Realities Created, Maintained and Destroyed, WHILE-U-WAIT!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Thinking outside the box

Yesterday I was talking with a friend about how he could organize his understanding of martial arts.

There is a rather good book called "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card.

There is one pivotal moment in the story where Ender (the protagonist) makes a qualitative change in his world view that is very to the point for martial artists.

Ender is attending a military school where the students play a sort of "capture the flag" game in freefall. Each team has a gate opposite the other and they boil out of their respective gates to do mock combat.

At one point in the story Ender has the realization that all the teams unconsciously orient themselves along the "horizontal wall" which is the one between the gates, but that this is an entirely arbitrary choice, because in zero G there is no horizontal or vertical.

So Ender makes a cognitive leap and discovers that he can orient himself to his opponents in any way he chooses. He gathers his team together and tells them "The enemy's gate is down".

With this one perceptual shift he completely changes the game and his team becomes the ongoing winner of the matches.

I suggested to my friend that he needed to make an equivalent shift in his understanding of his art.

Much of what I have seen in the martial arts over a lifetime of study is the moral equivalent of choosing an artificial horizon, orienting one's self to it and the forgetting that the horizon only exists because of agreement.

We have seen this when the Gracie family showed up in the US and showed us that "the Emperor was in fact naked". The thing I find really amusing about that is by forcing everyone to examine their preconceptions, they opened themselves up to having the Gracie preconceptions examined as well, thereby removing themselves from a position of dominance.

So how do you learn to think outside the box?

Start by discovering and questioning your preconceived notions about your art. This can be very uncomfortable because it will mean questioning your teacher's views as well.

One way to do this is to find a martial art that is very different than the one you practice, even one that your group thinks badly of, and explore its world views. This will help in learning where the walls of your "box" are, and it just may open your eyes to some value that has been hidden from you.

For example, in recent years it has become popular among some groups of martial artists to speak disparagingly of Tae kwan Do. We hear terms such as "MacDojo" applied to TKD schools and the suggestion that TKD training is "unrealistic" because of its focus on "Sport" sparring.

This, in my opinion, should be considered a form of religious dogma rather than an observation of fact, and the only thing such an attitude will accomplish is to raise to probability of getting your arse handed to you by underestimating an opponent.

This is indicative of a greater dogma (artificial horizon) found in the two main camps of the martial arts, The "combat" camp and the "sport" camp.

Each claims the other is in some way "wrong" because of their respective focus. If you want to begin thinking outside the box, a good thing to do is discover the value (and there is one) in both camps.

Another way to teach yourself to "think outside the box" is to study the work of people who have made great QUALITATIVE leaps in our understanding. You might want to check out people like R. Buckminster Fuller, Ida Rolf, Moshe Feldenkrais, F. Matthias Alexander, Scott Sonnon, Milton H. Erickson MD and Harry Partch. (To name a few).

Each of these people has made the equivalent perceptual shift to "the enemy's gate is down" and can provide a model of how to "think outside the box".

One model for learning to think outside the box is that of "quantitative versus qualitative change" (with thanks to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin).

Much martial arts instruction involves learning technique. A strike is thrown and a set response is executed, this is practiced until it becomes "reflexive". One then adds more and more of these techniques until the student has a skill set that will cover most confrontations. This method can produce good fighters (see my many comments on heuristic learning in martial arts) and is "quantitative" learning. Many of you reading this have no doubt had the experience of going to a martial arts seminar and learning one technique after another until one's brain is ready to explode, only to find a week later that most have been forgotten.

Qualitative learning on the other hand allows the student to formulate principles rather than rote technique. A principle based martial art has a higher level of flexibility when confronted by the unknown than does a technique based art. As one's understanding of the principles behind human movement deepens the quality on one's movement becomes more sophisticated, rather than one's library of specific technique becoming greater. This allows solutions to problems of attack to be created "on the fly" rather than taking the time to access a technique that may be appropriate to the attack presented.

I will leave you with a thought to ponder, it is called "the rule of requisite variety".

"The element within a system that is most flexible controls the system"

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