Out of the many skills I’ve learned on my own, two stand out.

One of those is using chopsticks for eating.

I’m a lower class Filipino. Not only do I lack relatives who would teach me how to use chopsticks, people of my social status aren’t expected to eat with chopsticks anyway. But one Boy Scout camping trip showed me how practical chopsticks can be: one of the senior scouts was able to eat his dinner without utensils because he had a good knife and some leftover bamboo. He didn’t even have to worry about cleaning afterward, he just threw the used chopsticks to the campfire.

I started learning how to use chopsticks after that. The Internet wasn’t ubiquitous at that time so I didn’t have a lot of resources at hand. What I did know was the basics of chopsticks usage and went from there.

What I knew was that chopsticks eliminate the redundancies of Western utensils when eating in a bowl. You don’t need to a spoon when drinking soup from a bowl because you could just tilt the bowl up and drink from it. You also don’t need a fork, because unlike eating from a plate, eating from a bowl doesn’t require a second utensil to “wall” your food while you’re scooping it: the walls of the bowl are enough. All you need is something to move food around the bowl and pick them up. Two sticks can serve this purpose.

And so can a single fork. This is how I practiced eating with chopsticks: I ate bowls of noodles and beef soup (“mami”) for lunch in high school but only used the fork for eating.

Knowing how to hold the chopsticks was another matter. I really didn’t research how to do it properly; I just held the sticks in a way that feels most natural for me. I got it after 3 meals using chopsticks.

The other skill is the redondo, twirling arnis sticks in a six-count motion. It’s impressive to watch when done quickly, and I myself couldn’t resist showing off when I get my hands on two sticks of appropriate length.

Unlike learning how to use the chopsticks, I absolutely did not have any knowledge about this form. No formal training, no research, not even an arnis practitioner to show me the steps.

I just learned this one summer while I was playing with sticks when I was in elementary.

Or was it high school? I honestly don’t remember. All I remember is that the first time I showed this off to friends was in first year college.

What I recall was when I was playing with two sticks, the redondo is the only way you could perform continuous downward left/right strikes with two hands. Doing that is easy with just one hand (formally that’s the ocho ocho), but with two hands you will have to form a pattern of striking such that each hand will not obstruct the other.

These two illustrate effective means of learning. By allowing the trainee to play around with the basic concepts instead of just spoonfeeding him with everything he needs to know, he will eventually learn to derive the later concepts on his own. Not only that, it is almost sure that he will progress to higher levels of skill instead of staying as a novice.

However, as effective as they may be, these methods are not efficient. True, the chopsticks learning approach of teaching the basic concepts first avoid cargo cult thinking, but it also borders on NIH. A better approach is, as discussed in Pragmatic Thinking & Learning, is to allow the trainee to play around with the topic first and follow through with more formal approaches once she has already became familiar with it. By engaging both the right and left brain, learning becomes more effective and efficient.

One possible concern with letting the trainee play around with concepts first is that he may pick up wrong habits that are hard to reverse later on. The decision to correct them early is the responsibility of the trainer, as some “wrong habits” are trivial. For example, I hold the top chopstick on my index finger and not on the tip of my middle finger. When I went to Hong Kong for a business trip, my Chinese colleagues didn’t care if it was wrong; I even found out that “shovelling” (putting chopsticks side by side and gripping it with all fingers) is an accepted way of eating fried rice.

Other bad habits can be damaging especially in sports. Bad basic form can be disastrous later on as they are hard to unlearn. But then again, sometimes “bad form” might actually be a better form.

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