Friday, December 06, 2013

Holding on to the Edge of the Pool

Verner wrote:
Sometimes I wonder, why do we bother with martial arts anyway? For sport and fun, OK, but for combat? Why would you want to learn an art that worked for someone else sometime in the past, possibly under different circumstances, legally, ethically etc... Not to mention all the useless shit you have to buy (gi, belt, hakama you never use utside the dojo) While combat is complex, it's not complicated. There are just systems trying to distrupt or destroy other systems. Combat is governed by anatomy and physics. Those do not change. Why is combat an art, not science? Maybe because carrying the legacy of the samurai/ninja/viking/whatever has much appeal to the monkey?


Complex versus complicated is something I desperately want to riff on.  Later.

Why are people driven to study something that worked in the past?  Possibly because the other option is to study something that didn't work in the past.  Something that has never worked.

Which would you prefer: "According to the old legends, Sir Hackemup used these tools and these tactics to survive against insurmountable odds at the Battle of Last Man Standing."
Or: "We had a committee meeting with the University's Departments of Physics, Medicine, Kinesiology, and biology departments and we're pretty sure the best way to survive a close quarters ambush is to..."

There's no right or wrong answer to that (though I personally love it when scientists and historians agree.


My wife and I were talking about doing some minor home surgery.  I was, really.  K has a very non-scientific attitude about such things.
"We have professionals with the proper equipment right here in town," she said, "Why would you even consider doing such a thing yourself?"
"Because if we didn't have access to professionals, I'd have to do it myself and it's only practice if you don't need to."


Here's the deal with self-defense in a mostly civilized world and it's the same deal as trying to keep soldiers sharp in periods of extended peace, or keeping survival skills up when you are warm and comfortable... anything that you want to improve, you know must adapt, and yet you will not have a chance to test. Like home surgery.

I can tell you how to build a fusion generator, or how to fix a car, or how to amputate a leg, or how to defend yourself from rabid ferrets.  But if neither of us have actually done it, we have no way to know if the instructions are effective or utter fantasy.  And if I have done it for real and you haven't, we can have confidence that the instructions will work and absolutely no idea if they will work for you or if you can pull them off when you need to.

Self-defense is:
1) a high risk endeavor
2) with a very limited amount of actual knowledge (unethical to design proper academic experiments on fear and danger; statistically insignificant number of accurately reported incidents; witnesses under stress are notoriously unreliable)
3) that will never be personally tested by most students or instructors (and even fewer will have enough real encounters to get past the adrenaline effects and see accurately)
4) that people on a very deep almost Freudian level tend to tie their personalities around (how many people self-identify as 'warriors' who have never put their lives on the line, much less under orders?)

Reasons 1 and 4 are the drives.  People want to know.  They want to know they are good. They want to know they are safe.  They want to know they have it.  Reason 3 is why that desire will never be satisfied. #2 is the reason there will never be a certain answer.

When people have this big a need that can't be satisfied except at extreme personal risk, they seek outside validation.  Lineage.  Or pseudoscience. Or scientific studies that if you squint a little look like they might validate what you want to believe.

They want to swim in the deep water, but they need some kind of reassurance.  They hold onto the side of the pool.









12 comments:

Randy said...

To extend your home example a bit- My wife and I built our home from scratch, mostly by our own hands, with more or less no experience or knowledge of the most efficient way to go about it. Often times we didn't have the right tools, or had limited tools (hand vs. power), or cheap ones. Compared to a contractor, I am a very inefficient builder. It took us about a year to get it "done" enough to be livable. A pro would have been able to do the same size house in far less time, by virtue of already knowing what tools to use, and having them, and knowing how/when all the steps usually need to happen. But when it comes to building a sturdy house (without respect to time), I was just as efficient.

Here's what bugs me- if I had to tell someone else how to go about building a house on their own, I'm not sure where I'd start. I've done it, I know the basic principles, materials and methods (tactics?) involved, and could do it again if I had to. But I don't know how to tell someone else. I've frustrated other self-taught builders, and professionals, because I approach things based on my experience, not theirs, although it is towards the same outcome. Yet someone who has never hammered a nail would look at my place and go "I could never do that! Incredible!" A pro would scratch his head. All of these observations apply to my experience of martial arts/SD training.

Verner Riecke said...

Rory:

"Which would you prefer: "According to the old legends, Sir Hackemup used these tools and these tactics to survive against insurmountable odds at the Battle of Last Man Standing."
Or: "We had a committee meeting with the University's Departments of Physics, Medicine, Kinesiology, and biology departments and we're pretty sure the best way to survive a close quarters ambush is to..."

There's no right or wrong answer to that (though I personally love it when scientists and historians agree."

Funny you say that, cause I've met this former Corrections Sergeant, who has extensive HISTORY of dealing with interpersonal violence and is good with LOGIC and SCIENTIFIC ANALYSIS.

That brings us to

a.)assigning credibility. I'd much rather ask said Sergeant, than ANY master of ANY art, who doesn't have the actual EXPERIENCE. There is just a higher chance that someone with extensive experience with many successes will be able to share good information, training etc... with you than someone who trained, but never practiced it. Which brings us to

b.) probabilities. I am fond of saying that self-defense is about percentages. Not fully true, but still. I was once a professional poker player. I learned that there are knowables in the game (your hand, the current board) and unknowables (opponents hands, future board cards. The only way to handle the unknowables is to assign a given chance, based on statistics. AA does not beat 72offsuit every time, but it's still better to have AA most of the time. In SD, you make your hand yourself. Made up example: Being aware +20%, learning about criminal tactics +10%, having a gun +2%, having training with it +6%, having trained against likely scenarios +8% BUT shitty fantasy dojo training -10%.

Of course, in life you don't assign percentages, but like with techniques you have high probability (right cross) and low prob (spinning flying back-kick) and middle prob. I don't think it's that hard to do a little honest analysis. But when it comes to MA, most people seem to throw their basic analytical skills out the window, and we see otherwise intelligent people happily practice a shitty knife defense, which ends with taking away the knife from the attacker and killing him with it. It never even enters their minds that there is something obviously wrong with it.

Point is, I think it's possible to separate good knowledge from bad, I agree with you that most people would rather hold on to edge of the "warrior" pool than swim (me too, I only swim when pushed) but I still think it's possible to separate good knowledge from bad.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Then though does it not come back to what it is being sold as and the claims the salesman makes for the product?
People are conned every day, people want to believe that you can buy a Rolex for £20 that you have won a million and only need to send a £100 to get it, that jesus saves and and Ameri-Do-tai is the only street lethal martial art....
I think all we can do is openly talk and practice our attempts to not fall down the rabbit hole...

Anonymous said...

I think they talk about this in Zen: " ...If you put your mind in the rhythm of the contest,your mind can be taken by that as well. If you place your mind in your own sword, yourmind can be taken by your own sword. Your mind stopping at any of these places, you become an empty shell... "

Like, how do you say you're a fast runner? You win a medal in a marathon. Then as you invest more and more everyday into this test, it subtly becomes less about being a fast runner and more about getting a medal.

So you got pushed into the deep end of the pool, and you didn't drown. Except the world isn't just pools, there's seas and lakes and there's no guarantee you'll have your wits about you or that you won't get dumped into these places.

My teacher tells me a lot that people get so invested on these details - being able to break bricks with your eagle claw, being good at ground fighting, having optimized adrenal reactions. Take them away they have a harder time of it.

Verner Riecke said...

anon: Of course, if you become too focused on any aspect of combat, you'll performance will suffer. On the other hand, being able to break bricks, being good at ground fighting, having optimized adrenal reactions are tools. Some more useful than others, but take away any tool of any craftsman, his performance will suffer. Professionals use the right tool for the job. It's part of being a professional. How many police agencies do still use SA guns with manual safeties? Or revolvers?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Verner Riecke: I agree with you wholeheartedly, and I would also add that professionals know how to set things up so that the tool works. So things become more of managing the situation in order to enable you and cripple him, instead of tunnel vision.

Rory said...

Verner- To be clear, I wasn't challenging you on this. You gave me the perfect springboard. The basic concept is why do so many of us need outside validation? I catch myself doing it too. I want an old Asian man and a scientist in a lab coat to tell me that what I know is 'right.' It's very human.

Kai Jones said...

Isn't that why we make friends: because their opinions agree with ours in some area? I mean, I also like friends who have a completely different opinion than mine, because sometimes I'm wrong and I can learn something.

But I trust your judgment about things I don't know about largely because there are important areas (to me) where we agree, and because that's a rare experience for me. And I treasure those rare people who agree with me in those areas.

Steve Perry said...

Tell me how to build the fusion generator ...

Verner Riecke said...

Rory:

I know, I just wanted some validation :-)

On a more serious note, of course we want validation, because if we didn't, then humanity would be at it's current level of technology. We double check our data by peer review. We pool our brainpower. It is, as you said, very human.
The question is, is it actual, reasonable review based on analysis of the facts, cause-effect, or do we seek emotional validation, like when forming political opinions? You have to catch yourself when doing "bad" validation, no? You may also have to catch when the majority is wrong. That's the hardest: saying your tribe is in the wrong.

Jennifer Armstrong said...

Most people don't have limit experiences, so they never encounter themselves facing the limits of their own beings. If you don't encounter death (the experience that threatens to disintegrate you), you need someone else, who has encountered it, to tell you what it what. Hence, authoritarianism.

Jennifer Armstrong said...

Most people don't have limit experiences, so they never encounter themselves facing the limits of their own beings. If you don't encounter death (the experience that threatens to disintegrate you), you need someone else, who has encountered it, to tell you what it what. Hence, authoritarianism.