"Watch Your Language!", The Importance of Teaching Martial Arts Lingo

Uncategorized May 12, 2020

Originally posted on October 31st, 2016 by Dustin B. Denson

Educate the Mind, Not Just the Body

Martial Arts Instructors have an obligation not to just teach physical skills, but to educate the mind as well.

Martial arts has its own unique vocabulary. Any subject of study has what can be referred to as jargon, that is, the academic vocabulary of that subject. For example, in martial arts, common terms might be "jab", "cross", and "hook". Each word has a specific meaning that anyone who practices a martial art would know and know to what the word refers. Martial arts instructors have a responsibility to teach the academic vocabulary, terms, and phrases to the student directly. This is important because it will make learning and transfer of knowledge and understanding easier. It will also prevent confusion, vagueness, and ambiguity; and, it will help to foster the perpetuation of a common language so anyone, anytime, and anywhere can understand.

Verbal Building Blocks

Academic vocabulary is the building block of any discipline of study. When learning something new, one of the first lessons is usually a vocabulary lesson. Words and phrases refer to things (objects, actions, behaviors, etc.) in the world and the concepts of those things in the mind. This is why teaching and learning the jargon is so critical. It is the language that will be relied upon when discussing the martial art and it is the foundation for the conceptual framework in the mind to which new learning will be connected.

What Do You Mean by That?

However, there are a few ways of speaking when teaching the martial arts that can detract from the instruction, if care is not taken in how they are used. One example of this is figurative language. Figurative language is language that contains or uses figures of speech. A figure of speech is a phrase or word having different meanings than its literal purpose, the key word here is literal. Straying too far from literal meanings can lead to confusion.

Figurative language conveys meaning by identifying or comparing one thing to another, which has connotative or meaning familiar to its audience. That is why it can be helpful in creating powerful images in the mind. Examples of figurative language include metaphor, simile, symbolism, and imagery. Because of this familiarity with the audience, there may be a tendency to overly use figurative language in martial arts when teaching. If overused, then it is not helpful and will lead to confusion.

Sometimes the name of a movement, technique, form, method, or combination can itself be figurative. For example, in the Doce Methodos of the Pekiti-Tirsia Kali System, the second method is called "Four Walls". This method teaches the student how to protect himself/herself with a sword or single baton. Figuratively, the name of this method refers to the creating of a wall, or barrier, with the weapon against an attack. So, in this case, the figurative language conveys meaning by comparing the martial arts student's weapon to a wall and this aids understanding, if this comparison is directly taught. Otherwise, it is pointless.

Figurative language is not helpful when it leads to vagueness or ambiguity. Something is vague when it does not have a precise meaning and something is ambiguous when it is not clear or it is obscure in meaning. If figurative language is used because something cannot be articulated in a precise and clear way when teaching, then this may become unhelpful and lead to confusion. Whenever possible, martial arts instructors need to refer to the academic language of the art being taught. Using the Doce Methodos as an example again, each Method has a definition that is crucial to understanding that method. This definition must be directly taught, explained, and articulated in a clear and precise manner with an effort made to use the same vocabulary and phrasing as is used in the definition. This is imperative, if a common foundation for dialogue is to be had. So, figurative language may have its place, but it should be used sparingly to aid instruction and not become so abstract that all sense of meaning is lost.

An example of this is the use of such terms and/or phrases in the martial arts as "in theory", "conceptually speaking", "theoretically", "in principle", "principles", and "concepts" to name a few. Sometimes these words and/or phrases are used without regard to their meaning and/or they are used to fill linguistic space while teaching (they become a verbal "filler") when more articulate, precise, and clear language is available. They have become vacuous verbal space holders; they are used figuratively. Sometimes, in these cases, more concrete terminology such as "strategy" or "tactic" would be more applicable. Instead of saying, "This principle would work in theory to do this...", it might be more accurate to state, "The tactic used to accomplish the objective of this strategy is...". There may be times when "concept", "theory", and "principle" should be used, but not as vacuous verbal place holders and not figuratively. They should only be used when they are being used as defined without connotation.

Putting It In Your Own Words

When reading (or listening), what is read (or heard) may be reworded or paraphrased to learn it and understand it better. Paraphrasing is when a text is reworded and it expresses the same meaning as the original text. It is also usually the same length as the original, if not longer. Paraphrasing is used to aid understanding, clarify, and as a teaching tool. It can be a very useful teaching tool. However, it is not a replacement for academic vocabulary. On the contrary, it should be used to clarify the existing academic vocabulary, so that it may be understood. If the goal is to have a common foundation for dialogue and for teaching, then there must be a common vocabulary. The danger with paraphrasing is that it can lead to further confusion as a result of vagueness or ambiguity. So, it is important to know how to paraphrase well and to know when to use it and when not to use it. If a student is not understanding something, then it may become necessary to explain something by rewording it using different terminology.

Preserve What Is Learned

Consequently, it is obligatory, in order to preserve a martial art as it is taught from generation to generation, to teach it the way it has been taught and passed down. This includes the jargon, terminology, and academic vocabulary and not just the physical movements. Do not stray from learning and teaching the jargon.


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