Hooked on Phonics

The Kihon Happo and the Sanshin to me, are the ABC’s of Budo Taijutsu. They let you spell wonderful things, in accents and phrasing and unbelievable poetry.

I find myself at the letter B, how about you? Sure it doesn’t seem far and if I was being precise, I have knowledge of C, D, E, and F but I wouldn’t say I know them. Confused? So was I. So I simplified life a bit. The Kihon Happo? Sanshin? It’s the alphabet. “Building blocks” just didn’t work for me. It sounds like a linear path, a building upward, forward. Once you know “this,” then you know “that,” and then you move to here and there and no need to think anymore about those bottom blocks. They do nothing more then sit there.

Not true of the alphabet, an ever changing, usable, versatile tool.  Why even the thickest of English accents, while needing subtitles to be understood, still use the very same alphabet. With two letters I can make the world GO, with four I can make it burst into FIRE and with one I can simply be I.  Add in sound and “Hey” is a greeting and not something to feed the horses. Add in context and “Pop” is a drink and not my dad. And it all started with the letters, the basic, simple alphabet.

I needed to remember how I learned the alphabet. One letter at a time. One sound at a time, one combination at a time.

Imagine the absurdity of a 3 year old insisting to his preschool teacher that he should learn the higher levels of grammar. “Poetry,” he may say ” is the throwing away of rules, of punctuation, of the sound of letters. Poetry is flow and rhythm, feeling and instinct. I am a poet. Why should I sound out K…A…T?”

I remember how I learned the alphabet. Slowly at first, sounding each and every letter. Then they formed small words and sound combinations. I sounded silly reading them, like a robot. To this day when I come across a word I have never in my life seen,  I have to sound it out by letter, sound combination and context. The same letters, the same combinations the same skills I learned in pre-school. Higher level, different books, bigger shoes, same skills.

How often do I think about the letters in the words I use? Never. Now they are simply a part of the way I read, write and talk. Does this mean that I have forgotten, thrown away the alphabet?

The Kihon Happo and the Sanshin to me, are the ABC’s of Budo Taijutsu. They let you spell wonderful things, in accents and phrasing and unbelievable poetry. But I am at B, so I will continue on to C. And someday I hope I can simply flow in and out of technique the same way I flow in and out of a sentences. But in the meantime, if the only techniques I seem to have under my belt are “AB” and “BA,” now you know why.


(Originally published in Muzosa Journal 4/21/06. Author retains all copyrights.)

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