One of the most disturbing moments in the martial arts is when you suddenly realize that your instructors may not know what they are talking about. It’s not just in the martial arts, I see it other places too… and it’s also not just in my specialized field of real violence.
Probably the first suspicion, years ago, was in my first dabble with karate. It was a very strict traditional system taught by a junior shodan and an extremely cute brown belt at my University. At one point I asked about stances. The instructor said that they clearly weren’t for fighting, they were strengthening and conditioning exercises for your legs.
That made no sense whatsoever. Static conditioning is NOT good training for dynamic action. I didn’t have the words at the time, but I had this horrible feeling that he was just guessing.
The second instant was when I asked why we spent time on kihon and kata when sparring looked nothing like either. I’ve written about that before.
In other fields… recently, looking at marketing for Conflict Communications we’ve had some offers of help. Marc and I are both painfully aware that we aren’t salesmen and have no inkling of the process (there is a definite protocol to approaching certain groups.) It became painfully apparent that many of the ‘experts’ offering help had no more knowledge than we did. Often, all it takes to be a consultant is enough knowledge to make the clients feel inadequate, not necessarily enough knowledge to do the job. Lesson learned.
Then there are many things where the learning curve is extremely finite. You can stare at you navel for eternity, but skill acquisition and knowledge acquisition is time limited.
Do you stop learning then? Of course not. Maybe a better way to say it is that there is a limit to how much you can be spoon-fed. Taking in received wisdom, even from a reliable source (and those are rare in many subjects) becomes mutual navel-gazing quickly. Worse, it can become addictive.
Another conversation with Toby: “I took my first survival class when I was twelve and my last at fourteen. I already knew what I could be taught in a class. I had to go out and test it and think through it on my own.”
Toby also shared his system: go out and test. Try it out. Think it through, brainstorm. If you don’t have enough of a foundation, you pull back and research. If you can’t find an answer by research, then you look for a mentor.
Subtle difference between a teacher and a mentor, and I appreciate that Toby used that word.
People who have gone to the deep water or climbed the ‘path to the mountain’ have always been rare. Few communicate well. We make up our own individual languages for what we have seen and felt. It’s not a community with a common language that you can be raised in. And even the wisest don’t really know all that much.
It’s a big world, people. If I knew a thousand times more than all of you put together I would still be ignorant of almost everything in the entire universe… and each of you would know about things I don’t know.
Deep water or shallow, no one gets wet exactly the same.
Many paths up the mountain? There are many paths up many mountains. And someone else’s knowledge is at best hearsay to you. Learn for awhile, then play.