Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Growth and Perspective

I wrote about this years ago on some martial arts bulletin board, but it deserves another look, mostly because I've take another step.  Strange how the step you are on seems like the highest sometimes...

Martial artists go through specific stages in their careers and they stop at the stage that fulfills their needs.

The novice gets into the style, they learn to move, learn whatever the style has initially to offer, get into the basic techniques. Everyone goes through this stage. Some stop here. I think we all know someone who has gone to green belt in five styles.

Collectors- This is the stage where people hunt for new techniques, new ideas. They seriously crosstrain, go to seminars. There are belt collectors and kata collectors and trick collectors. They obsess with expanding their "tool kit", their repertoire.  Not all collect the easy, small things- some are driven to amass upper belts and teaching certificates.   There are different reasons to be a collector- an insatiable curiosity; a true love of the depth and complexity of the arts are good reasons. Insecurity and a gnawing need to fill imaginary holes with imaginary skills are some of the bad ones (IMO).   The ones at this level are usually considered serious martial artists.  A fair amount of the famous names in martial arts are right here.

A few go beyond that, though. I call them the strippers.  Sometimes a collector learns through bitter experience that it is hard to find a tool in a big, cluttered, tool box.  Sometimes they get exposed to the idea that there is this thing called practicality that is separate from coolness.  Some take a look at the roots of what they study, the history and find that it was meant to be simple and effective and somehow that has been twisted into complicated and flashy. A few realize (often because they are entering a career where it is no longer a subject of fantasy) that violence is harsh, with high stakes and its own rules and they need something simple enough to be quick and adaptable enough to give them an edge in situations that they never imagined.

The strippers are driven to streamline their stuff. Simplify, simplify, simplify.  At the same time, they need to understand a couple of things. They need to understand the problem they are training for and also the underlying principles-  what makes things work? To be fast, the principles must be practiced and internalized.  Internalize the principles and the techniques are irrelevant. (Not that they don't exist or won't be used, but they cease to take up space in your head and arise naturally from the situation.)

Some strippers focus on a handful of high percentage techniques.                                       Many, at this level become obsessed with mindset.

People at different stages will see martial arts and self-defense differently. The stripper stage, especially when it is triggered by real survival concerns, becomes a 'means to an end'.  Unlike a collector, they do not see themselves as martial artists and MA as part of an identity they value, they see their combative skills as a tool that may allow them to survive long enough to protect their true identity, the one that breathes.

A collector sees an infinite series of possibilities. The stripper may see them too, but he is focused on the goal and chooses the fastest, safest way to achieve it.

Strippers happen, but they are relatively rare. In the martial arts, at least.  Lots of martial arts are based on 'systems' sometimes with capitals 'THE SYSTEM" and it's not generally welcome when a good practitioner starts taking a system apart and putting it back together smaller and tighter.  Stripping is something it is easier to do alone (out of context, this entire post should be hilarious- strippers tossing toolboxes and doing their things alone...) so many of the strippers become ex-martial artists.  Still fighters, but on their own, different.

That's a little expanded, but pretty close to what I wrote all those years ago.  I had the humility at the time to say that these were the stages I had seen and there might be more.  But it was a false humility, because I hadn't seen (more accurately, if I had seen one I didn't recognize it) who was clearly doing things beyond the stripper stage. I thought I was on the top step.

Here it is, the next step, and maybe here it isn't.  It may be one of those things where you pass a threshold and there are many ways to deal with it.  There may be only one way to the door, but many options on the other side.  One more caveat- it is very hard to accurately see yourself or to see where you are...

Given that caveat, I've been applying that stripper methodology to almost everything. I'm still learning a lot, playing around in cultures and skills...  but it all boils down. What are the principles?  How true can life be? How much bullshit can be jettisoned?  It's an interesting place to be.  Odds are the next stage will be something very cool.


Unknown said...

You know, I've played around with a lot of martial arts since 1969. I've learned all kinds of fancy ways to do things and yet, when it gets down to real life and/or death - I've relied almost exclusively on the Japanese and Okinawan Karate I started with. Simple, direct, effective. And, really, just a subset of those techniques. I read that there's a neuro-physiological reason that you retain and use, instinctively, physical patterns you learned as a youngster. Something to do with the growth, branching, and pruning process of the brain cells. It might be that or maybe simple things just work better. But the question remains - how much do you strip away from an art and have it still be recognizable as that art? Or is that even important?

Rory said...

I don't think it's important at the stripper level. It's important to people who have a monetary interest in the system (complex stuff requires paying students to be there longer) and it is important to the people who identify themselves as martial artists ("I know all 26 of the Smackemdown-ryu kata and the 99 henka!")
Not so important to people who use it as a tool to keep breathing, IME.
FWIW, though, I don't think many of the good systems started complex.

BSM said...

Very interesting post. One comment:

James: There have been studies done on what you mention. Simple gross motor skills are easier to remember in stressful situations. The complex fine motor skills just fall apart for most people under stress.


"The study of skill execution and stress can be traced back to the Civil War, Researchers noted in the late 1800's that as combat/survival stress increased, men lost the ability to perform accuracy skills (precision shooting) and the ability to conduct complex tasks quickly (reloading). "

There's still training value in learning the complex stuff but IMO if you are at all interested in self-defense then you need a small toolkit of gross motor techniques.

I wonder if some people become strippers because they did get into the martial arts solely for self-defense? I often wonder if these strippers found that their complex system failed them in a live situation. So they get mad, quit the complex system, and start stripping.

Molly said...

I know when I get mad - I start stripping. It does simplify things. Unless you are in public, then things get complicated again, and you start thinking "where are my clothes?"

BSM said...


I fully support your right to strip.

Unknown said...

You know, Rory, my first response was to say" so.. aren't you a little long in the tooth to start stripping?". But I took the high road. Then Molly had to go and open that door and drag me right back down. Not that it took all that much effort, really.

Rory said...

Not really, James. I look goooood.

EC said...

The first thought I had when I read this was "...it kind of sounds like working through the elements."
The strippers being the "void" element. The way it was taught to me was the void was the place where you saw the truth from every angle unfettered by ego or humanity and saw it for what was, in other words satori.

Unknown said...

What about those who stay with their original system for decades? Where would they fit in this thought process?

Unknown said...

I guess I joined the conversation too late.

Rory said...

Not necessarily too late, Vaughn. Some things make me think more and I do have a lot going on in the real world. The answer will more likely be a post than a comment... if I get it hashed out.

Unknown said...

Thanks. I will await your convenience.

Anonymous said...

“Many at this level become obsessed with mindset.”

I think you nailed the next “step” right there. Maybe it’s that of being “Thinkers,” or “Feelers,” or better yet, “Perceivers.” I think the stage beyond the “Strippers” (whose primary focus is on boiling/stripping down physical technique; the “hard skills”) it is that of the “Perceivers;” individuals strictly focused on the “soft skills,” the workings of the mind in combat, and how the mind affects the body and vice versa.

Everything that you have discussed in past entries and in Meditations regarding the Freeze (it’s triggers and forms), as well as the effects of the SSR in combat, could be considered a focus of a “Perceiver.” This, along with an emphasis on exploring the mindset, the attitude, the “moral” aspects of a survival fighter. I think this may be the key focus of the stage beyond stripping down the physical.

After a working physical foundation is “set,” it appears the only way to go is up—into the mind; the world of the Perceiver.

-Jon M.