Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Something I Fear

I fear creating a system. Anything I do or teach is just the best I can do right now. All systems start that way, just the best of the person who started it. Ideally, if it caught on, it was better than most of what was available at the time and place. Often, new systems start driven by new paradigms.

When a system becomes a system, the stuff (techniques, strategies, principles, beliefs) intended to solve problems subtly become the things you use to identify yourself. That’s the danger.

Because once that shift happens improvement, especially paradigm shifting improvement, becomes a threat to identity. If you have good stuff, really excellent stuff, but I have a paradigm shifting idea that replaces 80 of your techniques with 1 concept… a system’s tendency will be to reject it. Even if it is in line with the systems principles. Because it would negate things that are already in the system.

There are only eight ways to lock a wrist (I can double that to sixteen + two, but it’s not really necessary). There are over three hundred named wristlocks, but there are only eight ways to do it. If you introduce that concept to a system that has 300 wristlocks they will either reject it… or add it. Then they will have 308 wristlocks. Instead of playing with the concepts and trimming, things accrete.

So I fear creating a system, because living (which is another way of saying “not dying”) is a thing of growth and change. Creativity and paradigm shifts are precious. Systems, in a way, create heresies. Fighting to stay alive shouldn’t be constrained by orthodoxy. The bad guys count on that, count on victims playing by the rules.


Unknown said...

so how do you efficiently teach large organizations?

Shang Lee said...

Great post Rory. I actually love systems kind of thinking. It represents a more holistic thinking compared to "my wrist lock (a) is better than your wrist lock (b), but not as good as your wrist lock (c)...". I may have to watch myself when someone challenges my system. As long as it's an opportunity to grow, it's all good.

Andrew said...

Good post, but you can base your system on growth. Sounds like what you do anyway. I think most systems were built with SHU HA RI in mind, but that was lost over time.

Kai Jones said...

You want to be The One? The only one whose teaching can't be turned into a system and a school?

You're not really in charge of that, are you? The students who want a cult will find it no matter how you set it up or try to prevent that outcome. It's an inherent risk of humanity--we're pattern-seeking monkeys and we will impose a pattern where there is none, where you are actively fighting for headspace to tell us there is no pattern. Where you have a choice is in deciding to share your knowledge at all, not in how people receive it.

You're increasing the risk, though, by teaching *as if* it were a system. You're slotting yourself into preconceived boxes in people's heads by teaching at MA schools in weekend seminars.

Who you are and what you have are bigger than this. More important than this. You are a game-changer; don't limit yourself to one audience.

Maija said...

2 great posts, and somewhat related I think. My teacher told me - "I'm not teaching you, I'm showing you what I do. It is up to you to take it and make it your own".
This, as I understand it, is a very old school Filipino way of passing down knowledge. (My teacher was the now deceased Sonny Umpad and he taught Visayan Style Eskrima)
What I came to understand was that what he really wanted to give his students, was the ability to "see" the situation, not in an intellectual sense, but more of an 'internal understanding' that came from many hours experiencing his 'random flow' training.
Once you gained this ability to 'see', your individuality was free to come out in your method of dealing with the situation.
There was no 'system' as such, though my teacher started out with formal ideas. He moved away from repetitions and patterns after concluding that it created big, mental 'gaps', that proved hard to get rid of. He found that 'trouble shooting' the individual in a constant, random flow, was a much faster route to understanding. And he felt that 'understanding' the interaction was much more important than having a fixed 'box' of techniques that might not necessarily include this ability to 'see'.
I have to say that having no 'system' makes passing on the knowledge I learned from him much harder and I have to constantly keep improving my understanding to be able to troubleshoot my students gaps (which is great practice for me!).... but I think he was right, and hope to be able to pass on the great gift I received from him .... with no system.

Steve Perry said...

Sounds like Bruce Lee's philosophy, which he summed up as: "In memory of a once fluid man, crammed and distorted by the classical mess."

And yet being fluid without any knowledge is maybe not all that hot a deal.

The art of fighting without fighting. Pare away, make it simple; but, if somebody doesn't do the prep work, as Rory points out, to learn what needs to be pared away and what needs to be left, how do you get there from here?

If you learn ten things in an art, and eight of them are useless and a waste of time and two work really well, how do you figure that out?

If you are going to separate wheat from chaff, you need to know which is which, don't you? With no knowledge going in, how can you tell?

I might be completely off the beam here, but I don't see how teaching without teaching is going to do the trick.

Be like water, Bruce said. Yeah. Right. How, exactly?
Seeping into the cracks and absorbing attacks are all well and good as metaphors, but on a basic how-to level that keeps you from getting your ass kicked? Not so useful.

The antonym for "system" is "disorder." And that might be how some fights happens, but it doesn't seem to be a particularly good way to teach anything.

When in doubt, scream and shout; clap your hands, run all about ... ?

Integrated systems require underlying principles, otherwise, you have a grab-bag collection of this and that. In order to make something work, you might be able to eliminate the unnecessary, but -- who decides? And how does he or she come to that decision?

If Rory spent twenty-five years learning how to effectively generate power and can pass it along in a much shorter time, that's terrific. He's boiled the stuff down to its essence and can pass it along, and maybe his students can then pass it along.

And it is a system. Ta da!

KISS is a principle and can be applied to something more complex. When in doubt, hit, there's another simple principle. But how to apply either of those requires some kind of technique, doesn't it? And how do you teach those? Whatever pops into your head in the moment might be the way, but if it is designed for anything specific, then you might need something else, and how the two are connected is, however simple, a system.

Virtually everything we learn about anything can be and is either a system going in or systemized once we get the pieces. We might be either lumpers or sorters, but both are systemic applications.

If nothing is connected to anything else?

Good luck with passing that on.

What one teaches is based on experience and beliefs and that by definition is going to be some kind of system, however loose or tight it might be. Bruce's JKD is a system, and it always was, regardless of what he said. More efficient than what he got from Yip Man? Maybe, I don't know, but without that training, he wouldn't have had a basis for his own style.

Back in my hippie days, I had a long conversation with a yoga teacher on the subject of game-playing in relationships. Everything I brought up, she nailed down. Frustrated, I said, "I'm not role playing games here! I"m just plain me!"

"Ah," she said, "The just-plain-me game ..."

Steve Perry said...

I think maybe, in retrospect, that you don't really mean "system," but "style." While related, they aren't the same.

The definitions I think might apply here;

System: a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized scheme or method.

Style: a way of painting, writing, composing, building, etc., characteristic of a particular period, place, person, or movement.

Does that make more sense?

I should have thought of this before.

Rory said...

Yes, Steve.
That makes a lot of sense. I think the distinction that I am trying to make is that, from my point of few, effectiveness (as measured by success and ease of success) defines 'good'. When things become styles/systems they create an orthodoxy, and the definition of 'right' shifts from 'effective' to 'orthodox'.

It's also a useful distinction, because I do have some systematic ways of teaching, shared observation and exploring are still systems.

Lots here to think on...

Travis said...

You ever meet or work with any of the systema guys? I kow their training has evolved since my dalliance with them but it was basically, here's a very short list of principles now practice moving in ways that use them. It was very unorthodox but had a tremendous learning curve.

I do think the limitation was that without a way to categorize the info it was hard to process for some people. Seemed to work best for people who, as Steve suggests, have already done so MA and have an existing context or were very young.

DISCLAIMER: It's been, yikes, close to a decade since I trained with any of those guys so nothing in these comments are intended to reflect the current traing or official position of various Systema folks because I just don't know what those would be.

Isegoria said...

Take care not to let the best become the enemy of the good. It sounds like you fear creating a system, because you fear that your system will become one of those systems — but keeping your system in your own head doesn't reduce the amount of bad martial arts training in the world.

The best you can do is to design your system to outlive you, recognizing how systems propagate themselves, how they do or do not mutate, and so on.

For instance arts with a competitive sporting element — judo, wrestling, boxing, muay thai, etc. — tend to evolve into pure sports, and competitors have little interest in changing the rules of a game they've mastered. On the other hand, they'll innovate tremendously within the rules of the game, and every technique is thoroughly tested in competition.

Arts that rely on well-defined techniques within kata manage to transmit those techniques to many, many students over many generations, but the principles and contexts can fade over time.

In this modern era, books and videos can transmit valuable knowledge that would otherwise get lost in the game of "telephone" from teacher to student, to student's student, etc.

Isegoria said...

While reading Pragmatic Thinking and Learning, which is aimed more at knowledge workers than athletes, I stumbled across the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition, which seems terribly applicable to martial-arts instruction.

In a nutshell, all these fascinating principles that you're exploring are only meaningful to someone who's already an expert. You can't teach them to a new white belt.

The new white belt needs a simple checklist of actions to take. When he does this, you do this. Only after accumulating a body of valid experiences can the novice intuit a pattern and make good decisions on his own, without following simple rules.

Master Plan said...

There might be something to the Systema\Principles-Based ideas.
If you're just got a series of principles, which are (in some ways) at least functional heuristics (the most basic of which would seem to be, "Well...did it *work*?") then there isn't much doctrine (I guess you might call it) to interfere with learning, is there?

If you've got a kata (or something like that) then it's done *THIS* way, every time, even if you don't remember, or have to make up, the reasons for *always* doing it *THIS* way.

If you've got a loosely associated set of principles you can introduce them in any order or any relationship to each other as dictated by the students needs\skills.

If showing folks the principles involves not just explaining them, but also how to analyze if\when they are working, as well as drills to use to practice implementing the principles in a structured way you can (maybe?) avoid some degree of dogmatic repeating of empty lines of received wisdom.

Finally if you give 'em skills enough to run\create their own scenarios to test implementation of the principles in situations of interest, and skills to analyze the results of the scenarios afterwords.

Leaves you with a pretty non-systemic system. Hopefully leave folks with enough principles they can apply\analyze\see them in other martial arts\SD\etc they might encounter later on.

And certainly no reason those principles can't be added to by a student, rephrased, modified, and so on.

Also I was wondering how this relates to what I believe is often called "tool development". Does throwing 100s of punches over and over the same way help build useful functional skills? Or does it take thousands? Or is the experience of violence usually different enough from training that repetition work like that will not tend to be as valuable as it might seem? Certainly that sort of training seems to have a place in sports. The sorts of highly repetitive and highly specific practice I've seen in various different things do seem more prone to a dogmatic influence (is there *only* one right way to throw a jab? Or chin jab? Or O-soto? etc) but they also seem to be of some value in terms of conditioning responses.

How does that fit in to things?