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Home > Magazine > Culture > The Myth of the Natural

The Myth of the Natural
February 05, 2004

It's amazing how people think you don't have to know how to do something to be able to do it. --At a somewhat high level, one that is satisfying anyway.

I'm thinking of sports. But it seems to relate to education in general. The myth of the natural---someone who can be an expert in something without practice, coaching or training---puts down education.

For instance, people think that fighting and wrassling is something that can come natural. To an extent it can. And one gets better with repeated efforts. However, someone who has learned a couple key fundamentals of the science behind either can readily mop up anyone who hasn't.

The "natural" approach often goes with the more casual, enjoyment sports. Such as bike riding, skiing, skating, swimming. Tennis and golf, too.

Here again, anyone who knows a couple of the technical basics can readily mop up anyone who doesn't.

But moreover, and more importantly, those who know what they're doing do have more fun. They're actually doing what they're doing. Maybe this is a subtle distinction.

Cultures that cheerful use and expect to use coaching and education do better at all these activities. By this I don't mean anything stuffy or formal. What it really means is that there is continuity. Usually from older to younger generations. But always from someone who knows to someone who doesn't. They develop and progress, rather than reinvent the wheel.

Our culture is ignorant on purpose. We are easily kept weak this way. Those who keep us down are well-coached, indeed, and deviate not a step from their effective ways. A key part of the science of domination is to break up continuity. Don't let the older tell the younger what is going to happen to them if they don't watch out. The young will walk right into the trap and never know how to escape. But the powerful limit their own options and the viability of their culture, in their efforts to stop change. Life is always looking for someone who can learn their way around those who are on top, so that growth can continue. Ideally, this change happens in a way that can be taught to everyone, elevating all humanity, keeping evolution on its roll. As Jack Saunders says, if small steps in growth continue, a little protomammal maybe develops that can eat the eggs of the dinosaurs, and suddenly the big ones fall and life rolls on to something new.

Lack of coaching is bad politically. It's also bad for your health. If you don't do activities which use tools in the correct way, you will get hurt. Heck, even activities that don't use tools. Is anything that we do natural? What humans do volitionally is created, invented. Our digestion works naturally. Everyone else is learned. And if you don't do it right, it doesn't go right, despite appearances of ease and fun. You can do things to the extent of whimsy, but if you go further, without help, you get hurt. You strain a joint, hurt your back, crash, drown. Does falling come natural? Perhaps. But one can readily learn how to fall...and not get hurt. It takes a teacher to save you. There's a lesson here. Digestion works by itself. What people do, yes, takes a village, pardon the expression.

Teaching of course also applies to work. One even needs to know how to use a hammer right, if one wants to be able to keep hammering, without blowing up a joint.

It even applies to using "intuitive" computer programs. Sure, you can maybe learn to type fast on your own. You'll learn to type healthier, faster, easier, if you take a typing class, or use typing training software. You can do a job or use a program without training. Most of them are easy to use. You can develop your own "quick" methods. But if you take a class, you can typically learn how to use most software much more effectively.

You can develop your own way to organize your work. But if you get help and training in how to organize a project, an office, it will go far better.

...And in all these things you'll be able to interact with others better. If you do things properly, you'll be able to do them with other people. If you do them without training, on your own, when it comes time for interaction, the gears will grind!

Sometimes people think that a movement in sport is so natural or so seamless or quick that they couldn't likely be helped. The idea of breaking up the motion rubs them the wrong way. And they're right. But motions can be coached and trained without breaking them up. Smooth, flowing drills are used in different ways which then influence the other smooth motion. I'm thinking of golf, especially here. Also swimming perhaps. But all activities apply.

People think they can ski at an expert level without knowing what they're doing. After all, look, they have fun and they're skiing down the Expert grade slope. Or they're cross country skiing at a good clip, doing jumps, handling corners with ease. But it's amazing how wrong they are. Their first error will be that they are not using their skis. In alpine skiing, they will be skidding, not turning, not carving. Their control is minimal, their effort is many times what is needed. People think the point of skiing is enjoyment. Well, life itself is readily enjoyable, so it's not hard to have fun just being outside, with wine in your pack and good friends...and even skiing with skis on backwards wouldn't be disappointing. Most skiers just walk along anyway, or skid away, it doesn't much matter how they ski, they'll have fun. Note the shortness of alpine beginner skis: because the untrained skier is skidding, they don't really need a ski. The shortness gets the whole idea and potential of a ski out of the way.

This relativity of fun is quite a notion. Sure, someone could have fun shooting skeet and missing them all, their whole life. The day is sunny, the kick feels good, the friends are nice. But the point is to hit the skeet.

The point of skiing is glide. That is its essence. More glide for less effort is better skiing. To achieve this one must use the skis as intended and use the body in a way conducive to glide, to skiing, to the skis. Now, it's easy to glide on skis, just go down the hill, or just kick and push and shove on the poles and there you go: glide. But if you don't do it right, you soon stop, your body parts stop, no more glide feel, until you sort things out to start up again. Also, when you glide down a hill, then skid your skis to turn you've stopped gliding and are confusing skidding for ski glide. One could skid on a bathmat. Which, of course, can be fun---ask any kid. But it's not skiing. It's not much glide.

Taking alpine ski lessons teaches one to lean into the front of their boots, pushing the ski tips into the slope, no matter how steep it is, giving you control and letting the skis do their job. It teaches you to keep your hands low and forward at all times, and to keep your chest facing downhill. These things also let you stay in control. So you don't get hurt, so you can navigate the slope and any fun or dangerous obstacle very easily, and so your skis can keep working, using their whole edges to help you. If you don't know and use these basics, you can't ski and you'll likely get hurt and you'll work hard. However, you can still have fun, as if you were sliding down the hill on your butt. You might be able to do jumps, bomb thru moguls. But you'll be working far more, skiing far less. You're gifted enough that you could likely do the same with sauce pans on your feet. But those sauce pans will catch up to you. And anyone who can use skis, even if they're 80 years old, can catch you, too.

OK, maybe you can even be national champion by dint of pure brute force and bodily gifts. But be forewarned that someone who comes along who knows what they're doing will have a likely 3-fold advantage on you. Maybe you'll still stay ahead of them, being more than 3 times as gifted. But it's doubtful. This is why American ski champions often finish at the back of the pack compared to countries that have skiing traditions and where they know how to ski.

This happened in mt-bike racing. The Americans playfully invented the sport and had a gas with it. They showed it to the Europeans who knew how to ride bikes and then the US was left far behind.

Note that this doesn't even primarily apply to competition. Competition is only meant to illustrate aspects of life to us, after all. Someone who knows what they're doing, on a bike, say, won't get hit by a car, won't have accidents that aren't accidents but which are predictable in whatever way you're ignorant. They won't strain their joints from incorrect motion and posture. Now, people safely adapt to ignorance all the time (they aren't always foolish) for instance, by walking down hills they don't know how to properly and safely ride down, but the more they know the better and safer and easier in every way their riding becomes.

Again, the differences become apparent after one leaves whatever level of isolation they're in. If one skis with someone who knows how to ski, the differences are shocking. Learning often begins right then. ...If the other person knows how to teach. If not, motivation to find out how to improve is often sparked which motivates the weaker skier to find help. It's interesting how, in a way, fun exists in isolation. Even among friends. You all ski badly happily together. Until someone who knows how to ski comes along. He can't ski slow enough to stay with you, he skis so easily that no hill tires him. He can either become an enemy of the current level of fun, or motivation to learn. Generally learning is easy. It's easier always than doing something the wrong way. It's just the knowledge of how things really work, of how life really is, that has been missing.

With XC skiing, you want glide, the skis want glide. That's the only reason either of you are doing what you're doing. Otherwise you might as well snowshoe. How to glide? It's easy to force some glide. And one can learn the basic idea to "kick then glide" and get around just fine, even with agility. But to kick a ski with grip wax on the bottom is not intuitive, it doesn't come naturally. Getting some results can be intuitive, but really using any element is not. The same with ski-skating. It's easy to do, easier than kick'n'glide. But there are 5 distinct techniques for different conditions. They have many things in common. In fact, all skiing is largely the same, even at the expert level, including alpine and XC nordic together. However, they are artificial techniques which result in natural conformity to what one desires to do. You have to learn all the details to keep your body in an efficient position and motion to use skis and keeping gliding without impairment. Once the details are known and practiced, then skiing becomes effortless, seamless, natural.

But the continuity comes first, the handing down of lore from the previous generation, the knowledge and help with doing the unnatural trick naturally.

After one does the roadwork, puts in the time with the drills and basics, finally sees how all the variety results in one constant harmonious style, one is ready to take the first step beyond the expert level. And that is to find ones own style. To improvise. To adapt the science to your own uniqueness. But there's more. After that, if one stays alert, one can innovate and elevate the whole activity for everyone. This is when creation and discovery takes place. But all this rests on the foundation of doing it right in the first place.

Feel free to apply this to any activity, work, religion, art or politics you like.

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