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 Post subject: Coaches should be ambiguous
Post #1 Posted: Tue Mar 26, 2013 7:38 pm 
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Remember how Mr. Miyagi taught The Karate Kid how to fight? Wax on/Wax off. Paint the fence. Don’t forget to breathe. A coach is the coach because he knows what the student needs to do to advance. A big problem for coaches is that the most precocious students also (naturally) think they know what they need to learn


More where that came from. This one is sure to provoke some debate...

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 Post subject: Re: Coaches should be ambiguous
Post #2 Posted: Tue Mar 26, 2013 11:16 pm 
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Yes, because movie logic is infallible.

There are a lot of other great examples of ambiguity proving so effective. The main one coming to mind is Master Roshi's amazing training method: Wear a 50 pound turtle shell while delivering milk, and of course fighting off the island's native wildlife (eg, sharks and dinosaurs).

But really, I think the most effective learning/teaching strategy isn't ambiguity... it's the montage.


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Post #3 Posted: Wed Mar 27, 2013 10:20 am 
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The problem with ambiguous training is neurological. Wax on and wax off ten thousand times and you'll be really, really good at waxing. And the next time someone tries to punch you in the face, you'll come out of it with a nice black eye. :blackeye:

Why? The brain simply hasn't made the association. The purpose behind the movement you've practiced 10,000 times is to wax on/off. This is something I've actually encountered in the martial arts as a sanctioned training method; repeat the same movement a million times without knowing its purpose, then never be told why you did it. Of course when we needed it, it never came out.

So the idea here is:
Practice a movement repetitively ---> the technique will be there when you need it

How reality works:
Practice a movement repetitively ---> associate the movement with its function ---> the technique will be there - albeit sloppy

Or better yet:
Learn a technique and its function ---> practice the movement consciously and in the right context ---> never get punched in the face again

I feel the same applies to everything. In order to learn a new technique/sequence, it's important to know its function. Otherwise you gloss over some Go material, read something like "When attached, extend!", then go on to do these things mechanically and lose all your games, and wonder if what you really need is to pay Guo Juan for lessons to get past 9k. :mrgreen:

When I teach a sequence or elaborate on a concept, I always give the student concrete examples of how this thick group helped make territory all the way in the opposite corner, and exactly why the order of moves is just so. This way they don't get creamed when someone goes off-joseki (well sometimes, but don't we all?), and they can use their skills to play similar sequences in similar situations.

Best of all, their fundamental understanding and Go strength grow exponentially faster than with the Miyagi method. ;-)

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 Post subject: Re: Coaches should be ambiguous
Post #4 Posted: Wed Mar 27, 2013 11:28 am 
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I don't think that you can become stronger at Go by being lazy, so what's wrong with a bit of ambiguity in the right places?

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 Post subject: Re: Coaches should be ambiguous
Post #5 Posted: Wed Mar 27, 2013 1:23 pm 
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There's an interesting history to the idea of hiding a martial arts move in an unrelated action or sequence.

The concern was that it's actually too easy to pass on your techniques, at which point you've got nothing over the student. They might leave and start a competing dojo. They might best you and prove their superiority (you've got the experience, but they are in their physical prime...). They might use their fighting ability in troublesome ways and dishonor you. You want them to improve and learn your techniques, you just want some time to make sure you can trust them (or earn your pay).

So you teach them some convoluted or seemingly pointless action and have them drill that into their muscle memory. Most of it is garbage, but some motion within it is useful. Maybe you take a sequence of moves, and teach each motion as part of a separate drill. Then, when you're finally ready to teach your secret techniques, the parts are all trained up. They already know the motion to block a punch, they've just got to train that action into an instinct for the right triggers.

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 Post subject: Re: Coaches should be ambiguous
Post #6 Posted: Wed Mar 27, 2013 2:08 pm 
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Polama wrote:
So you teach them some convoluted or seemingly pointless action and have them drill that into their muscle memory. Most of it is garbage, but some motion within it is useful.


I've practiced a few martial arts, and by the time I got to do Kung Fu, where this method was used wayyyy too much, I knew too much for it to really be subtle or obscure. :-|

I remember we did one of these series of movements hundreds of times. In one class, we started sparring and my opponent stepped up and punched me. I grabbed his wrist, did the movements, and he ended up on his back on the floor. This is approximately how the conversation went right after.

"What the hell was that?!?"
"It's the stuff we've been practicing."
"So it's to start a throw?"
"Actually, it's to break your elbow, crush your windpipe and then break your spine on the ground. You're welcome."

There were times when other sequences would come up and everyone would ape the movements. Afterward I would talk to the instructor and ask him if the technique was designed for such or such purpose. He would scowl at me and tell me not to say anything to the others.

I knew for a fact that they were wasting their time, though. Without the right triggers, as you say, the technique will simply not be there when you need it. Even if you connect the dots later, it won't be anything but gross motor patterns. In a fight, where a small mistake can be the end of you, I much prefer knowing what I'm doing and why, so I can have the right response at the right time, and be able to adapt to the surrounding factors.

Just my personal philosophy of staying alive.


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 Post subject: Re: Coaches should be ambiguous
Post #7 Posted: Wed Mar 27, 2013 3:06 pm 
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Phoenix, that's very interesting!

On your philosophy of learning, I agree absolutely. Only when you understand what you're doing do you truly learn efficiently.


Quote:
"Actually, it's to break your elbow, crush your windpipe and then break your spine on the ground. You're welcome."
However, may I say, I'm glad not everyone who practices martial arts gets this right away :mrgreen:


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 Post subject: Re: Coaches should be ambiguous
Post #8 Posted: Wed Mar 27, 2013 3:10 pm 
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Javaness2 wrote:
I don't think that you can become stronger at Go by being lazy, so what's wrong with a bit of ambiguity in the right places?

Well, put that way, what's right with ambiguity in the wrong places? As mentioned above, the basis for resolving the ambiguity of the right versus the wrong places is... what works in a kids movie? Let's just skip all the hard work. Show me that radioactive spider that will instantly give me super powers! :blackeye:

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 Post subject: Re: Coaches should be ambiguous
Post #9 Posted: Thu Mar 28, 2013 3:37 am 
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Phoenix wrote:
"Actually, it's to break your elbow, crush your windpipe and then break your spine on the ground. You're welcome."
...
Just my personal philosophy of staying alive.


How is prison?

You must be serving serious prison time if your philosophy involves murdering everyone who tries to hit you.

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Post #10 Posted: Thu Mar 28, 2013 3:50 am 
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tapir wrote:
Phoenix wrote:
"Actually, it's to break your elbow, crush your windpipe and then break your spine on the ground. You're welcome."
...
Just my personal philosophy of staying alive.


How is prison?

You must be serving serious prison time if your philosophy involves murdering everyone who tries to hit you.


On the subject of selective quoting.

tapir wrote:
You must...murder...everyone


:o


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 Post subject: Re: Coaches should be ambiguous
Post #11 Posted: Thu Mar 28, 2013 9:28 am 
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tapir wrote:
Phoenix wrote:
"Actually, it's to break your elbow, crush your windpipe and then break your spine on the ground. You're welcome."
...
Just my personal philosophy of staying alive.


How is prison?

You must be serving serious prison time if your philosophy involves murdering everyone who tries to hit you.


Very funny.

I've been taught movements in the martial arts with the purpose of seriously harming others. I'm really not sure why this was important to some of my instructors. My personal approach to self-defense is the same as I've been taught: fight only when you're in danger and only to the extent necessary.

I've been in dangerous situations where my skills might be needed and every single time I've managed to defuse the situation without violence. This includes an attempted mugging.

I just like to be clear.

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Post #12 Posted: Thu Mar 28, 2013 10:50 am 
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Phoenix wrote:
every single time I've managed to defuse the situation without violence. This includes an attempted mugging.
Phoenix, congrats -- that's excellent. May I ask for more details of the attempted mugging and how did you defuse it?

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 Post subject: Re: Coaches should be ambiguous
Post #13 Posted: Thu Mar 28, 2013 11:15 am 
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In college I studied math/CS, but my friends were all humanities types. Which meant I ended up helping a few people get through the required Caclulus I class. Invariably, the core issue for them was that the class would start out by jumping back and forth between the formal definition of derivitives (the limit as h goes to 0 of (f(a+h)-f(a))/h) and the simple algorithms you can use to solve derivitives when you don't care about formality (multiply by the exponent and reduce the exponent by one, e.g.) In the end, all they needed for the tests were the simple algorithms, but they were lost in these quasi-methods somewhere between the two. In about an hour I could start them over and just focus on the simple algorithms and what they meant in terms of a graph and get them solving equations they had zero understanding of before. It was, in a sense, the two extremes discussed here: ambiguity (not unrelated information in this case, but more information and jumbled information) and simply providing just the information useful to them in an approachable manner. Once they had a basic understanding I could rattle through the rules for them (how to derive a logarithm, a fraction, a power to x ...) and they could use them and pass the class.

On the flip side, I doubt any of them could still take the derivitive of a simple equation. I hadn't been tutored, so I had to fight through making the interesting connections of Calculus: why the simple algorithms and the limit formula said the same thing, what the intuitive relationships were between derivitive, slope and velocity, etc. I put a lot of thought into how Calculus related to the real world and the equivalance of equations and graphs. And because of that, I could distill the information down into something somebody else could use, and it's still with me today.

Which is a round about way of saying you can go overboard in either direction. Adding ambiguity for ambiguities sake isn't helpful. But you can go to the other extreme of spoonfeeding everything: this move is good in this situation because of this, this one is bad because of that, and the student can remember your instructions and improve. But there's a lot to be said for not showing them which moves are bad, and letting them learn how to figure that out for themselves. Give a man joseki and he won't let all his stones in the corner die. Teach a man to discover joseki, and he won't let all his stones in the center die either.


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 Post subject: Re: Coaches should be ambiguous
Post #14 Posted: Thu Mar 28, 2013 12:04 pm 
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Polama wrote:
Give a man joseki and he won't let all his stones in the corner die. Teach a man to discover joseki, and he won't let all his stones in the center die either.


There is much to that. As I have mentioned, the first joseki book I got was about joseki mistakes. To understand joseki you have to understand why non-joseki are not in general good.

But discovering joseki is beyond the power of the individual. That is why go history is cluttered with obsolete joseki. Patterns of play that were accepted as reasonable are refuted, or come to be seen as not so reasonable. (Actually, I am surprised how many ancient joseki have survived. The Mini-Chinese goes back centuries. :))

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Post #15 Posted: Thu Mar 28, 2013 12:09 pm 
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EdLee wrote:
May I ask for more details of the attempted mugging and how did you defuse it?


That one was a matter of psychology. Assaulting someone doesn't come naturally, especially when unprovoked. There's a whole primal system that kicks in which forces us to avoid fighting when we can. Otherwise with our short tempers and irrational minds, we'd be extinct as a species. :D

Anyway, a mugger has to work himself up to the mugging. 'Pump up' psychologically, get the adrenalin flowing, etc. I was walking across a bridge when the man came out from cover at the end. He had a hand in his pocket and looked dead serious, and there was no one anywhere close. I just knew instinctively what to do. I had all the training and knew I was in no real danger. So I showed it.

I relaxed, held my head high, looked him in the eye, smiled confidently, and kept walking straight. It was sort of funny, really, because at that moment he took a step towards me, then froze, glanced around nervously, did a little back-and-forth dance of indecision, then just retreated back and let me pass untouched.

Put yourself in the other person's shoes and things aren't so scary. ;-)

Polama wrote:
I put a lot of thought into how Calculus related to the real world and the equivalance of equations and graphs. And because of that, I could distill the information down into something somebody else could use, and it's still with me today.

Which is a round about way of saying you can go overboard in either direction. Adding ambiguity for ambiguities sake isn't helpful. But you can go to the other extreme of spoonfeeding everything: this move is good in this situation...
[/quote]

This is the kind of thing I do as well. Ambiguity isn't such a bad thing IMO as long as it serves the purpose of learning, instead of simply obscuring information. In Go we talk about initiative, influence, thickness, strength of groups, etc., as a way to cope with the thousands of variations we simply can't read in a whole- or even part-board setting. Concepts are one way to be ambiguous while being helpful. They're a form of metaphor, and the mind is very metaphorical.

Going through and distilling the learning process into something that is instinctive and easily teachable is part of what makes a great teacher great. We need more people like you in the Go world, and in other disciplines as well. :mrgreen:


Last edited by Phoenix on Thu Mar 28, 2013 8:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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 Post subject: Re: Coaches should be ambiguous
Post #16 Posted: Thu Mar 28, 2013 3:45 pm 
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Phoenix wrote:
I've been taught movements in the martial arts with the purpose of seriously harming others.
...
I've been in dangerous situations where my skills might be needed and every single time I've managed to defuse the situation without violence.


That is great and avoiding fights is always a good philosophy. I am also well aware how self confidence can help in coming to a non-violent conclusion. This doesn't change the fact that people who can and actually do apply all those "self-defense" techniques that end with the attacker stabbed by his own knife or with a broken neck will be in serious legal trouble in almost any country of the world. But most often what martial arts teachers teach isn't put to a test because the pupils live in nice middle class neighbourhoods anyway or running away is often more convenient or one can sort out the conflict otherwise or weapons rapidly change the situation ... that is most often these education remains theoretical.

This is completely different with Go, if we may come back to the original topic. Real fights aren't a rare exception, but every single game is one. It doesn't matter at all whether the technique isn't executed perfectly in the first game you try it. In fact perfectionism and falling back to "standard moves" you feel comfortable with is one typical mistake that holds people back in Go. All teachers I know encourage people to try the new moves they learn as soon as possible - even if it doesn't work out perfectly at first, if they mess up the follow-up whatever. You can't fully understand without trying, so you have to try before fully understanding.

And of course I have seen people teach rubbish to weaker players, not on purpose but because they didn't know better, but the pupils will constantly put it to test in their own games so I very much doubt there will ever be a market for watered down "ambiguous" Go knowledge.

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Post #17 Posted: Thu Mar 28, 2013 6:34 pm 
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Of course Miyagi is fictional--it was just to make the idea vivid.

I do not know if the general idea is valid or not. I found it attractive, because I know that I have the tendency to try and rationalize what I am learning, and decide which portions of it are worthwhile, and which are not. In my calculus class, I read ahead and used derivative formulas on quizzes where I was supposed to have applied an approximation method. In that same class, I remember stumping the teacher with a shortcut I used: he said it seemed wrong to him but he couldn't demonstrate a problem with it (of course, the real way to handle it would be to ask for a proof that it was ok, but this was still high school). Similar things happened in a few later classes.

Now, I want to say my curiousity and such was good for me. But I know that there were times I didn't do enough of the work that my teachers wanted me to do.

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Post #18 Posted: Fri Mar 29, 2013 3:42 am 
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hyperpape wrote:
I have the tendency to try and rationalize what I am learning, and decide which portions of it are worthwhile, and which are not.


I believe this happens with bad teachers, you feel the insecurity of the teacher and start to distrust him and judging his teachings... while you might spot some of them you are most likely not concentrating enough on what you should learn. (At least this is my experience: My math grades dropped from A to D in a year I was busy hating the teacher and only recovered with a new teacher the following year.) This can be inevitable in the education system, but why on earth would you encourage this by hiding your Go teaching among unimportant chores? In my experience good teachers give their pupils to someone else when they feel they can't teach them anymore and good pupils try to learn what their teacher teaches them.

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Post #19 Posted: Fri Mar 29, 2013 12:07 pm 
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If that were true, then I have only ever bad teachers. But that's not the case.

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 Post subject: Re: Coaches should be ambiguous
Post #20 Posted: Fri Mar 29, 2013 12:57 pm 
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tapir wrote:
[...]or running away is often more convenient[...]


That's my biggest problem with self-defense classes. People go to these things, learn a few very situational moves, then come out thinking they can defend themselves. When they do get in a bad situation, of course, they get hurt or worse. You don't learn to fight in two weeks.

My own self-defense class would have two modules: how to spot danger and how to run really fast. Most of the time there's no reason to fight that outweighs the risk of losing your life. ;-)

hyperpape wrote:
I found it attractive, because I know that I have the tendency to try and rationalize what I am learning, and decide which portions of it are worthwhile, and which are not.


Ahh... Student Knows Best Syndrome. It's a pandemic. :mrgreen:

It's difficult to trust a teacher to the extent that you follow their guidelines blindly. Often we think we know what's good for us and what won't help us as much. It's important to remember, though, that the reason you're seeking a teacher is because this is either a new field, or you acknowledge the teacher's superiority in this matter.

It's not necessarily a bad thing. I tend to be a smartass when it comes to learning from someone, and I have a good sense for my own learning style and how to make progress in a system, so it's worked well for me. The important part is that the teacher knows what your own plans are, so they can adapt and the relationship can benefit both of you, instead of working against the current. :)


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