It's a question we often ask ourselves: is technology ruining our ability to remember? With smartphones in hand, constant access to the internet, speed-dial, and many other conveniences, are we losing ability to memorize, and consequently, our store of knowledge? Almost 2500 years ago, Plato accused writing of the same offence. In his story Phaedrus, the king says of the art of writing:
“If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing, and as men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows.”
In looking back on the last 2500 years, most people would disagree with Plato's assessment, but Plato may have been more correct than we realised.
Clive Thompson, in his recent book Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, discusses "transactive memory," a method people developed to store knowledge. Transactive memory is the act of remembering not the knowledge itself, but instead who holds that knowledge. Numerous studies over the years (including before the internet/smartphone era) have shown that people are not very good at remembering details unless, a) it's important for their work, b) they have a passion for it. What we seem to do with other knowledge is remember who else around us is the keeper of certain other information.
It has been shown that groups who learn together are better able to complete the task in the future, and through deeper analysis, have a better understanding of the core-concepts involved. If we extrapolate this information to learning in the dojo, learning in a group and continuing to work together will help enable memory retention in the long run. Where you might get stuck in a kata and then totally lose momentum, someone else may remember the next move. This next move will in turn prompt you to continue to the next section, and vice versa with others in the group. This ability to remember a part, which prompts remembrance in others of the whole, is called cross-cueing. Plato was indeed correct in his statement that this "is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder," which appears to be equally important in the learning process.
This type of memory can be especially important when preparing for gradings. Coming to class regularly and training with the same partners helps to develop a group memory, where we rely on each other until the information is completely learned and muscle memory also comes into play. Continuing to train together in the long run will also help maintain the knowledge; while you may forget what a qurt-zuki is, it may be a fellow karate-ka's favourite basic, and they will always remember for you, and remind you later so the information is not lost. Especially as you get closer to your shodan grading and beyond, Sensei will establish a grading group to aid in training together, and promote this helpful method.
The idea of transactive memory may seem odd at first, but reading the article, you should be able to recognize how we apply this method on a daily basis. Use this information to help establish your training within the dojo, attending regularly with your peers is an essential tool in furthering your learning. Technology is not preventing us from remembering, it is merely changing how we do it, make yourself aware of how to use it to your benefit and you will succeed.