Sunday, August 04, 2013

Getting the Details Right

When the legendary judoka Keiko Fukuda, 10th dan, died earlier this year at the age of 99, the NY Times made what is obviously a gross error to anyone who knows something about judo. Here's their description of Ju-no-Kata in her obituary:
By the late ’30s, she had become an instructor and developed an expertise in ju-no-kata, a gentler form of judo.
Wikipedia gets it right:
Ju no Kata (柔の形 Jū-no-kata?, "forms of gentleness") is a kata (a set of prearranged forms) in Judo. It is designed to teach the fundamental principles of judo, especially the principle of ju(yielding or gentleness).[1] It consists in three sets of techniques and is performed by a pair of people one acting as an Uke and the other a Tori. The kata can be performed without wearing ajudogi and, as it doesn't involve the completion of any throws, does not need to be performed in a dojo.
You can see why the author decided to emphasize "gentleness" rather than "fundamental principles of judo," but it's still wrong.

I sent email to the author about this, and we had a polite correspondence that included my suggestion of an alternative, more accurate description of Ju-no-Kata, but his editors decided to let it stand.

This kind of thing happens in newspapers every day, of course: a reporter gets something wrong enough that subject matter experts notice the problem, but nonexperts don't. By and large, I think newspapers should be willing to issue clarifications or corrections in these cases.

But here's an obituary where the author gets a technical description right and was given enough space for a lengthy description:
Throat singing, also called overtone singing, is practiced in only a few parts of the world, mostly in Asia. The Tuvan variety, known as khoomei, is the most famous of all. 
Whenever someone sings a note, the column of air in the throat vibrates, producing both a fundamental tone (the note’s basic pitch) and a series of higher pitches — the overtones. 
In conventional singing, the overtones are largely inaudible, manifesting themselves as timbre. In throat singing, through careful manipulation of the mouth and throat, a vocalist can render certain overtones audible, resulting in two, three and even four pitches sounding at a time. 
Properly sung, khoomei sounds as though the singer has ingested a set of bagpipes, with a low drone and a high melody issuing simultaneously from the same mouth.
That's Margalit Fox, writing the obituary for Tuvan master singer Kongar-ol Ondar.


crow said...

I wouldn't expect anything less from Margalit Fox. Wish I could say I'm related to her.

Joshua Kosman said...

Yep. Margalit Fox is a goddess. My policy of "read anything MF writes" has extended to her recent book about the decipherment of Linear B, and it completely paid off.