The Shooting Ratio of Falling
L. Van Warren
Experiments in the psychology of learning and memory indicate that the short-term memory of the average college student is about seven digits long, a phone number, give or take. Kell factor is the amount of time it takes the brain to figure out that the channel has changed, about a quarter of a second. Flicker fusion rate indicates when a series of related pictures will strobe into a movie, about 15 frames per second if you're a person, 400 frames per second if you're a housefly. The seven-second rule in cinematography says, "If you leave the same camera angle on the screen for more than seven seconds, the viewer will look at their watch." George Lucas made that the four-second rule. Madonna, MTV and video have created the two-second rule, the average dwell time of a channel surfer. Andy Warhol used repetition, repetition that underscored the point he was trying to make. Then there is spatial resolution and temporal resolution. There is spatial repetition and temporal repetition. Finally there is Marcia, my college poetry teacher who taught me poems don't need to rhyme, but for some reason, I still want them to.
There was a movie, "Falling Down", which ended with Michael Douglas falling off Santa Monica Pier. Consider a shooting ratio of six. For every six frames of Panavision footage, only one frame makes it into the final cut. The unsatiable appetite of the American public demands television commercials use a higher shooting ratio. A director might ask for 100 takes until he gets the one where the foam on the beer coincides with the smile on the face. I wonder if a stuntman had to fall off Santa Monica Pier six times before the director said, "Wrap". Speaking of falling,
Skydiving has a shooting ratio. A half-hour on the ground packing your parachute followed by a half-hour plane ride ends in a freefall lasting a single minute. Then there is that five-second pause where you wait to find out if you survived or not. So figure about an hour of effort per minute of fall. Thus, skydiving has a shooting ratio of 60:1, pronounced "sixty to one". You have to pay for the privilege, though it would seem fairer the other way 'round.
Gliders and sailplanes have a ratio, called lift to drag ratio, or L:D. In a sailplane one typically glides 50 feet forward for a single foot of downward descent. But that's not really where I'm going. I want to compare practices of a movement with actual uses of a movement, gross expenses versus profit if you will.
In karate, there is a notion that the student does not understand the kata until 5000 have been done. Kata -- the Japanese word for form -- is a set of 30 to 60 basic elements strung together in a meaningful way. It takes about a month to get the hang of a new kata. There is no time for rehearsal in a real fight. I heard one instructor say, "a quarter of a million punches were necessary to really find out". So that is a "shooting" ratio of 5000:1 or 250,000:1 depending on how you look at it. I once did 5000 kata in a month to find out. I found out I don't like to hurt people.
Ballet is interesting. One rehearses the actual steps for a given piece as few as ten or so times before the first performance. But one rehearses the basic elements of ballet many thousands of times. Choreographers and dance teachers might hang the following sign outside of the studio: "In this class you will be expected to memorize, perform and forget sixteen movement combinations each consisting of sixteen basic elements. Once on the left, once on the right." Perfect symmetry, but much longer than a seven-digit phone number...
The body remembers things without intervention of higher brain centers. In fact, thinking (and talking) can impede the brain channel that reproduces exact movement. Perhaps it has to do with the volatility of short-term memory, as in, "evaporates fast", as in, "what were we doing". Tip: No thinking or talking, just doing, just moving. This is hard for me since I like to think and talk. I reserve the right to ignore my own advice which is this: One shouldn't think or talk until after one has comprehended and the new movement has started the journey towards long term memory. If my brain isn't lying to me again there are at least three kinds of memory. Ultra short, short, and long. Ultra short is down around flicker fusion rate -- persistence of vision -- short is about Kell factor -- a trip through the visual cortex -- and long is the "I Love Lucy" reruns section. Interested? Read, "The Modular Brain", by Restak.
In a ballet class, a dancer does approximately 500 primitive movements, a little over 100 of which are pliés. A plié - pronounced "plee aye" - involves bending the knees -- head and back straight --. The legs are turned out from the hip. Turnout is a rare and precious genetic commodity. The plié warms up the body, teaches smoothness, connection, and absorbs shock. Somewhere in my personal pile of 14,000 pliés is a "good one". The plié that would prompt the instructor to say, "Use that one". Tom Muzila of Los Angeles, a black belt in Shotokan karate broke the world's record for deep knee bends performing over 10,000 in a single 24-hour period. He discovered, in a day of deep knee bends, what took me nine months to find out about pliés. I heard he also did a thousand Heian Shodan kata in a single day. I wonder if he called in sick the next day. Then there was Bob Wieland who stepped on a mine in Viet Nam. As a double amputee Bob walked across the United States on his knuckles. It took him four years -- wearing shoes on his hands. Tom and Bob are inspiring people. I think of people like them when I want to goof off.
Charlie Chaplin was filming a scene. Blind girl gives a man a flower. Two years, 14,000 takes and a nervous breakdown later he got what he wanted.
There must be a world of perfect motion. If we all lived forever people would move with a quality we do not ordinarily experience. Perfect motion would affect every action we take, even typing. Who can type an entire page without making one mistake? Perfect motion in walking. I still havent' figured out how to walk. There are too many options. Even the "motion" of sitting has slouching, sinking, sitting up straight, sitting on the knees and getting in and out of the chair ... rising, falling...
The notion of falling down
is common to many motion activities. Even movie film "falls" onto
the cutting room floor.
The judoka, practice falling down. Perfect falling. Over and over. In all those falls, there are good ones and bad ones. It takes a beginner about five classes to understand basic falling, and perhaps fifty classes to perfect it. I require beginning judo class students to fall 76 times per class before they are allowed to be thrown even once. So that would be a shooting ratio of 76:1, of 380:1, of 3800:1 for a class, for understanding, and for perfecting respectively. So the Shotokan hint of 5000 kata appears again.
Nature is cruel. Every practice I need to fall about twenty times before decent falling engages. If I miss a practice more falling is required. When there is adrenaline on hand one can accomodate more quickly, but sometimes it hurts afterwards... the body is strange that way. It is soft, it is hard, it remembers, it forgets. Like bubble gum. Is the sugar gone yet?
Then there is improvisational comedy. You never shoot it, you just do it, without rehearsal, in one take, in real time and you're done. Maybe we should all move like that. Then we would have to think of a new name for it, like living or something.
(c) 1998 L. Van Warren * All Rights Reserved