Monday, May 26, 2008

Begging the Question

I like it when people argue, sometimes.  They think they are demonstrating how they think, but more often than not they are demonstrating how they choose to see- their own prejudices and blind spots.  Not just because it is fun to laugh at people, but because they almost always phrase things in specific ways for specific types of blind spots- and if you pay attention, when you catch yourself using those phrases, you can find some of your own.

I like stylistic partisans.  If somebody blatantly states that their style is the best, I probably won't buy it, but I will listen to them.  The really committed will show me the best of what they have and intensely argue its value, and I will learn more faster than from someone more equivocal.

One of my friends is ranked in (and loves) a chinese dueling system.  He found out I'd been exposed to it and wanted to know my thoughts.  That's a lie. He wanted to hear me gush about it's great superiority over everything else and how I had become a true believer. He asked what I thought.  That's what he got: too linear; very easy to throw them into walls; fast hands but pathetic power; most damning, it was a dueling system and trained for face to face challenge matches- the guys I played with had absolutely no idea what to do if attacked from the rear or flank.

He argued everything (I had, after all, insulted his holy thing) but to the last point he just said, "You just turn into the attack, from that point on it's just like dueling."

This is called begging the question.  If you are getting pounded from the rear or sides- or grabbed- turning into it is not something you 'just' do.  It's difficult and it is a skill, a critical skill for ambush survival.  

Watch for that word 'just'.  When you catch yourself saying "Just do it" (sorry, Nike) and you have no real idea how to do it, that is a blind spot.  The mechanism of that little 'just' is to convince yourself that whatever it is is easy.  It's just turning.  Just hit the guy. Just move.  Don't just stand there.  Just be yourself.

It's not just (I had to) a martial thing.  Look for it in politics, in overly-simplified morality, in finance... all the places where answers are easier than facts to base them on.


Anonymous said...

"Just" is what I like to think of as a "bully word". Another bully word is "obvious". Also "trivial".

I'm a programmer by profession. We have a saying, "If you haven't tested it, it doesn't work." There is no such thing as an "obvious" or "trivial" programming task. There are things that are simple and short, but I've seen them fail and screw up everything for everybody.

I think that applies to martial arts, too.

I take a more tolerant view of those who are hobbyist martial artists and who simply don't want to practice certain things. They can afford that attitude, but they need to understand that's what they are doing.

I had a Tai Chi teacher who was very good in his forms and mechanics. He said quite explicitly, "we're not doing this for fighting, don't think we are. we're doing it for health."

He would give us a flavor of how some of the stuff we would do would work in a fight, but remind us that he wasn't training for fighting.

Anonymous said...

Some people I respect have asserted that the "dueling system" was created as a neigong practice, with some combative aspects bolted on later. Explains a lot.

BTW, the mainland variations are less linear than the HK style.

Bobbe Edmonds said...

Wow Rory, such a great point. In martial arts I frequently discover places where instructors gloss over critical weaknesses (whether intentionally or not) with these kinds of pass-phrases. Sometimes its a case of the instructor not having the depth perception in his art to be able to examine it's weak spots and address them, but mostly its a kind of "If we disregard gravity, we can fly" mentality. Pointing out that gravity exists whether we believe in it or not won't score you any points, but at least you'll know ONE of you is actually living in the real world.

Going to what Jay said as well...I'm a Systems Analyst (I'm giving serious consideration to becoming a drug dealer instead, just so I can look at myself in the mirror) and I hear crap like "Should" all the time..."That SHOULD work" "That SHOULD be all you have to do" etc. Well, it DOESN'T work, get past that and focus on a damn solution, is it so hard?