The Big A

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Posted by admin | Posted in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, Mental | Posted on 22-10-2009

Note:  I rarely have original thoughts.  As an engineer, I’m well suited to using established methods to develop solutions.  I don’t create.  My blog posts are not original thoughts.  What I do is take a topic I have learned, turn it upside down, inside out, push it, pull it, smash it, analyze each little piece, put it together again, et al.  Once I have gathered as many perspectives on a topic as I possibly can, I mix it with another topic that has already undergone the same process, and examine what such a mixture yields.  This blog is an example of that; the result of mixing two topics.  Without the topics, I have nothing.  I would like to thank the two people that shared each topic with me, Roger Choat and Ethan Capers, who also happen to be my teachers.  Thank you!

Remember learning how to write?  Back in first grade?  I don’t know about you, but I was given a rather large sheet of paper with several horizontal lines; some of them solid, some of them dashed.  I’m willing to bet that the first letter we were all taught was the “big A;” capital A.  Stay within the solid lines, use the dashed line to come across.  I’m certain that everybody’s first “big A” looked strikingly similar.

We are taught to write in such way because at that developmental stage—for the most part—we have no concept or perspective whatsoever of writing, and the “Big A method” is the best proven method that provides such perspective.  The Big A method is the simplest, quickest—the most efficient—method to get everybody writing.

When was the last time your written capital A looked like that “big A” you learned in grade school?  Since being taught that “big A,” we have “personalized” it, then learned the cursive form, and then personalized that!  Depending on how often you handwrite—an art that is being lost—your writing may have “evolved” to a mere chicken-scratch.  (Not only am I aware that mine has, I even know how and when it happened.)

Learning a martial art—especially for the first time—the rudimentary basics are taught first.  This can be tedious and boring.  Very boring.  The “big A.”  Not only is the “big A” taught, it is repeated numerous times until the importance of the impeccability of the “big A” is somewhat understood.  Then, once one thinks that they know all there is to know about the “A,” the “cursive big A” is introduced.  The “cursive big A” means exactly the same as our first “big A,” but it is done differently; a different perspective on the “A.”  The “cursive big A” is easier to learn than our first “big A,” because the concept of the “A” is already present; it builds upon the “big A.”  The “cursive A” introduces the perspective of how the “A” can “connect” or “flow” with the following letter, whichever it may be.

As the “writing” progresses, each one of us develops our own methods for making it more efficient.  Our personalized “chicken-scratch” develops.  We each feel that our “chicken-scratch A” is the most efficient form of handwriting an “A.”  (One of the dangers to keep in mind is that if our “chicken-scratch A” becomes so unintelligible that nobody—sometimes ourselves—recognizes it, it will cease to function as an “A” and hence be “A.”)

One of my personal epiphanies was that learning a true martial art not only a life-long devotion, the true “learning” doesn’t begin until the attainment of black belt.  All studies up to black belt are designed to prepare you to learn a martial art.  It is tantamount to the fundamental basics learned in grade school being the preparation for study beyond.  The “big A.”

It is easy to become frustrated with this process; especially in Western cultures, where we are increasingly becoming dependent on instant gratification.  Why put any effort into such a time-consuming process?  Can’t I just use money and get it now?  (Unfortunately, some black belts can essentially be purchased.  However, such purchased black belts don’t come with the experience, knowledge, and/or wisdom that come with one that was earned.)

Let’s extrapolate the “Big A method” beyond the context of martial arts.

I’m certain that the majority of us can recognize when the Big A method is required.  When looking at a near-vertical mountain that must be climbed, we recognize the value of a mountaineering class.  When looking at a river colored white by rapids, we see the need of a kayaking school.  Both use the “Big A method.”

However, we may fail to recognize that the Big A method is used in essentially every aspect of our lives.  Learning to drive.  Learning to parallel park.  Military basic training.  Swimming.  New job.  Engineering.  Mathematics.  Pretty much anytime we tackle something new.  We may not realize it because we may feel it’s menial or insignificant.

Expertise—in anything—is not something that we can create instantly, especially within ourselves.  If we truly desire to not only learn but also understand what we learn—not just the “how” but also the “why”—we must build a solid foundation of the basics.  We must learn the “big A.”

Now think of how many things each one of us jumps into without the basics?  Do we struggle with them when they get difficult?  How about the “big A” of relationships, communication?  Without fully understanding communication, do our relationships progress?  What else can you think of?