“I was frustrated for many years while competing in karate forms. My instructor at the time was all about perfection. There was this one way of doing it, and you had to have it right. And I never did very well in competition. Then I switched instructors. My new instructor said, ‘You know the form. Now, tell the story.’ Each form is a 30-45 second story of conflict and victory. Once I understood how to ‘tell the story’ my forms looked real, and I started winning competitions.” Fred Miller
Fred Miller writes over at http://how2feel.com. Fred writes like I speak. We both like bad words that good people don’t use. We are both from Kansas. He is still there. I am in physically in Tennessee, but metaphysically you can’t get me out of Kansas. I aspire to equal his credentials page some day. He doesn’t really want me to tell you about his hilarious “other” blog. His girlfriend Tessa moves me to tears.
Fred posted the comment above in response to my post Pushing Past Fear by Flying Your Freak Flag. As soon as I read it, I knew that it would need a stand alone post.
There is truth in the simple phrase “you know the form, now tell the story.” This transition point, this movement from skill acquisition to skill ownership to finally inhabiting the skill with your unique experience, describes so my people, including me.
We have all felt the anxious uphill process of learning a new discipline.
I ride along with my less than confident middle daughter as she drives to school every morning. (It’s my car.) I cringe. I cinch up. And I know that, with practice, she will get it, just like we all do.
Then comes the long middle season of practice.
We take our new skills and ideas and apply them in the world. Clumsily. Tentatively. Slowly we work out the kinks and do enough “reps” until the skill becomes a part of who we are.
We often expect a point of release, where the competence that we have worked for eases our anxiety. But many times, the exact opposite happens. We finally know what we are doing. We just don’t know why we are doing it, or to what end.
It doesn’t seem to matter if our discipline is athletic, academic, or other.
This sticking point between “knowing the form” and “telling the story” can derail us if we don’t find a way through.
In his book for teachers The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer says:
“Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher… If identity and integrity are more fundamental to good teaching than technique – and if we want to grow as teachers – we must do something alien to academic culture: we must talk to each other about our inner lives – risky stuff in a profession that fears the personal and seeks safety in the technical, the distant, the abstract.”
To inhabit the form requires us to tell our own story. No matter what our “form” or discipline is, the best practitioners in that field often use wildly different techniques. But they all share one trait. A strong sense of personal identity infuses their work. The degree to which I know and trust my story, and am willing to share that story – that is the difference between simple existence and profound effectiveness.
So, what are the “forms” that you know? Where do you use them? How have you allowed your unique story to steep throughout the discipline and move it from lifeless to life-giving?
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