In The Encultured Brain’s chapter seven, Katja Pettinen discusses the practice of Taijutsu, a traditional Japanese form of martial arts, to explain the concept of motor skills as extensions of culturally influenced sensation patterns. While many models of learning and skill acquisition credit success to repetition, Pettinen offers Taijutsu as proof that culturally specific models of learning, especially those that influence sensory perception, are equally valid. With reference to the Sakki test (a method of determining advancement within Taijustu), this idea is explored, with “an idea that the sakki test is embedded in a set of cultural practice that shape the body and senses in distinct ways” (200).
One of these cultural practices, Pettinen argues, is the way in which Western and Japanese styles of walking differ. In contrast to Japanese “grammar of the feet” in which foot/knee movement and a lower center of gravity is integral and reflective of Japan’s anthropological history, Western forms of movement, Pettinen argues, are rooted in a European context, and derive motion from the hips to produce a more upright and forward-committed style.
I wonder about this separation of the feet from the body, and what it may translate to when we consider Western vs. Eastern medicine. In a paper evaluating their differences, Julia Tsuei writes on Eastern and Western approaches to medicine, “The Western approach clearly divides the health from the disease, yet the Eastern approach considers health as a balanced state versus disease as an unbalanced state. The Western approach tends to change the environment and the Eastern way is to prefer to adapt to the environment” (Tsuei, 1978). In light of Pettinen’s discussion of walking styles and the Western tendency to understand the body through separation of mind and body, I wonder if these differences in medical approach can also be drawn to anthropological roots.
Eastern medicine exists in the West in forms of acupuncture, meditation, chiropractic, reflexology, etc., but many of these approaches are widely disregard by the wider scientific and medical community. They favor a connection between all body systems, including the mind and sensory perception, with which Western medicine cannot seem to completely align. Even if acknowledged as beneficial, they are seen as complementary or augmentative to the Western approach, which tends towards a more disconnected existence of the mind and body. As written by Peggy Finston on her web page, Acu-Psychiatry,
Western Medicine sees the mind and body as “split,” meaning two separate entities… Based on a culture that focuses on the physical world, Western Medicine’s approach to the mind/body is to “fix” the physical body. (Here, the mind is seen as an organ, the brain and therefore physical.) If the body is missing a substance, the Western approach is to supply it. (Acu-Pyschiatry, 2016)
Can this split between the mind and the body be compared to the Western disconnection between the upper body and the feet? As Pettinen writes, “based on these observations about contrasting walking styles, Ingold suggests that within the Western context, a systematic neglect of the feet and lower body is part of a broader paradigm through which the body…[is] conceptualized” (203).
In this analogy, our feet exist as the basis of our posture and our ability to stand, walk, and run. Like the mind, they are the foundation upon which the rest of the individual is built. In Eastern medicinal practice, as in the Eastern style of walking, all of the body, and thus the body and mind, are part of the whole. Western medicine, however, appears to have been chopped off at the knees.
Is this cutting out of the feet and knees a sort of metaphor for our refusal to acknowledge a more holistic approach to treatment of disease? If this is the case (and I would argue that it is), our anthropological backgrounds may not only underlie the ways in which our sensory pathways are developed for skill acquisition, but also the methods by which we treat illness and conceptualize medical practice. Here, this idea is represented through Eastern and Western styles of movement and walking, and I would be curious as to the existence of other parallels that exemplify this bad case of Western disconnection.
Tsuei, J.J. (1878) Eastern and Western Approaches to Medicine. Western Journal of Medicine, 128 (6): 551-557.
Finston, P. (2016) Why are Eastern and Western Treatments so Different? Acu-Psychiatry, http://acu-psychiatry.com/what-is-world-medical-wisdom/basic-differences-between-eastern-and-western-medicine
Pettinen, K. From Habits of Doing to Habits of Feeling: Skill Acquisition in Taijutsu Practice. The Encultured Brain: An Introduction to Neuroanthropology