Tuesday, May 07, 2013

At the Big Kid's Table


A friend started an on-line discussion about why it was so hard to have a “high-level” discussion about self-defense and martial arts.
It isn’t.  Part of the problem is that he was trying to do it on the internet, and we all know what kind of person writes stuff on the internet (you have to imagine me looking around at this page for the humor to sink in).
In order to have a good conversation, you just need good people.  In order to have an intelligent conversation, you need intelligent people.  See a pattern here?
One of the big problems for potential students of self-defense and martial arts is that almost all are naïve consumers.  A naïve consumer is one who can’t tell a good product from a bad product. Most people, when it comes to anything related to violence, can’t distinguish knowledge from horseshit.  They simply don’t have a frame of reference.
And here’s where it gets interesting, in martial arts:  The naivety often doesn’t change.  When you get someone truly naïve, they have no truth to compare with what they learn and so whatever they learn becomes, to them, the truth.  And they can continue to learn and advance in rank and pass on knowledge and come to believe that they are very high-level practitioners with deep understanding… and their most basic facts are wrong.  They have a deep understanding of myths and many are willing to share it (or sell it).
In other endeavors, where success or failure are visible and undeniable, it is hard to stay this naive.  In other places stupidity hurts.  Not so in many martial arts (and one of the many places where sports arts have the edge).
And to other naïve people, they sound good.  Impressive.  To people who have experience, they sound like first graders trying to explain where babies come from. 
So that’s the first hurdle.  I know my criteria for people I trust.  Possibly more importantly I have enough experience to pick out the kuchi-waza practitioners fairly quickly.  Without that experience can most people even identify a high-order discussion?


18 comments:

Narda said...

As you note, your friend needs to weed out/filter the discussion participants. In an open forum...that is impossible. Which is why 'back rooms' are created it's 'invite only.' Stinks to resort to exclusion tactics...but one way to get something productive.

Kai Jones said...

It's okay to weed out, but ... I get weeded out of a lot of conversations because I'm not a martial artist/practitioner/student. What criteria do you pick as the weeding tools? If you pick all people with the same criteria, are you going to get any different possibilities, different experiences?

We have to, we do it all the time, but it's useful to mindfully consider how and why we weed (or objectify or any of the other things we do to categorize others) once in a while.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

It also seems that as society tries to distance itself from the realities of violence and treats it as some thing to be avoided then less informed people will be and the easier they buy in to the falsehoods.
If I remember correctly Musashi complained that as people became less familiar with the realities of combat so there was a rise in schools teaching flashy but ineffective methods.

Anonymous said...

Kuchi waza, never heard that one. Cute. ;D

RXian said...

The Internets...brings out the weekend-warriors, the mall ninjas, the "My Teacher is Cooler Than Yours" cultists, the Can't Wait to Use Excessive Force crowd, the "Sons of Liberty"/American Revolution 2 guys... The list goes on.

On the Internet, everyone wants to talk about the "fight", and the fantasy scenarios start coming out. There are heated conversations about defense against home invasions by a trained group of ninjas with rifles, night vision, and body armor.

On the internet, a lot of what is described as self-defense soumds more like assault or murder.

A lot of internet talk is based on certain training schools or instructors with a cult of personality going on. The Members/followers sound like rabid cultists.

And because these schools are businesses, many of the classes resemble adventure camps for men. And they replace the 80's McDojo belt system with new high-tiered classes for advanced members only...

Another internet problem is that it mixes too many different people (with different needs) under the same umbrella. The needs of a woman walking to her car at night are different from what a group of commandos needs to know. But some schools try too hard to have the answer to everything and sell a system instead of skills a person can chose to apply or tailor to his/her needs.

RXian said...

But having said all that, I'm not sure I could ID a high-level discussion. What might the criteria be?

Sue Wharton said...

Cherry picking who you are willing to discuss martial arts with sounds like a recipe for developing narrow mindedness to me. If you only choose to discuss things with people who think exactly like yourself then all you'll get is your ego massaged and no new ideas or perceptions!

How does the 'naive consumer' ever get the chance to improve their understanding if the 'clever people' form their exclusive discussion groups from which everyone else is excluded (sounds like the 'old boy' network to me).

I agree the internet allows anyone to write any old rubbish if they want to (forums being the main platform for rubbish) but there is a lot of good martial arts writing and discussion on the internet too. There are many good blogs offering informed ideas and opinions that attract good, well thought out comments from a range of martial artists of all levels.

We're all stumbling along the same path - a bit of humility and patience with those less experienced would go a lot further than martial arts snobbery!

Molly said...

I have zero knowledge about Martial arts (other than reading this blog rather faithfully). But; it seems that "high level" discussions are the same regardless of the subject.
Are the participants experienced? Experienced enough to have seen their method NOT work, and analyze why, and how to improve. Are the participants willing to honestly engage others crying bullshit on their deepest held beliefs? Can they suspend their own dogma well enough to incorporate the experience of others. Do they walk into the conversation with ready answers, wanting to promote their own agenda? Or are they seeking new insight, with the understanding that their answer is one of many. and quite possibly not the best choice in a given situation. Intelligent, high level conversations are about humility and learning. Subject matter is irrelevant

Rory said...

Molly answered Kai and RXian perfectly. Dead on. It's about the questions and understanding how much you don't know. As a rule of thumb, if you are sure, you are wrong in any complex subject.

Europe- I get the sense as well that as knowledge decreases, myth expands to fill the gap.

Sue- Cherry picking for people that agree with you leads to brain atrophy and intellectual inbreeding. You have to hunt for the people who disagree with you intelligently. Honorable enemies are far more valuable to personal growth than friends.But the disagreement must be intelligent, based on something other than folklore. Untested received wisdom is only folklore. Invalidly tested received wisdom (e.g. "That wrist lock really hurts so it will work on a PCP freak") is nearly as bad.

I agree that there is a lot of good _martial arts_ information on the web. There is very, very little good information on the application of MA, especially to SD.

Kami said...

If the naive, inexperienced martial arts students (self defense students, etc.) *knew* they were naive, there probably wouldn't be an issue with having public, high-level discussions in violence dynamics. For example, if I ended up in a room with working researchers in astrophysics or string theory, I would not even try to contribute to their conversation with my undergrad college physics education (especially as out-of-date as it is.) I *might* try to ask an intelligent question if I had half an inkling about what they were talking about. But mostly I would listen, and I might even learn a lot if I could halfway keep up with the conversation.

Unfortunately, it's not as easy to self-identify expertise in martial arts, self-defense, violence dynamics, etc. I don't think it's as simple as a lack of self-awareness. I believe, as others have stated, that it's a lack of societal awareness. It's compounded by culture where having a voice and using that voice has increased in value over having and using your mind and ears. Much of that cultural change is extremely positive, but as with most two-edged blades, there is a price. There have always been boors and blowhards that make conversations difficult, but now a lot of people who are well educated and well socialized are undereducated in the art of conversation. That gets them in their own way, and interferes with the very education they're seeking.
I do think there's value in closed-room discussions, but just because these discussions occur, it doesn't mean the information will end up hoarded by secret societies. I think a lot of high level operators are eager to share the information and enrichment they get from those conversations. Unfortunately, the people who that information could help the most will miss most of the nuances that arise from the development process. Maybe a look-only, can't post until you've been vetted situation? Those turn into weird clubs and popularity contests too, but no system is perfect. It doesn't even really have to be perfect, or fair. Just functional and educational.

pax said...

This is something I've struggled with -- a lot. For one thing, a lot of the time and in a lot of ways, *I* am the inexperienced, naive consumer. But I'm also a subject matter expert within a very narrow band of a very narrow field. It is not always easy to draw a clear distinction between the things I personally know and the things I have only heard about or think I know.

Kami absolutely nailed it when she wrote that if the inexperienced, naive consumers *knew* they were naive, it would not be such a challenge to have those high-level, focused discussions in public. But they don't know it, and to some extent they *cannot* know it. See Dunning-Kruger Effect (and especially follow the links to the original study) for more about that; it turns out that the same factors that make you naive in the first place, also prevent you from being aware of your own naivety. That's a problem.

With all that said? I'd still rather see those discussions happening in public, in a well-moderated and well-run public place, than to shove them all behind locked doors. The only way the uneducated can become educated is ... by education. And that means making a concerted effort to put educational materials where the naive can find and use them.

Kai Jones said...

There is plenty of practice in some areas of telling beginners that this isn't the time or place for their questions. I've said "I'm not doing Feminism 101, go look it up yourself" enough times during a conversation of deeper meaning and greater experience.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

But the educators don't have to have all their discussions in public, especially those discussions about the what, when and how of the things they are going to educate.

Josh K. said...


I often think that I'm one of those boors and blowhards that Kami mentioned. Continue posting comments for two reasons.
1. Rory asks all the good questions. And...
2. Test my answers to those questions.

To the question, "Without that experience can most people even identify a high-order discussion?" I don't know about most, so I can only give you my answer, and that is:
Are those in the discussion focused on questions or conclusions.
Are those in the discussion open to the possibility that they could be wrong.
Are those in the discussion ignoring anything that doesn't fit their conclusions/assumptipns.
Are those in the discussion prone to make appeals to authority, their own or others, instead of explaining why they think they are right.

These are all red flags I look for.

To me a  "naïve consumer" is someone looking to push their own responsibility on to others. Tell me the answers. Do my thinking for me.

I will give people that with out certain experience it's hard to know what questions to ask, so we look for teachers, but that doesn't absolve us us from trying to find our own answers.

To me the teacher student relationship is a two way street with the responsibility on both sides to continue to seek improvement.

Why I take seriously what you have to say Rory:

"Take my advice for what it is worth. Use what you can use. Discard anything that doesn’t make sense. Test everything. See what makes sense to you and what doesn’t. If it doesn’t, ask why. In the end, your life is your responsibility, and it's your own gut and instincts that you have to live with whether you're enjoying time with your family or facing your worst nightmare." – Rory Miller

You do not blow smoke up anyone ass, saying your answer are the answers. They are your answers though.

As always my 2 cents,
Josh

Josh K. said...

"To me a  "naïve consumer" is someone looking to push their own responsibility on to others. Tell me the answers. Do my thinking for me."

What I discribe here is more lazy than naïve, I feel thid is stupid but not ignoreny

Kami said...

I think a well-timed question from someone who is struggling with concepts can contribute a huge amount to high level discussions. Being ignorant is not the problem. Asking questions (provided there aren't overwhelming numbers of them or scattershot) is very seldom a problem. Arguing when you don't know what you're talking about is more problematic, and arguing you're right when you're wrong and don't know it or trying to discredit/tear down people in the midst of a brainstorming event is highly disruptive. I find it particularly disruptive when I'm trying to work out something and I haven't gotten to a stable theory yet.

Unfortunately, when rules are set down in public forums, they can become draconian, counterproductive, etc. The very rules that would restrict the worst offenders would also restrict the people who have the most to contribute. Bill Cosby always comes to mind in these situations when he exclaims during one of his standup routines (after trying to deal with kids fighting in the back seat) "No one in this house will touch anyone ever again!"

Josh K. said...

Hmmm.... much to think on.

Kami, thank you.

Jim said...

Unconscious ignorance can easily mask as competence, especially in a subject that is rarely truly experienced. (Also in things that are very commonly experienced; every meet a person who didn't think they were an above average driver?) When this is compounded by reinforcement under rigged conditions, it can be very hard to fight.

Conscious ignorance -- in that you realize you don't know it all, and have plenty left to learn -- is empowering, because you accept the responsibility to learn, and because you push those who do have something to share to question themselves and their assumptions.