by Mike Jones
Katja Pettinen’s case study on skill acquisition follows the training and teaching philosophies of Taijutsu practitioners mostly focusing around the premise that Taijutsu cannot simply be taught through repetition, it must be taught through feeling and what this means for skill acquisition in humans. The first section of the piece goes into great detail about all aspects of Taijutsu including full descriptions of proper technique in the art and personal stories about her time learning and practicing the art. At the end of the section, she mentions one of her main points tying together her argument being the sakki test which emphasizes the usage of feeling and sensing over doing.
The sakki test is the test one must take to be certified as a teacher of Taijutsu taken upon the attaining of fifth dan black belt and is described as “avoiding a single non-metal sword swing, a cut straight down that is performed behind the testee while he or she is kneeling in a seiza posture (sitting with the legs folded underneath the body)”. The ranking system of American Taijutsu and significance of this test are more deeply defined starting in the second section of the chapter. Pettinen proposes two possibilities for the stimuli that people feel in order to avoid the blade replacing the need for sight, but she goes on to say that it is unimportant what it is they are feeling the importance is in the fact that they are feeling it. She then directly states here that “the sakki does not require any action that repetition alone could achieve. Instead, it presents a form of sensory acuity that directly challenges cumulative notions of learning by highlighting feeling over doing”.
Pettinen’s argument for this thinking over doing aspect of learning is a bit weak to me. She speaks of how moving away from the “vision-centered paradigm” of reaction suddenly becomes a completely different way of reacting to a situation. It is possible I do not understand some of the intricacies of Taijutsu, but personally I do not believe that perceiving through sound or slight feeling of the test givers movements behind them is any different than seeing them swing the sword at the “testee” in front of them. Vision may be a primary sense for most people on this planet but it is still just one of the many ways we perceive the outside world. I see the information presented more as a way to show the advanced transference of reaction from a visual stimulus to that of a touch or auditory sensation learned through the training of Taijutsu.