I’m 3 semesters into studying Japanese. Having failed Japanese 101 the first time, I was off to a rocky start. I took the class again, buckled down, and eventually got the hang of things. I memorized the phonetic alphabet (あ、い、う、え、and s(お) on). I wrapped my head around the fundamental grammar and structuring. And I even beat my head against the wall trying to memorize the rules for counting long cylindrical objects.
In this phase of my studies I focused solely on function. Before moving forward, I made sure that I understood at least the basics of a “particle” – the grammatical glue of Japanese. I was memorizing, but I wasn’t memorizing words or meanings or fun things to say to impress people at parties. All my attention was focused on utility. Do I know the difference between に and に and に？What about と and や？Do I understand when が is “but” and when が is “I“?
Too often do we think that the “whole” represents the beauty of an art or language. But there’s tremendous beauty in the parts that make up the “whole.” Without the bits and pieces, without the building blocks, without boring particles and rules to memorize, there would be no “whole,” no beauty, no art.
Functions. Purpose. Component parts in isolation. Rules. Utility. Logic and structure. The art of learning anything – Jiu-Jitsu, tennis, Japanese – a process of psychically trapping elements in the petri dish of your awareness, studying for as long as necessary this one isolated element.
And then you move on. To the next element. And the next.
And then eventually you arrive at the fun part. Fluidity. Creativity. Having understood functions in isolation, you’re now able to create. You can string together sentences, link multiple ideas together with the grammatical nuts and bolts of your craft – stringing kicks, hits, colors, textures, modulations of sound, definition, kerning, hue. It’s all coming together now. Your understanding slowly birthing a harmonious, cohesive form.