How do you learn? Psychological types / functions, and how they might influence learning?

Argus

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So, this is something that occurred to me when I was listening to an interview with Tuhon Bill McGrath where he discussed different personality and learning styles.
I've noticed my own strengths and challenges with regards to learning and understanding in Martial Arts, and I've started to put them in the context of Carl Jung's psychological functions/types.

Many of you may be familiar with the Myer's Briggs Personality Types (MBTI). This test is not exactly scientific, but is based on the scientific work of Carl Jung, in which Jung identifies four major psychological functions: Thinking (T), Feeling (F), Intuition (N) and Sensing (S), with each function being either introverted or extroverted.

For example, a person who is an Extroverted Thinker (Te) primarily orients their thinking towards solving problems in the external world -- that is, to say, to enact upon the external world.
A person who is an Introverted Thinker (Ti) primarily orients their thinking inwardly, in order to understand the nature of things either external or internal. This is not however to say that Introverted Thinking (Ti) does not manifest in the real world; the Scientist, but also the Architect is an Archtype of this sort of thinking. It is best defined as thinking with regards to "The Nature of Things" versus "The Result of Things"

So someone strong in Extroverted Thinking (Te) might be an excellent Entrepreneur, Businessman, or Salesperson. Or perhaps a competitive Sportsman or such. Basically, anyone who primarily is interested in applying things externally.

Conversely, someone strong in Introverted Thinking (Ti) might lean more towards Science, Academia, or Philosophy. They might be a better Investor than Businessman, or be more concerned with their internal development as a person, or the development of their system, rather than just the application of it.

The same is true for Feeling, Sensing, and Intuition, and we all use a mix of both introverted and extroverted functions, just with a bias towards some over others.

For example, I am an INTP. My dominant psychological functions, in order of strongest, to least, are:
1. Introverted Thinking (Ti)
2. Extroverted Intuition (Ne)
3. Introverted Sensing (Si)
4. Extroverted Feeling (Fe)

This leaves me with both some strengths and challenges when learning Martial Arts, and this depends somewhat on how the art is taught.

For example, with Ti, I tend to be more concerned with my mastery and understanding of a given art than with using it competitively. I do enjoy sparring, but only as a way to explore and test what I know, and I much prefer to spar with specific rule-sets geared towards learning, developing, or exploring the art. I like to try out unfair situations, such as multiple attackers against one, mismatched weapons, or experimenting with using certain elements of technique or footwork in creative or unconventional ways. I don't mind losing, and don't really concern myself with winning -- I just want to explore and practice or test out certain things.

A preference for Ne (Extroverted Intuition) means that I tend to make connections and apply externally what I know (Ti) and have "programmed" my body to do (Si). This tends to help a lot with understanding, comparing, and relating certain techniques to one another, and recognizing when to use one or the other. Basically, it is about exploring what you know consciously. This is the function that I primarily rely on to apply what I know (Ti, Si) externally. I'm good at consciously recognizing opportunities to apply something, when I'm not applying it automatically/reflexively via Si, and this function generally helps me to gain a strong understanding of the nature of things (when combined with Ti).

Si (Introverted Sensing) is about internalizing information, including physical habit. I'm very, very good at programming my habits and movement (something that I do consciously via Ti (thinking/reflecting) and Ne (connecting the dots). So I tend to benefit a lot from solo practice, both of more formal forms, and also of more free practice where I explore the formal motions with Ne (Extroverted Intuition) and attempt to make them more natural, refined, and applicable to real life. Basically, in short, I consciously build habits which tend to come out in application exactly as I practice. A lot of people do forms differently from how they actually practice/apply things, but for me, even if I want to do something different, my body tends to automatically do what I've practice solo, even down to pretty minute details. As such, I often find benefit from making very minor tweaks to the forms that I practice.

All of these come with major drawbacks too, though.

Because my thinking is Introverted (Ti), when I am in "Thinking Mode" -- esp when learning, I tend to think to the neglect of all else. You can't be in the moment while also thinking internally. It's not possible. So I tend to appear extremely incompetent when I'm learning things which require a great deal of "thinking" and I can't just be on autopilot with Si/Ne. People are occasionally surprised at the difference in competence between when I am learning and when I am freely applying what I know.

Ne is pretty useful in terms of Martial Arts. I can't think of any argument against it over Ni, and it's kind of what I rely on the most... To the extent that I am "in the moment", it is via extroverted intuition as opposed to extroverted sensing. I am not as situationally aware as someone strong in extroverted sensing, so to the extent that situational awareness is important, it is more because I consciously intuit, rather than sense.

A preference for Si over Se makes it very difficult for me to be fully in the moment while paying attention to details, sequences, or basically anything that I have not already programmed myself to do automatically. This is by far my biggest challenge when learning any art. I tend to want to just do whatever comes out naturally, and if you tell me to do "X, then Y, then Z, then A" and it's not something that I've specifically programmed my body to do, I screw up. A LOT. Really a lot. This is especially true of arbitrary patterns (for which no contextual framework exists to aide memory.) First, I have an unnaturally hard time remembering the sequence, and an even harder time getting my body to do that instead of what it wants to do instead. What's worse is, after class, I probably won't remember the sequence, the numbers, and all the details. So I had better have a video of someone doing it correctly so that I can program my body to do it when I have the opportunity to slow way, way, way down. I often have to go painfully slow to first see, and then remember everything, and can only do it after going through the motions many times myself and building a new habit. This also makes it somewhat more challenging than usual for me to practice multiple martial arts at once, as my habits tend to conflict with one another, especially as it applies to things like footwork and body mechanics.
Basically, I have a really hard time following what's going on when someone demonstrates a technique, and an even harder time doing it for the first (many number) of times. It's only if I have something to reference and can work on it at home, alone, that I finally get it all. It's incredibly important for me to take video or notes and practice solo.


Given all this description, I tend to be naturally more proficient at arts like Kali Ilustrisimo or Wing Chun, where there's not a whole lot to remember, and everything is very instinctual and nuanced. You just respond appropriately to a given attack instinctively depending on all kinds of things, from the angle that it comes in on, to the force that you get, to the position of your hands. Famously, Tatang Ilustrisimo didn't really have a formalized system per-se, and just reacted instinctively given what he knew, and based on nuanced differences in angle, range, timing, pressure, feeling, and positioning. As such, the teaching style, at least in so far as I have been exposed to it, is less rigid and far more natural and free flowing than many more structured arts. This makes it very easy for me to learn.

On the other hand, and complete opposite, are arts like Modern Arnis. Everything is scripted and there are so many rigid sequences and patterns, many of which are arbitrary and therefore really hard for me to remember. At my Arnis club, I do so many different combination of Sinawali's and all of the drills are heavily scripted and technique oriented. There are tons of sequences to learn and you're not really supposed to deviate much, at least not at the level we're practicing. This makes it somewhat difficult for me to follow and gain a functional understanding of, as I have to "explore" in a much more free and less scripted manner (but still low pressure -- not necessarily sparring) to really get a sense of what I'm doing exactly and how to apply it. It is, however, a really good art to study to get an overview of all of the pieces, almost like a dictionary: I've learned a lot about specific techniques, sinawali's, and disarms, etc... even if they always want to come out in some order other than what they're supposed to. It's like a very good dictionary.

Pekiti Tirsia is somewhat in the middle. There is an absolutely massive amount of material which is a huge burden in terms of memory and a lot of sequences of technique -- especially for someone lacking in Extroverted Sensing. But there's a lot of bigger picture / conceptual stuff as well, and the sequences that do exist impress me quite a bit as they answer a lot of my questions about real world application (how to tactically enter, angle off, and put yourself in an advantageous position to set up / bait / enter / follow up / counter / recounter / what have you). When I understand the purpose and application, things are less arbitrary in my mind, and I remember and appreciate them better. As such, I am the kind of person who needs to start writing before I can remember all of the ABC's, as odd as that may sound.

Anyway, that's my personal experience and insight. I'm not sure how many here know that much about the psychological functions themselves, but whether you do or you don't, I'd love to hear your experiences and insight as to how you learn, what you find difficult or easy, and how that changes between different arts. Do you notice similar or contrasting points with anything I've mentioned here? And, if you've taken the MBTI, what psychological type do you appear to be?
 
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Gerry Seymour

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I'd be cautious in expecting any test of this sort to accurately predict learning behavior, for a number of reasons. MBTI, particularly, isn't very good at predicting behavior or ability - it's better suited to self-assessment and understanding than understanding others (by their types).

Then there's the case that how people learns appears to be mostly affected by what's being learned. Some folks seem need less of something (able to work from oral instruction, not needing to see the task), but that is likely mostly a factor of whether communication styles match (using terms both parties understand) and foundational knowledge, rather than a matter of psychological wiring. For the most part, the thing being learned determines how best it is communicated. Physical tasks, for instance, are best communicated with physical demonstration.

Much of the rest is down to motivators, which you get into quite a bit. I don't think that's learning style or necessarily about psychological types, so much as what someone is looking for. I've seen very different types want much time same thing in their training (though their approaches were quite different).

Some psychological aspects that influence typing will matter. ADHD can change how people approach almost anything, as can being anywhere on the autism spectrum. Strong introverts and extroverts will typically have a very different preference for the learning environment and pace of information. Behavior type (things like DISC, which is basically one portion of Jungian typing) tends to be a pretty good predictor of communication preference, so does tend to align with how to get information across (what kinds of words communicate best).

To your point about different arts, I do think some systems (combination of techniques/tactics/principles and how they are typically transmitted) are better suited to what some people want and need. For those of us who like playing with technical details, a system that tends to play in the weeds is likely a good fit. For those who want to get right to "doing", something that has a focus on direct application may be the thing. For those who want to compare what they do to others, or get a chance to test themselves, or get recognition, a system with a competition focus can be a great fit.
 
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Argus

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I'd be cautious in expecting any test of this sort to accurately predict learning behavior, for a number of reasons. MBTI, particularly, isn't very good at predicting behavior or ability - it's better suited to self-assessment and understanding than understanding others (by their types).

Then there's the case that how people learns appears to be mostly affected by what's being learned. Some folks seem need less of something (able to work from oral instruction, not needing to see the task), but that is likely mostly a factor of whether communication styles match (using terms both parties understand) and foundational knowledge, rather than a matter of psychological wiring. For the most part, the thing being learned determines how best it is communicated. Physical tasks, for instance, are best communicated with physical demonstration.

Much of the rest is down to motivators, which you get into quite a bit. I don't think that's learning style or necessarily about psychological types, so much as what someone is looking for. I've seen very different types want much time same thing in their training (though their approaches were quite different).

Some psychological aspects that influence typing will matter. ADHD can change how people approach almost anything, as can being anywhere on the autism spectrum. Strong introverts and extroverts will typically have a very different preference for the learning environment and pace of information. Behavior type (things like DISC, which is basically one portion of Jungian typing) tends to be a pretty good predictor of communication preference, so does tend to align with how to get information across (what kinds of words communicate best).

To your point about different arts, I do think some systems (combination of techniques/tactics/principles and how they are typically transmitted) are better suited to what some people want and need. For those of us who like playing with technical details, a system that tends to play in the weeds is likely a good fit. For those who want to get right to "doing", something that has a focus on direct application may be the thing. For those who want to compare what they do to others, or get a chance to test themselves, or get recognition, a system with a competition focus can be a great fit.

Yes, I agree on being careful with MBTI, and also that it isn't so good at predicting behavior or ability.
But as you said, it can provide insight into one's own behavior or ability, which is why I wrote my post from my personal perspective/experience.

Great point about oral instruction! I think that has a lot to do with prior training (how much of a base the person already has), communication style (as you pointed out), and possibly receiving person's ability to visualize.

I certainly agree that there are certain methods of instruction that are just inherently better for a given thing, ie, that even if I may be for example a strong auditory learner, I will still benefit more from a physical demonstration when learning a physical skill.

I can tell you have experience teaching a lot of different people. It's great to hear insight from someone with more direct experience on the teaching side. I'm only mildly familiar with DISC -- I think I'll look into that as well. I'm always interested in how to better communicate with different people.

> For those of us who like playing with technical details, a system that tends to play in the weeds is likely a good fit.
Ah, yes. I think I get that sense from systems such as Modern Arnis, or Inosanto Kali. Hopefully I didn't come off too negative there: I always am impressed by the technical knowledge they exhibit and learn a lot. I'm probably just more of a "forest for the trees" type of person who tends to get lost if my head is too deep in the weeds... or rather I need that bigger picture perspective to really understand the weeds. Not sure if that's just me/my learning style, or a more general rule when it comes to learning, but I learn best via context and direct application, though I still value and benefit greatly from more conceptual or technical work / instruction.

I think you make a good point in differentiating between "what people are good at" and their motivation though. To some extent, there's likely a lot of overlap: we tend to become good if we are motivated, and we tend to be motivated to do what we are good at, so there's some self selecting going on. But I would not be the least bit surprised if this self selection process is heavily influenced by psychological types.

None of this is to say that there aren't things that you won't have to work extra hard to learn in any martial art, or that you should avoid arts with a lot of such things, though. As I become more experienced in martial arts, I've learned more and more to work on those things which I absolutely hate and am not good at, as those are the things that I often benefit the most from.
 

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ISTJ (but the I is pretty moderate, tested out as a moderate ESTJ when I was in high school).

But in reading over your breakdown of your learning motivators, well, I think they apply to me almost as much as they do to you by description and we are almost perfect opposites by the MBTI.

But as a scientist (well was, ex-wildlife biologist) the ISTJ is the "data driven nerd" (see here: Four Types of Scientists - Thesis Hub) and that fits me to a T. I joke and say that I don't enjoy fighting, I just do it to get data points to test out my techniques and I am just building up my sample size. But that is very much how I approach martial arts. Historical data, anecdotal real world data, data resulting from repeated stress testing. So it impacts how I study and approach what I do.
 

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Yes, I agree on being careful with MBTI, and also that it isn't so good at predicting behavior or ability.
But as you said, it can provide insight into one's own behavior or ability, which is why I wrote my post from my personal perspective/experience.

Great point about oral instruction! I think that has a lot to do with prior training (how much of a base the person already has), communication style (as you pointed out), and possibly receiving person's ability to visualize.

I certainly agree that there are certain methods of instruction that are just inherently better for a given thing, ie, that even if I may be for example a strong auditory learner, I will still benefit more from a physical demonstration when learning a physical skill.

I can tell you have experience teaching a lot of different people. It's great to hear insight from someone with more direct experience on the teaching side. I'm only mildly familiar with DISC -- I think I'll look into that as well. I'm always interested in how to better communicate with different people.

> For those of us who like playing with technical details, a system that tends to play in the weeds is likely a good fit.
Ah, yes. I think I get that sense from systems such as Modern Arnis, or Inosanto Kali. Hopefully I didn't come off too negative there: I always am impressed by the technical knowledge they exhibit and learn a lot. I'm probably just more of a "forest for the trees" type of person who tends to get lost if my head is too deep in the weeds... or rather I need that bigger picture perspective to really understand the weeds. Not sure if that's just me/my learning style, or a more general rule when it comes to learning, but I learn best via context and direct application, though I still value and benefit greatly from more conceptual or technical work / instruction.

I think you make a good point in differentiating between "what people are good at" and their motivation though. To some extent, there's likely a lot of overlap: we tend to become good if we are motivated, and we tend to be motivated to do what we are good at, so there's some self selecting going on. But I would not be the least bit surprised if this self selection process is heavily influenced by psychological types.

None of this is to say that there aren't things that you won't have to work extra hard to learn in any martial art, or that you should avoid arts with a lot of such things, though. As I become more experienced in martial arts, I've learned more and more to work on those things which I absolutely hate and am not good at, as those are the things that I often benefit the most from.
Ill come back and reply when Im at a keyboard.
 
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Argus

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ISTJ (but the I is pretty moderate, tested out as a moderate ESTJ when I was in high school).

But in reading over your breakdown of your learning motivators, well, I think they apply to me almost as much as they do to you by description and we are almost perfect opposites by the MBTI.

But as a scientist (well was, ex-wildlife biologist) the ISTJ is the "data driven nerd" (see here: Four Types of Scientists - Thesis Hub) and that fits me to a T. I joke and say that I don't enjoy fighting, I just do it to get data points to test out my techniques and I am just building up my sample size. But that is very much how I approach martial arts. Historical data, anecdotal real world data, data resulting from repeated stress testing. So it impacts how I study and approach what I do.

Do you mean that you identify with the experiences that I wrote, or just the motivation?

For example, do you have an equally difficult time seeing and doing a new technique / sequence that is demonstrated?

Perhaps it's much the same process for everybody.

I used to have a Karate friend who I'm pretty sure was ISTJ, and we spent a lot of time comparing Karate's traditional elements and kata with my art (Wing Chun) to see what overlap existed / get insight on bunkai and such. I would say we also had a really similar approach and motivation. The main difference being that I think he took, as you explain, a more data approach, whereas I took a more conceptual approach -- but then, Wing Chun is very much a conceptual art.
 

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Do you mean that you identify with the experiences that I wrote, or just the motivation?

For example, do you have an equally difficult time seeing and doing a new technique / sequence that is demonstrated?

Perhaps it's much the same process for everybody.

I used to have a Karate friend who I'm pretty sure was ISTJ, and we spent a lot of time comparing Karate's traditional elements and kata with my art (Wing Chun) to see what overlap existed / get insight on bunkai and such. I would say we also had a really similar approach and motivation. The main difference being that I think he took, as you explain, a more data approach, whereas I took a more conceptual approach -- but then, Wing Chun is very much a conceptual art.

If I understand this correctly I should also be a Ti like you, but I actually pick up on new material rapidly. I have alway been considered a fast learner for physical motion.

Maybe I misunderstand how you generated the other motivators, but by description they seem pretty similar to how I learn even though I don't think we should have the same motivators.
 
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I have never done a personality test as part of education, beyond example use only. I have how ever done a learning style test. My country uses learning styles and i think most do, that being specfically what types of information you process the best and worse. Id presume some of the tests etc you do in school would assess this as well.

For eample, there is kientic, visual and audtory, that is learns best by doing, seeing and listening respectively. This is excluding and not testing for learning disabilities or other disabilities. Or accounting for.

I think the learning curve is ignored in this post honestly, and thats the greater marker here alognside tests etc about learning specfically as opposed to general personality. Some things are just harder/take longer to learn than others, in part because of the nature of it, and in part because of the nature of you.

This sort of overlooks inteligence being the main factor in learning, inteligence is by definition the ability to pick up and/or retain use information/knowledge. (this is mesured against the learning curve of the skill) I dont think a personality test really mesures your inteligence, or your general learning style, more exists to try and quantify the information given into a group. Tests like this should be taken with a grain of salt, or heavy grain of salt.
And i probbly completely noped out of wording any of this to make sense.
 
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Argus

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If I understand this correctly I should also be a Ti like you, but I actually pick up on new material rapidly. I have alway been considered a fast learner for physical motion.

Maybe I misunderstand how you generated the other motivators, but by description they seem pretty similar to how I learn even though I don't think we should have the same motivators.

Actually, the ISTJ's functions are different. Your primary function is Si (The INTP also has Si, but it is the third function, behind Ti and Ne) and your second function, Thinking, is actually Te (extroverted thinking) as opposed to Ti (introverted thinking, as it is in my case).

I would think that a very high affinity for Sensing in general, especially Si, should making picking up on new material rapidly more easy, so that would be consistent with Jung's type theory. You say that you pick things up quickly, which is pretty different from me, so I think that while we may have the same general method (Si), Si is much stronger in your case, which may give you an advantage in how fast you're able to pick things up.

Comparing Si and Ti, I would just put them this way: Si is interested in collecting data, whereas Ti is interested in processing it. And for our second functions: Te is interested in applying the data collected, while Ne is interested in exploring it. In the end, of course, all preferences exist along a continuum of sorts, and we may have only a moderate preference for one function over another. Everyone (must) utilize all functions to some degree or another.

However, Rat did make a good point which I feel to be very valid: that the learning curve is potentially more important: IE, that the more experienced you become, the more easily you can pick up new material. I would say that is certainly true on whole, and when it comes to personal development, either way, the only real way to progress is to just keep practicing over a long period of time. Depending how an art is taught, that might be slightly more challenging for some types than other in the beginning stages, but it likely doesn't make much difference as you progress, aside from perhaps influencing your overall approach or motivation.

I should mention that, in the end, I don't really like making too much out of psychological types or theories, because the most important determining factor when it comes to success is simply how long you stick with it, and how hard you work, and that's not something we should ever overlook.
 
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I've seen a lot of letters, acronyms and ideas in the above posts. While I agree with the presence of personality types as has been described, and have noted some remarks on intelligence, in regards to MA, I somewhat agree with this quote:
I don't really like making too much out of psychological types or theories, because the most important determining factor when it comes to success is simply how long you stick with it, and how hard you work, and that's not something we should ever overlook.
In my experience, personality type plays little part in MA ability (beyond too much ego which closes the door on learning, or conversely, deep lack of self-confidence.) The same for academic intelligence playing a part (though there must be a spark somewhere in the brain.) Good martial artists run the full range of these traits. Now, personality may influence how the Art is expressed and individualized, and IQ may influence how well someone can explain MA concepts, but neither has a strong bearing on learning and doing MA. Good execution is conceptual (which I'll explain soon.)

We know the importance of having an open mind. I believe this concept can be extended to having an open body. A tiger has only the most basic kind of personality and little ability to think, but, wow, can they move and fight! They have a natural, open, body where their technique flows unhindered, and untethered.

The ability to "let go" and allow one's body to perform is key. A certain frame of mind is needed for this to happen. When I was studying iaido, a basic move is drawing the sword smoothly from the scabbard and simultaneously cutting. Naturally, to do this well entails many moving parts. Too many, in fact, for me, despite much practice. But then, I had a revelation. Watching the easy smoothness of the advanced students performing this, I realized that there were not really many moving parts, but rather just one! It was a case of not seeing the forest for the trees.

By seeing the technique as a single concept, I forgot about doing ten different things. I visualized what the technique looked like in its entirety and set the image in my mind. Then, I just let my body replay the image. From concept > execution. Several eyebrows were raised at the sight of a beginner executing the draw/cut like a brown belt. The same with returning the sword to the scabbard (tricky to do fluidly when close to a yard of sharpened steel is sliding a quarter inch or less past the webbing of your thumb.)

So, the key element in doing MA is, IMO, taking a holistic (or "whole-istic") approach and allow your body to let go and execute the visualized concept. Sure, practice and repetition is needed prior to this, but without this body "feel," it will take much longer to get proficient. See the forest.
 

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