Thursday, September 10, 2009

Defective Understanding

I just read a most wonderful sentence which re-engineers Alexander's contention to be careful of the printed word and how we interpret it:

"Those who impose on texts the stains of their defective understanding derive only a superficial comprehension..."

Lama Tsong Karpa from a 600 year old Buddhist text.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Getting AT into the Sports & Fitness Industry

This is from a thread on the Alextech list, link is shown above...

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Years ago I was talking with Marjory Barlow about the DIRECTION issue I published on the work of Marjory and her husband Dr Wilfred Barlow (still available for purchase BTW) and Marjory confirmed how "Bill" (was it?) had put together over two hundred different "Alexander directions". What the actual number was I can't remember - but it was jaw-droppingly high. I had heard about it previously - I don't remember from who - and I was hoping that Marjory could hand over some written material on the subject to publish in DIRECTION Journal. In those days there were stories hanging around that he could sort out someone's frozen shoulder in just one session. Having suffered myself from that condition in the past, I understood how knowledge of the 200+ directions would certainly assist in pulling off such an accomplishment.

Anyway, Marjory knew what I was talking about, but alas there was nothing to print. She mentioned that Bill had been working on something, but I never heard any more. And so I forgot about it.

Until recently. Now I am guessing that Barlow took his training as a Doctor, combined it with Alexander's knowledge of the working unity of human behaviour, and mapped the specific roles of the myiad of interacting muscular forces, to come up with his 200+ directions. I am not advocating this as a model for training teachers - in case you were thinking that - but I do think this hints at a vast new science of human movement, one which accurately relates specificity to holistic function.

The Fitness and Sports industry, and all the medical and para-medical parafernalia that accompany it, are the masters of specificity. We, in our closeted Alexander world, are of the masters of unity. Further energise a process of creating relationships between these two reservoirs of knowledge, and you have the makings of a new brand of scientific knowledge.

Part of the strategy of BodyChance - which is the company I now run - is to situate Alexander's discoveries square and centre in the Fitness and Sports industry. We are currently embarking on a long term project to do just that in Australia - the most sports crazy nation on this earth. (Haven't you ever wondered how a nation of 24 million people manage every Olympics to get themselves in the overall top ten gold medalists, along with nations who number 100 million and upwards?) Our plan is not a quick fix operation, it is an enterprise bound to take several decades. In this, I think we can burrow from the success of Alexander's work in the performing arts world.

Authority flows from the experience and knowledge of the activity you are involved in. Musicians who were trained in AT, returned to their world and started creating a good "buzz" about AT and how it can help. Our strategy at BodyChance is to consciously and deliberately start appealing to people in the Sports and Fitness Industry - sports persons, fitness trainers, small business owners of yoga, pilaties, aerobics clubs etc - and encourage them to come train with us; then support them to position themselves back in the market with a superior product that combines fitness & sports training from the holistic viewpoint of Alexander's discoveries. (After all, Professor Little's study showed that AT with a bit of exercise was an effective formula! :-)

When I look around the Alexander community today, it is obvious that one category of successful teachers are the niche marketers - people who "specialise" in applying the work to specific activity. When you can walk the walk in a particular field, and relate that information back to Alexander's discoveries, you have the essence of a great business. So penetrating any profession or sports is best achieved by training people who are already in it. The technology and art of marketing, focused to sell Alexander's golden product, makes the task simply one of finance, savvy and intent. The outcome is not in question.

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I don't know about other teachers, but it has taken me decades to achieve the accuracy of observation and confidence to be able to observe high level sports performance, and offer any meaningful feedback that is short on the mumbo jumbo and long on accuracy and effectiveness. For a start, the serious in this field inevitably speak the universal language of movement - and more often than not expect the same from you. There are many language systems that have been created to describe movements - particularly in the dance world - but none have such universal agreement as does the language of the anatomists. Starting from the anatomical position, we can describe every movement with some accuracy. It is still quite a clumsy language, but that's what we have.

This is new thinking for me, evolving as I do in figuring out the pedagogical evolution of the BodyChance training. Only recently I decided that anyone who trains at BodyChance will leave with a good working understanding of the subject. Some have escaped my clutches, but these days my trainees are tested, and don't get their certificate if they fail this exam. Luckily there is a text book available for our BodyThinking module - The Anatomy of Movement. I recommend that any teacher - thinking as they read this that maybe I've got a point - go ahead and buy this book, spend a few weeks getting familiar with it, then keep it near your teaching space henceforth.

Our BodyThinking module is a not a dry attempt to learn terms - it is an ongoing experiment to relate the specific to the whole, to bring the wisdom and insight of Alexander's discoveries to bear on the known workings and functionality of the various movement systems within our behaviour. Every year we will take a new activity and go through the process of analysing the needs, misconceptions and co-ordinations involved in this activity. This year we are analysing Bellydancing - and we are having a lot of fun figuring that out. Like everything I do, it is integrated with the overall business strategy, so BellyDancing in the training school is also part of a marketing push in the Tokyo area to create new members for our Ippan Course (where you take out a membership for a year of weekly AT lessons).

Using this model, I will entice into the training those people who have skill sets that can inform and enrich our BodyThinking module. Obviously the next move is looking at different sports, systems of training etc. and THIS is the seed that will eventually flourish into an Alexander presence in the sports and fitness industry.

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Another desire I have with the BodyThinking module, is to slowly build a knowledge base available to AT teachers who want to shift from being chair and table teachers, and move towards the application field. Those teachers who think this move is only a matter of making a decision... well, you need to talk to me about that. I was a chair and table teacher for 10 years, so I know what I am talking about when I say that the move into application work was as wrenching as my first year of teaching. And continued to be so for many years after! So I hope that one day BodyChance can start offering training to teachers who want to switch. A "switch" campaign no less! (I hope you can see my tongue-in-cheek amusement around that one...

"Hallo. I am a chair and table teacher."

"Oh, hi, I'm an application guy.")

Anyway, right now I am on the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto with nothing else to do, so I have got a little carried away with this post. Sorry for going on so much. I will put this on my blog too I think.

To finish I want to say that as a collective, AT teachers carry an extraordinary understanding of human movement, and mostly this knowledge dies with the teacher who carries it. In this day and age, when computer animators have the potentiality (with enough time and money) to program every movement vector of every muscle in every moment - I keep wondering what would have resulted if Wlfred Barlow had been able to instruct them in his 200+ directions!