Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bruce Lee and the Lost Art of Cursive Writing

I was listening to the news the other day, and I was surprised to hear that cursive writing is no longer being taught in many schools.  I was not aware that it has been phased out in several school boards.  One such institution is trying to revive the practice of cursive handwriting.

My first impression is that it should be taught.  After all, I learned it and look how great I turned out...

Then again, when is the last time I actually wrote anything?  Work reports are all on computer, reminder ‘post-it’ notes are printed, and notebooks are print, mainly capital letters, we text more than we talk…

Come to think of it, I haven’t written out a hand written letter in over a decade, maybe longer.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time I actually wrote anything out, cursively speaking.

Yet I’m still left with the feeling that something will be lost by not learning it.  What, exactly, I still can’t pin down. 

My inner debate got me thinking about Bruce Lee.  One of his concepts/beliefs was that one should keep what is useful and discard what it not.  Makes sense for self defense.  If a technique doesn’t work for you, due to size, shape, physical condition, etc, throw it away.  Why keep practicing something you won’t ever use?  The issue with this, of course, it that it’s not always apparent what will be of use.  Not at first, anyway.  I discussed this in a bit more detail in my post found here.

I still maintain that for self defense technique, you often must first learn and explore and experiment with a technique before you can toss it away.  It is tempting to discard a technique that doesn’t seem to work for you when you’re just learning it.  From my experience, several techniques I initially thought I would never use are now my ‘go-to’ moves.  I needed to really understand them before I was able to make a proper assessment.

Does the same hold true for cursive writing?  Does the value of learning it trump its actual use once learned?  You could argue that it forces neural pathways, increases dexterity and fine motor skills etc. but is of limited real world value. 
The same could be said of (some) kata out there today.  I’ve seen a whole bunch of forms and kata out there that are pretty questionable on the whole ‘real world’ scale.  They may not have always been (not trying to kick off a ‘value of kata’ argument, that’s for another time), but they certainly are now.

Should cursive writing still be taught?  Does Bruce Lee’s assertion that you should discard what is not useful apply here?  Food for thought.

For now, I’m off to write a letter, by hand, just to remind myself what it’s like…


  1. Beautiful handwriting used to be esteemed. It was the mark of an intelligent and cultured person.

    I still make notes to myself in cursive. About the only other opportunity I have is with my signature when signing various things.

    When it comes time to sign something, I pause, take a breath and try to do a good job of it. I always feel better for having made the effort.

  2. Thanks Rick,

    I've written a few notes and pages since my post. It's not as fluid as it once was. There's something refined about the process. I wonder if it will be some sort of secret language a couple of decades from now...

  3. Hey Journeyman,

    I heard the same NPR report. I am currently a university student, and I can tell you that cursive writing is incredibly useful.

    I need to take notes very quickly, and often, it is quicker to write them out rather than typing them (because you can copy any drawings very quickly, or make any associations to the side or whatever that easily stand out). When writing fast, I use a mixture of cursive and print.

    Doing some experiments on how print evolves into cursive, I've found that cursive appears to be a way to write very quickly (except for when you want to make it REALLY fancy).

    I've seen other students who don't use cursive; they just write in a very shaky, almost illegible style. Having grooved cursive into my muscle memory, I can write very swiftly, while keeping my writing legible. THAT, as a regular writer, is the benefit of cursive.

  4. As a returning classroom teacher, it astonished me that students in a fifth grade class would declare that they couldn't read my cursive writing. I hadn't even given it a thought as I began to write. And almost instinctively and as a call to arms against what I see as growing mediocrity in our public schools, I declared my war on "lack of cursive instruction." I informed my new students that I was too old to learn printing so they would have to figure out my cursive. For 15 minutes a day and nightly homework four days a week, the students learned and practiced the cursive writing they should have learned in third grade. What became even of more interest to me was that as their penmanship improved as did their use of cursive writing so did their attitudes about scholarliness and school. These students grew as students and academically. I will repeat the use of cursive writing again this year. I am not remotely convinced that it doesn't matter.

  5. Mohammad,

    It's interesting that you can use it faster to your advantage. Without having to lift your pen that often, it is possible to write very quickly.


    What a great example of the values of cursive. Stretching the brain in one way spills over to another. Perhaps you're providing them with a 'secret' language they can use to their advantage.

    Thanks so much for commenting.