Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Grasping at Illusions

Saw something over the weekend that I've seen many, many times before.

There was a martial arts instructor of great skill in his specialty- under the right circumstances, he could dodge and send people sailing with very little effort. It bothered me, because the operative concept was 'under the right circumstances'. If someone rushed him from at least two long paces away and flinched past their own point of balance, his techniques would work. Otherwise, not so well. They didn't work, generally, on the other instructors there and he had brought his own student so that he could demonstrate successfully.

I don't think this was conscious. I met the instructor and talked. I genuinely liked and respected him. I believe that in his own mind, his techniques did work on the other instructors or, if they didn't, he attributed it to our vast skill. I don't think for a second that he realized that he had taught his student to flinch in a certain way so that the techniques would work.

The two long paces bothered me more, because he espoused that attacks happen exclusively at that range, and they don't. He set me at that distance and asked how I would attack. I smiled, walked up, put an arm around his shoulders and fired a knee into his thigh. He laughed and said, "I'd never let you get that close." He just had. Without a beat, he turned back to the lesson.

He had superb skill and he (or his instructors) had rewritten the map of the world so that the techniques would work. Since the techniques required two paces, attacks must come at two paces, right? Otherwise the techniques would have been designed differently. Right?

Imagine studying something for a decade or more that you will never actually use. You have worked to perfect it, but without a touchstone to reality, how do you know what perfection looks like?

He told me about a serious assault he had been subjected to- it was bloody and messy, an ambush at close quarters with lumber and boots. It didn't happen at two paces, or from the front. The two he could see were closer than he believes he would ever let anyone get and he didn't see the third.

I assume that sometime after this incident he found his martial art, fell in love with it and found great comfort and a feeling of safety in its practice. Does he ever think about that attack within the context of what he teaches? How do illusions become so powerful that they seem more real and affect beliefs more than an event as horrific as the one he experienced?

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