So, I hear ‘I’m a slow learner’ a lot. It is always said in an apologetic, slightly embarrassed way. Often it is just after not getting something straight away or at the end when we are talking about techniques. A lot of the time they are no slower or quicker than anyone else it is the way they look at the world, it's not that they are slow learners it's how they see the world, they just don’t see yet how awesome that is.
Before we start: I accept people do learn at different rates and while there are things we can do about it, the focus of this post is more concerned about how we think about that rate we learn and what we think having learnt something looks like.
On a macro level two people learn how to cut. Nothing complex, just their first cut. Both throw the cut ten times. Student A and B both do just as well on their last cut. It’s their first ten cuts so it makes some approximation of what it should be, but a mile off what cut one thousand looks like. Neither are exceptional, neither are terrible. Student A thinks they have got the technique, student B doesn’t. So, what’s the difference?
Student A is happy to get the basics and move on, student B doesn’t think they have it at all. Expand this out into a play or an exercise and the disparity in their belief grows. The thing is neither are wrong, or they both are, it is just their definition is different. What is important is what happens next.
Before we can move on to the next, we should probably understand what is happening there first. This is all to do with the HEMA learning curve. Learning most HEMA related things has an initial flood of learning. People who come to their first lesson take away more information than their brain can take. Over the next month there is revelation on revelation. This is the good bit, the bit where you can see progress. Year ten or twenty progress is slow, really slow. People can usually pick up a concept quickly, making it almost perfect takes a while.
Boiling that back to learning our first cut, where do we say it’s a wrap? Depending on where we call it depends on if we are a slow learner or not. Do we think we have it? It is more about how we view it than the speed of learning. Inevitably we move on as both students have got what they need for the lesson, the concept. It is their next stage that is important.
Boil that up a bit and I have taught zornhau at least two different ways and was taught it a third. Where any of them wrong? No, they all fit the words, were mechanically good, and you could pull them off in sparring. Is one more effective than the other two? Yes. If I said I got it first time around, would I have evolved to have what I have now? Probably not.
I think we should all be a mix of both. I’ve got it, should mean I’ve got it enough to take it away and unpack it, not ‘I will be able to pull this off in exquisite movie like style every time!’ Similarly, I haven’t got it should not be a self-deprecating admission of failure, it should be a I haven’t got it as good as I want yet.
The extremes of either can lead to disappointment. Why can’t I pull off that cut I learned once and practiced never on one side, or why does it take me weeks to pull it off 90% of the time on the other can be really demoralising. We all face this and we all have different answers at different times. I have certainly had a lot of things ‘I got’ end up with me being stabbed in the face or looking up at the ceiling wondering why the wall had moved. Now I just aim for got more than I had.
We have to set our own expectations and support those around us. Lessons are only so long, and they aim at getting an idea into our brains. If we take that like our student A things we can move on for the lesson, then we take the science and know we haven't got it like student B we can get better and better.
So, will I ever get zornhau? Probably not, but I am still having fun trying to work it out. Admitting we haven't got it and celebrating that makes us look for better answers and reassess what we know. This is what makes us better, it also keeps it interesting.