Monday, November 10, 2014

Does Anybody Actually Understand Karate Manuals?

Every so often our karate school conducts an instructor’s seminar to ensure that all of the teachers are correctly representing the various techniques of our art. As a by product of the seminar, each instructor receives the latest written manual developed by the Technical Advisory Committee. Said manual contains all of the hyungs (forms / kata / patters), the various fighting techniques, and the hand-to-hand grabs and extractions.

These Instructor Seminars are grueling, which it turns out, is their most enjoyable quality.

Happily, after a fortnight of rest, the body begins to respond to the neural signals for walking and sipping pureed veggies through a straw. With the written manual at the ready, a recovering instructor can begin the process of assimilating the 2,000 years of knowledge that was shared right before the coma.

Technical manuals... have you ever read one? Ever tried to assemble lawn furniture from Sears? While the First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees our right to peaceably assemble, I have yet to ever assemble anything from Ikea peaceably. This is the result of their technical instructions.

Which brings me to my point. Technical writing is hard. Writing a technical manual requires a specialized skill forcibly extracted from English Majors who have been threatened with passive voice.

This problem is exacerbated by the delusion that the poison of illiteracy that infects the world’s conclave of technical writers has gently passed each of us by. After all, everything we write is plainly clear to child of three, a blind squirrel, a lost lamb, and our mom. Problem is folks, all of Picasso’s paintings make complete sense.... to Picasso.

Simply put, you cannot judge the clarity of your own writing.

Truth be told - your technical writing skills are probably only usable within a narrow context. And by context, I mean to the very few people with whom you directly interact every day. Take one step away from them and your written words might as well be preceded by “Made in Taiwan.”

For instance, here is an example of an instruction seen in an airline lavatory. It probably made complete sense to the author at the time of writing, but requires clairvoyance to decipher:

Please do not throw foreign objects into flushing toilet.

Is it the throwing motion that is prohibited here, or is it OK to throw, so long as the object is of domestic origin? Can I gently drop anything in so long as the commode is not actively flushing? THIS MADE SENSE to the author, and you *probably* get the intended meaning; but... it... is... not... clear!

If it is your task to create / edit martial arts information, e.g. how to perform a series of self-defence moves, how to strike, block, or perform a hyung - don’t do it alone. You must take your written result and share it for criticism with members of your intended audience. If you are writing for a 2nd Degree Black Belt, then show your writing to a 1st Degree. Have your work reviewed by someone outside of your discipline. You will hate the process, but your students will love the result.

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