Technique, Perception, Emergence and Dissolving Either/Or

Everything should be made as simpe as possible, but not simpler. Albert Einstein

I always enjoy January because of the feast of sport on television and I particularly enjoy watching good tennis.  I have explored in recent blogs the concept of technique and I would like to take this exploration further in todays offering.

If we approach the question of ‘what is technique?’ without attempting to answer the question from any particular discipline, we find that ‘technique’ is cultural agreement from the collective who have experiential understanding of the discipline being observed.  The agreement would be around the facets of perception, footwork, transfer of weight, posture, efficiency and execution.  From this perspective, the observation and discussion of technique works, however in order for us to be able to explore further, it is necessary to dissolve the ‘fixedness’ of this view, so that a bigger picture can be appreciated.

Richard Schonborn in his excellent book Advanced techniques for competitive tennis (1999) defines the process as Technique Learning = Co-ordination learning + movement learning, he further explains that co-ordination learning is the basis and precondition for the motor learning process.  Therefore what becomes clear  is that the development and training needs to unify coordination, conditioning, technique, strategy, and take into account the disposition of the individual and the contextual environment that contains and organises these factors.

The perceptual process is the background awareness in which all of the information is arising.  Perceiving is happening as we move, set up, hit and recover.  What this means is that all of these variables are being perceived as information coming from within and externally. Players like Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Murray, are extremely fast processors of information which is why they return and move so well, and also bring variety in the ways they can approach playing.  Roger Federer epitomises the coordination variable discussed above and therefore he has more options than everyone else in terms of what he sees (perceiving) and the ways he can respond (contextual problem-solving).

Emergence happens as a result of a new way of seeing or organising the information in the contextual container.  Emergence follows the rule of transcend but include, in that the ingredients of the lower level create the causes and conditions for emergence.  Continuing with the tennis example, Hoad and Laver started hitting over the back of the ball in order to be able to hit harder without sacrificing control.  This was the beginning of small changes in grip, which allowed this process to be done with greater biomechanical efficiency.  Bjorn Borg came along with an open stance and western grip on his forehand and took the net out of play with his style of play, although he would still allow the ball to drop below its apex before hitting it.  Lendl began to step in and crunch shoulder high balls, which brings us to the way that tennis is played today. Emergence is ever-present but these were the pioneers who created the affordances for exploration.  There are many other players who made profound differences to the way that tennis performance is trained, I simply offer these examples to illustrate the principle of ‘transcend but include.’

Tennis is now played with the groundstrokes being open stance throwing motions, like the final release of a discus throw.  This allows the rear hip to fire, which optimises the torsion available between pelvic and shoulder girdles, so that the arm and racquet are thrown via trunk rotation.  The paradox of this affordance is that control is enhanced because racquet head speed is not being generated distally.  The serve is another good example of the affordance of leg drive with trunk rotation.  The changes in serving occurred when players started jumping at the ball with angular momentum, this transcended stepping through as the means of transferring weight and generation of racquet head speed for power and spin.  This change emerged in the early 1990’s.

The beauty in this perspective is that ‘either/or’ is dissolved because you are not asking; ‘is it this, or that?’   You are able to see clearly how the task, action or pattern has evolved following the living principle of transcend but include.  You can appreciate the important pioneers who through the process of emergence, were able to bring a way of seeing that was transcendent of the current cultural agreement of the way that the discipline sees itself.

As our understanding of the way the body-mind wants to organise itself in the field of gravity and within a specific context, the more we will agree on the central aspects underpinning performance.  As either/or dissolves into an integral embrace of the living principles of movement functioning, we can enjoy finding ourselves at an edge, and know this represents an opportunity for transformation.

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