated learning.
Higbee, Kenneth L. Your Memory: How It Works and How to Improve It. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1977. Print.
Adler, Mortimer, and Charles Doren. How To Read A Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. New York: Touchstone, 1972. Print.
Slack, Jack. Advanced Striking: Tactics of Boxing, Kickboxing, and MMA Masters.
Chase, W.G. and Simon, H.A. The mind’s eye in chess. Visual Information Processing (W. G. Chase, ed.). New York: Academic Press, 1973.
Chase, W.G. and Simon, H.A. Perception in chess. Cognitive Psychology, 1973,4,55-81