What is “kinesophics”?

Kinesophics is a made-up word.

Kine-: from the ancient greek, meaning movement. As in kinesiology (study of movement), kinetic (relating to movement), or the kinaesthetic sense (the capacity to feel movement).

-sophics: from the ancient Greek “sophos,” originally meaning skilled, with that sense eventually extended to skill in matters of common life, and then into intellectual skill. As in philosophy (love of wisdom), or sophisticated (clever)–or sophism (said of a fallacious or invalid argument).

So the name “kinesophics” suggests something about intelligence and skill in movement. And Feldenkrais is all about improving the intelligence of how we move–which is not so much a matter of external intellectual mastery, as it is a matter of finding a balance between intellectual insight, play, and the flow of sensation in movement.

My invented suffix “Sophics” carries a lot of different connotations–from “wisdom” to “bad argument.” How did that come about? In the story of this word, there are other resonances for the practice of Feldenkrais.

The basic idea behind the word is skill, and its range of application spread from manual skills to intellectual skills, with connotations ranging from wisdom, to cleverness, to cleverness in the sense of mere cleverness, or too much cleverness. If you wanted to warn against confusing cleverness with wisdom in ancient Greek, you’d pun on the word: “that which is sophon is not sophia,” says the chorus at one point in Eurpides’s tragedy, The Bacchae.

The “soph-” root provided the name for the early itinerant teachers of ancient Greece, the Sophists, the first people in the European tradition to find a profession in teaching people how to be better human beings. At a time when an urban culture of business, politics, and the law courts was overtaking an older, family-based rural culture, the Sophists taught people primarily the skill that was becoming more and more important in their world: how to speak well. They encouraged thinking and curiosity beyond the handed-down wisdom of the traditional social structures, and taught rhetoric.

For this, the general culture at large was suspicious of the Sophists, and accused them of corrupting the youth, of inquiring into things beyond our ken, such as astronomy, mathematics, and the cultural variability of human morals. Their elaborate ways of speaking and arguing, their cultivation of paradoxes and verbal and intellectual play, made many people uncomfortable, and they got a reputation for being able to argue any side of an argument, to make bad ideas look good.

The philosopher Socrates was ultimately put to death by the people of Athens for being “one of them.” Socrates himself, despite his reputation for being a Sophist, was a critic of the Sophists. When the Sophists claimed to be able to teach people how to think and speak, Socrates asked “how to think about what?” If you want to speak about medical issues, you learn to speak well (that is, to speak the truth) from medical experts; if you want to speak well about warfare, you learn from someone with expertise in martial matters, Socrates said. His question to the Sophists was: What can it mean to speak well in general, about anything?

Apart from suggesting some combination of intelligence and movement, “kinesophics” conjures up this history. Socrates’ argument sounds like mere quibbling, but when we (Feldenkrais practitioners) explain that we teach movement, we run into the same surprise or puzzlement from people. What does that mean to improve movement? If I want to dance, I learn from a dancer; if I want to play tennis, I learn from a tennis coach; if I want to learn karate, I find a karate master. What does it mean to learn to move better in general? This surprise or puzzlement people feel is like the question Socrates posed: is there such a thing as learning good movement as such, as opposed to learning specific good movements, to do a good tango or have a good serve in tennis or a good throw in Judo?

Moshe Feldenkrais’s claim is that there is a process of learning good movement in general–not learning this or that right movement, but a way to improve the processes governing our evolution and adaptability as moving creatures. “Learning how to learn,” he called it.

He began with the study of Judo and came to see quickly that there was potential in what Judoki do for something other than a martial art. A master of Judo carries him or herself so that he or she can move in any possible direction without preparation–that is, in a state of maximum freedom from restriction. Moshe called this good “acture,” using a word he invented to replace the word “posture”. Moshe came to see this as something equivalent to full human maturity: The ability to respond afresh to the opportunities and demands of the present moment, without being weighed down by compulsive and limiting habits from the past.

4 Replies to “What is “kinesophics”?”

  1. IT’s really funny, I discover right now, the meanning of your neologysm, … few weeks ago, I would try to put some words upon the I.F process, and I wrote : somatic dialogue -socratic dialogue…it was the same feeling!

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