Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Suspension of Disbelief

One of my close friends is a writer, martial artist, and is exploring some aspects of teaching. After the con we were discussing, as we are wont to do, martial arts, self-defense and teaching methods. I told her of a recent experience where I had declined to do a drill because it had no tactical use. It would only be ingraining a bad habit.

She said, "Beginning training requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief."

Suspension of disbelief is a term authors use. When you read a novel or watch a movie, you have to participate. Not everything will be correct. If the characters in the Lord of the Rings trilogy had had 3 digits of IQ, it would have been a twenty minute movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jet Li fight scenes don't follow the normal rules of physics or physiology. Most horror movies wouldn't work without a cast stupid enough to go into the basement alone and too stupid to turn on the light...

Part of the audience's job is to actively ignore the small problems. When the plot holes become too big or the characters too stupid or (my pet peeve) when the plot hinges on the stupidity of characters presented as intelligent (The remake of "The Thomas Crown Affair") the suspension of disbelief is said to be shattered.

Obviously, every member of the audience will have a different threshold.

Check me on this, because it seems intuitively obvious to me and I can't find a counter-example, which either means I'm right or it is too much a part of my identity and is one of my blindspots:

Suspension of disbelief has no place in a valid teaching.

There are some things you will be taught that you can't test right away. Engineers learn the math it takes to build a bridge long before they ever build one. But no place in that learning process will they look at the teacher and say, "This doesn't make sense" and the teacher won't be able to explain why it makes sense and exactly how it works.

If you have to suspend disbelief, if the instructor has to say, "Because it's better this way" and can't say how or (a martial arts classic) you are told that something that simply doesn't work (like hand blocking an attack from a much larger person) will magically start to work after a few years, one of two things is happening:

1) The instructor has no idea what he is doing. He is simply parroting things he has been told but doesn't understand himself.
2) Or what you are learning is fiction.

Suspension of disbelief has a legitimate function in fiction. If you are required to suspend disbelief, you are dealing with fiction.

Like I said, check me on this. My gut says if I have to pretend things make sense, they don't make sense. I am being lied to.

And yeah, I see other aspects of our society where I can apply this rule.


Kai Jones said...

The placebo effect: if you believe something works, it can have measurable effects on you. Really you're tricking your mind into making it work for you.

zzrzinn said...

Hmm, I don't know, I am not sure I have ever had an instructor that can answer every single question about something, and i've had very good teachers.

Thoughts just aren't easy enough to put to words to have answers for every question someone comes up with, some questions are by definition ridiculous.

As an example:

You are training a one step twitch drill (seen this exact example) and someone continually asks "what comes next" if there is a categorical answer to what comes next, rather than a range of tactical choices.

The problem is with the question and the assumptions there, not the lack of an answer.

When ou learn Kihon in Karate, even when you learn it well, from good teachers, often there are assumptions about how you do it with a partner that are (at least in beginning stages) unrealistic in some ways.

I'm sure you of all people will disagree with this strongly, but I think that teaching things only works when people are capable of absorbing them, and understanding context.

If they don't understand the context, no matter how well it is explained, the only way to fundamentally get them to see it is to remove layers of possibility for the drill until they do, no matter how unrealistic that may be.

I think that is the reason so much 'beginning' martial arts training is so austere.

Mind,i'm not making an argument about how it's done, that's really what it comes down to I suspect, there is a right and wrong way to use suspension of disbelief maybe?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lise Steenerson said...

It is such a pet peeve of mine to hear a teacher say "You will only get this when you are a black belt". As if tying a different color belt will make the heavens open up and pour our its wisdom. If you have 8-10 kyu levels of bad habits they are not going to magically disappear overnight simply because the teacher does not understand what he/she is teaching and hope the students will get it on their own (and yeah maybe explain it back to the teacher)

Agreed that good teacher do not know everything. Nobody does. But if they teach principles VS dance steps, the students will understand much better. Principles will apply in any context. No one need to understand the context of gravity if they understand the basic law. But a great teacher, while not knowing all the answers, will look for them and share them with his/her students.
If you are training for realistic SD, you need to have a large dose of reality, not a a dose of make beleive.

zzrzinn said...

"If you are training for realistic SD, you need to have a large dose of reality, not a a dose of make beleive."

Yes, i'm aware of that.

The conundrum is one of HOW to teach or learn stuff isn't it? And whether or not this suspension of disbelief has a place there or not.

I'll play devil's advocate here:

Rory, your one-step drill (which I love by the way, so don't take it as a criticism of the drill) requires a certain suspension of disbelief, it requires you to remove a big chunk of variables from the equation, they are definitely variables that matter.

I don't pretend to understand the full purpose or depth of the drill, but it seems like it requires me to suspend some disbelief in much the same way that ippon kumite practice in Karate does, just with focus on a different area.

That said, there is a world of difference between bad and good ippon kumite practice!

As you often say there is some kind of flaw in every drill for safety, aren't there flaws in drills for the purpose of isolation too?

Anonymous said...

As an engineer, I remember learning principles in math and physics which sometimes did not make sense at the time. Only after taking advanced calculus and physics classes and going through the rigoruous problem solving and ripping hair out of my head was I able to understand how the things worked in a more intuitive (and beautiful) way. If the teacher had explained it to me earlier I wouldn't have been able to understand those explanations. Did I suspend disbelief? Sort of. I guess I suspended complete understanding until I gained it on my own.

Jake said...

I wonder if what she meant by "suspension of disbelief" was really more of the "There are some things you will be taught that you can't test right away."

For example--I know how to slip a punch. And I can teach someone else how to do it. But while I can explain the basic bio-mechanics of the slip fairly quickly, most people won't be able to slip punches right away...being able to do that requires a combination of skill, experience, and an occasional leap of faith.

(The first time I successfully slipped a punch was when my boxing coach shouted "slip!" during a sparring session. I went with it completely on faith that he was right. He was.)

Actual, full-blow, "I accept that this story takes place in a time when Elves, Dwarves, and magic rings were serious contenders for world power" suspension of disbelief doesn't belong in the learning process. A willingness to trust that you are developing a skill that is not immediately applicable, but ultimately will be useful, I think is okay.

Some of this also depends on context. Someone once gave me the guideline that anything your students can't learn to do in four reps or less isn't likely to work for self-defense. Sport fighting offers an opportunity for a longer learning curve (as does...the other stuff. Whatever it's classified as.)

pax said...

Option 3 might apply: the instructor can take the time to explain in detail what's happening and why/how it works, but if he does, your learning will be impeded in some way -- either because you won't experience it for yourself and thus internalize the lesson, or because spelling it out would take so much time that it prevents you and the other students from learning some other more-important lesson within the limited format of the class.

At some point, the student does have to trust the instructor to do the teaching task. Sometimes that means letting the instructor order the material in his own way, without trying to jump ahead to points he hasn't covered yet.

My favorite instructors have been known to say to a student, "You know, that's really a gin-and-tonic question. If you really want to know, buy me a drink after class and we can take an hour to hash it out."

Thomas M. said...

I see another problem with the term "suspension of disbelieve" in this context.

In my understanding it requires some kind of "true" knowledge about the topic in order to generate 'disbelieve'. And this disbelieve you then can decide to ignore - or not.

But what happens if your basic assumptions are wrong? Especially with martial arts beginners I can imagine this very much.

"This will never work with a bigger/stronger opponent." might be a completely true statement by a beginner. In that case the instructor is making errors, knowingly or not.

But on the other hand it may only be the believe of the beginner because he/she never mangaged the technique in the completely correct way.

How should the beginner keept theses two cases appart? The explanation for a "good" movement might just be bad because the instructor doesn't know how to explain it any better.
Or it might sound off because the whole thing is actually fantasy-stuff.

The student might be able to get through this by thinking on his own, experimenting with the technique etc.
But it isn't done with saying "this requires suspension of disbelieve for me at the moment so it is wrong"...

The reason for disbelieving can be located on the instructor's or the student's side. And the instructor may or may not be able to change it just by explaining the technique.

Mhh... I hope I managed to get my point across in English ;)

Thomas M.

Steve Perry said...

Not sure the placebo effect applies, Kai. You aren't required to suspend your disbelief, but asked to believe something is effective when it is essentially inert.

The trick is that you don't know this.

Not quite the same.

I have no problems with Rory's basic notion. All fiction is fantasy, and part of the experience is that you know that going in and accept it.

The single-step drill is not mean to be realistic. Nobody punches in slomo, nor are you limited to a single response to a single attack. But that's the nature of drills -- they are approximations of reality, and always carry within them that limitation.

Nearly all stand-up MA drills begin slow and with no power, and then escalate, in order to learn the thing and to protect the players. The nature of training requires a learning curve for most people most of the time; start out with full-speed and full-power, injury is a given. I come away from pretty much every class with new bruises; past a few bruises, however, this is counter-productive. If you have to break bones or tear tendons to learn something, you run out of students pretty quick.

If the cure is worse than the disease, maybe you think twice about it.

Nick Guinn said...

I hope that the person you spoke to simply used the wrong term. Too many schools in this part of the country(OK) teach the "Dojo" response to self defense and rarely does it even approach common sense. Requiring that we as students suspend our disbelief long enough to pass the test for our next rank(s).

Speak with someone who does this kind of thing for a living such as a bouncer, law enforcement, security, executive protection, etc... And they will be the first to tell you that training needs to be effective from day one and only get better from there.

How many police officers do you know train in a way that requires that they suspend disbelief during training and are magically brought into the light when training is over. Now if you do know some, was it painful for them to learn the truth? I know some and it was for them.

I agree with previous comments about the need to withhold judgment till we have had a chance to play with a skill to see if it works for us. Perhaps this is what is meant by the suspension of disbelief but if that is the case I would add as a disclaimer that if its value is not readily apparent during "lab" time such as sparring or the Miller One Step Drill(tm) then perhaps it should be discarded in favor of a simpler more effective response.

I have spent years learning various entries to close the gap on an opponent. If they do this, you do that type of stuff. Like an equation, if they attack with A you must respond with B. I wish fighting was that easy but what if they attack with X and you have never covered the defense for that? I would say only about half of it worked and even then it had to be almost scripted to work effectively.

One session with Rory and the OC reorganized years of training. Didn't necessarily invalidate anything I know about the martial arts but it sure restructured many of my skills/tactics.

The big question I think this brings up is why build failure into training? Disbelief implies that we know it isn't going to work but we have to do it anyway. That is a very dangerous thing to train.

After literally years of unlearning Sport Karate responses I can tell you that this would be a big mistake.

Anonymous said...

decenIt's all about having faith, faith in your religion, faith in your country, faith in your martial art...and once you lose faith, it's gone.and you can't get it back.
I lost faith in MA when I realised that the guy teaching me had never been in a fight in his life

Sacred Ground At St. John's said...

"There are two kinds of people in the world, the conscious dogmatist and the unconscious dogmatist. I have always found myself that the unconscious dogmatists were by far the most dogmatic." - G.K. Chesteron

Charles James said...

"like hand blocking an attack from a much larger person"

Agree/disagree, if one tries to hold ground while deflecting a big person with a hand block they will fail BUT if the person blocking is also moving his person out of the line of fire they can deflect but not in the sense most perceive as hand blocking or deflecting.

Sometimes a hand block against a large person has to be achieved in tandem with other stuff...

yes, no? Interested in your view!

Kasey said...

For this discussion I think we have to clarify some terms. Not having an answer is not requiring suspension of disbelief. Case in point the infamous what if I was attacked by 37 ninjas rappelling from a chopper with Uzis? Making up answers requires the student to suspend disbelief. In this kata why do I put my hand here? Because it helps pull in energy from the universe, or it should have a feeling of downward movement, or for atheistic balance, or the best one - because an old guy in Japan told said so - requires the student to suspend disbelief. Answers like because it provides structure, to deliver force into your opponent, to protect your balls. Those are concrete answers

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Taking things on Faith? if someone does not believe in something, then you should provide a good answer to their question, or show why it will work, with that person or someone else. That could be taken on faith, but to a certain point taking anything in faith is relying on 2nd hand knowledge?

It also depends on who you are working with, their skill experience and terms of reference, Basically their reality meter. If Rory questions something then it comes from strong position from someone with less exposure then it may be weaker.
Am I as a teacher suspending my disbelief or am I asking my students to do that without a rational reason

If training something new untrains something that you can already do and that new thing is not any more effective then why do it? Surely training should be about improving skills

Anonymous said...

Kasey nailed it in my mind. Sometimes you’re teaching something to build on a principle. It may be fighting applicable in another context. In that case the teacher has to know it and convey that, as in the example he gives.

Sometimes it is not about fighting but about getting at something else. If it is really not an actual fight application, then it better be something you are not calling fighting. For instance, in teaching someone to develop a motion you may want to explore the full range of in a beginner student, or to study timing in an advanced student.

Lengthening a strike, exaggerating the entire body motion allows the student to begin to feel where the power comes from, relax all the muscles in motion and focus in the delivery of energy. It is not how to punch someone, but it can be how to get at refining muscle memory and the maximum power potential of someone.

Big problem if the teacher does not know why its being done, and if the student is not made to throw away the "training wheels" once the student understands the concept your targeting. You can't limit them by not letting them work on the stuff that works even at beginner level, and tying them down with training tools.

-Billy G.

Lise Steenerson said...

The drills are NOT suspension in disbelief. They are simply breaking things into parts. It's like cooking: first you prepare the meat, then you cut your vegetables, then you take care of the spices (or whatever steps you take). After all the parts are prepared perfectly then you can put them all together and have a delicious meal.

You have to work on all the parts of "fighting". The drills have divided this into steps that you can practice and get as good as you can. When all the steps are well rehearsed then you can throw them together into one kick ass meal. But none of those steps require that you give up the correct beliefs. On the contrary you have to understand them to be able to break them down.

Andy said...


I'm curious, what's the drill you wouldn't do?

angelhead said...

I think the choice of words was where things went wrong there... She should have explained why these drills would be useful in real word situation instead of just tell u to suspend your belief.. Just like the engineering bit..sure u don't see why u need to learn stuff but a teacher should when asked give u at least one example where it could be applied for a real situation..otherwise its rather condescending on their part and/or lack real depth of understanding of what they are teaching...

Anonymous said...

To continue the soup metaphor...

I certainly wouldn't just go out and buy a bunch of vegetables and go cut them all up at someone's direction, if I wasn't told we were making soup.

On the other hand, (and maybe this is more to the post's original point), I also definitely wouldn't go out and pull weeds for someone who told me it was a good way to make a salad.

-Billy G.

Josh Kruschke said...

Why is every one looking at this from the students point of view. I think what Rory was getting at was that those that teach need to have faith in their students that if they are asking the question they are ready and deserving of an answer. If the teacher doesn't have one then this maybe a learning moment for both of them. I believe that anything that can't be tought to a beginner is probable to complicated to be of use in a real SD encounter, because of the degradation of skills do to stress. Teachers unwilling to answers students question do it for two reasons. One ego don't want to seem week by not to have the answer, or Two just being lazy. Let the student receiving the answer determen if it is useful to them and if they are ready for it. If you don't give them a strong base of knowledge to make disision from.

If a teacher want answer my questions it makes me question there motives and if I should continue.

Rory please correct me if I'm wrong in my understanding of the purpose of this post.


Mac said...

It's the suspension of BElief that allows the direct cognition of the possibilities and the innate (in humans) ability to produce a good effect and positive experience from even the worst of information. On the flip side, there is such a thing as a waste of time, but this is needs driven, not information-derived

Anonymous said...

She said, "Beginning training requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief."

There was nothing in that statement about the training activities and beliefs one adopted and practised after a couple of years.

Mr. Miller, you are at or very near the top of your profession. One that forces you to act violently.

When it comes to violence, you should not suspend your disbelief. I think we can all agree this would end badly.

But beginners are often full of fantasies. They also have ignorant and foolish opinions.

That is often the hardest part of training them. Getting rid of bad ideas and replacing them with good reflexes and a savvy attitude.

This takes time and a willingness to work hard.

It also takes an absolute willingness to Suspend their Disbelief that the instructor's violent responses are both legally and ethically justified.

Steve Perry said...

Hmm. From a writer's standpoint, "suspension of disbelief" means that you are offering something that the reader won't buy as real. S/he, in order to go with the story, accepts this. Easy example -- spaceships with artificial gravity and faster-than-light drives.

There are no such beasts. But if you are going to get into the stories of, say, Star Wars, or Harry Potter, you have to go along with this fiction (as well as some other real howlers.)

For those of you not science fiction or fantasy fans, these books or movies with aliens and trolls and dragons and such get quite far-fetched. You suspend your disbelief to go with the story.

It is, at its heart, "Let's pretend!" and part of the fun.

This suspension has less use when dealing with consensus reality, though there are times. Maybe in protecting somebody fragile from hard news -- Where is Mommy? when Mommy doesn't make it after a car wreck. In the end truth must be served, but in the interim, sometimes that might be delayed.

There might be folks who will flat-out tell a five-year-old that Mommy is dead meat in a box buried in the cold ground. I'm not one of them.

Scott said...

Belief and disbelief have no place in training. "Just shut up and do it" --now that's an important training tool!
Christianity is deeply concerned with belief and tends to frame everything around the importance of believing. But belief is not important out side of that worldview.
But I believe most teaching is a "head-fake." If you want to get people to think differently you have to do things to break them out of the way they see the world. "Pretending" for a moment or a week or even a year, can set someone up for a dramatic shift in consciousness.

Tiff said...

I really like the responses to this one -- all of 'em.

Now for a wrench in the gears.

When I write fiction, I don't rely on "suspension of disbelief." I DO interview sources, I DO my research. I do everything in my power to avoid "suspension of disbelief," because I think fiction is best the less it looks like fiction.

Tiff said...

Afterthought: Does doing so make fiction more believable, or does it make non-fiction LESS believable?

Anonymous said...

what an excellent and interesting post. but i do agree a certain amount suspension of disbelief is required when starting something new. trying to understand the entire context can be overwhelming initially, like trying to put all the pieces of a jigsaw together in one go.

it was described by one of our top instructors (someone i think rory would find very interesting) as like learning to draw. in your first class, you draw a smiley face, just a circle, two dots and bendy line. once you have mastered that, you move on to trying to get the shape of the circle correct. a real face is more oval. then you might make the dots into circles, and then later into tear shapes and so on and so on, until you have a realistic drawing of a face.

the first stage is simply learning the mechanics of body movement and coordination. the only reason to give some context at this stage is simply to keep the students inspired, so they know that there is a purpose to what appear to be 'unrealistic' movements.

another point is that in karate at least, movements and actions are stylized and exaggerated in order to compensate for the adrenalized state when under pressure. musicians do the same thing when learning to play an instrument.

the above mentioned instructor was giving seminars in 'fighting' kata. turning the kata people had been assiduously learning into proper fighting/SD principles. it looked like brawling most of the time - really ugly - but you should have seen the lights going on around the room. suddenly everyone 'got it'. they understood and could do it from one moment to the next. but they could never have achieved that level of understanding without having practiced the kata and associated kihon 1000's of times beforehand, even if it meant they didn't understand 100% what was they were supposed to be doing it for.

Maija said...

A beginner does not know what they don't know. In fact they probably believe stuff that is not true on top of that. They may have an idea what the 'goal' looks like, but they may not.
OTOH the teacher should always have the goal in mind, and through experience have put the pieces together that lead to this goal - thus a system or a method.
It may be a confusing path for the student sometimes, I know I left plenty of lessons with my Eskrima teacher not knowing what had happened or whether or not I had learned anything .... but I knew HE knew, and he was always willing to physically demonstrate, and/or explain the 'WHY' of everything we did ... along with the why not, the when, the how, the pros and the cons. THAT was key to my trust in him - all those demonstrations/explanations made sense. That, and the fact the other people with way more real life experience than me thought he was very highly skilled.
He chose to teach the way he did because he thought it was the most efficient, the best and fastest way to get to the goal he wanted the student to get to. His biggest gripe with more traditional ways of teaching was that they went 1 or 2 steps back for every 2 steps they took forward ... or worse! His personal goal was to find the LEAST steps needed to make the student proficient ... and these steps, though similar, turned out to be different for each student depending on personality and skill.
I never had to suspend belief, or disbelief, but I certainly had no idea where I was going, or if I was going anywhere at all, for quite a while.
Once I was immersed in it for a time, and started to better understand the problems that had to be solved, I started to ask better questions and finally began to 'see'.
He did not really teach a system to pass on, he taught his students to see the problem to be solved. He felt that if you understood the problem, the material spoke for itself. So yeah, there was, in the end, nothing to 'believe'.

Josh Kruschke said...

I like Anon's jigsaw puzzle analogy. Suspinsion of disbelief is take your instructors word that it is correct. The instructor/ teacher should be able to give you atleast the principle or reason why it is done that way. If s/he can do that then there is no reason to suspend belief you ether do or you don't. If you don't you as the student better have a reason or principle for why you don't. If a instructor can't explain the why of something then s/he's not teaching you; they're indoctrinating you. They could have good or bad motives, but they're not teaching you. Back to the jigsaw puzzle, I like having all the pieces (access or permision to find the answer) so when I go oh that's where that piece goes I can build a bigger picture. And Sometimes I just like to think outside the box the puzzle came in.


Steve Perry said...

Tiff --

Since by definition, fiction is the depiction of imaginary events or people, you certainly do depend on the suspension of disbelief. You might not people it with Klingons or elves, nor set it on other worlds, but by offering it, you say, "Hey, I made this up. Go with it, okay?"

Every time.

Research to get the stuff that is real down is great, the ring of truth sells it, but it's still a made-up story.

Tiff said...


I see where your coming from. To elaborate on the supposition that fiction succeeds when it doesn't appear to be fiction, it would have to (1) play and expand upon the reader's biases or assumptions of what is truth or reality or (2) convince the reader that the story and its characters are possible, though they may not exist currently.

That train of thought led me to think about the correlation to martial arts. At what point does the student discern fiction from non-fiction? Can I ever trust the teacher when the teacher is not me? Can I ever trust my own skill, experience, or training? Even in Meditations on Violence, Rory expounds upon the (frightening) notion that our experience can be an inaccurate anomaly, or our training can be utter bullshit. Rory even refers to the "story" that we tell ourselves -- the fictional narrative we kill (or die) to defend. It's just an illusion, but we cling to it and convince ourselves it's real.

And so I ponder: When is it not fiction? And do we ever really know?

Maija said...

Tiff -
Check out the 'Piraha' tribe of the Amazon for another view on truth vs fiction.

"They have no craving for truth as a transcendental reality. Indeed, the concept has no place in their values. Truth to the Pirahãs is catching a fish, rowing a canoe, laughing with your children, loving your brother, dying of malaria. Does this make them more primitive? Many anthropologists have suggested so, which is why they are so concerned about finding out the Pirahãs notions about God, the world, and creation.
But there is an interesting alternative to think about things. Perhaps it is their presence of these concerns that makes a culture more primitive, and their absense that renders a culture more sophisticated. If that is true, the Pirahãs are a very sophisticated people. Does this sound far-fetched? Let's ask ourselves if it is more sophisticated to look at the universe with worry, concern, and a believe that we can understand it all, or to enjoy life as it comes, recognizing the likely futility of looking for truth or God?"
— Daniel L. Everett (Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle)

Josh Kruschke said...

Many people try to reach a similar stay as the Piraha through meditation. They want to reach a stat of mindfulness of living in the moment. They want to break free of living in the past or for the future and to live fully in the moment. We do this naturally as children, but for some reason grow out if it as adults. Maybe what the Piraha show us is that we to can live in the moment and not let the pressures of society dictate to us any differently. The Piraha seem to have a culture that values this.

Thank you I know have another piece of the puzzle to look into.


Steve Perry said...

If we want to get into Maya, the Great Illusion, the nature of what we stop-down into our more or less consensus reality, then we need to send somebody to pick up beer and pizza for the rest of the sophomores in the dorm having this discussion.

I recall having this existentialistic argument in Professor Xenakis's Philosophy 101 class forty-odd years ago, and we aren't any more likely to come up with an answer now than we did then.

I have little patience with this particular one.

There's a story -- I'll keep it short. A guru and his disciple are walking when an elephant breaks loose and charges at them. The guru says "Run!" but the student, knowing that all is Maya, stands his ground.

The elephant grabs him up, throws him against a tree, breaking his arm, then stomps off.

The guru runs to tend the injured student. "Why didn't you run? Didn't you hear me?"

"I heard you, but it's all an illusion, isn't it?"

"Yes, but you and are are part of the illusion, made of the same substance. It's what we have to work with. Next time I tell you to run, then run ..."

People who are looking for the One True Truth are apt to be disappointed. Black-or-white, either/or reality is sometimes not so easy to find. Meanwhile, you work with what you've got.

Anything can be utter bullshit. Including Rory's comments that it can be ...

Josh Kruschke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Josh Kruschke said...

Yah, but Steve half the fun is looking for the answers the other half being beer and pizza.

Tiff said...

Amen, Joshkie! (Besides, if my questions were more than just rhetorical, I wouldn't be seeking the answers in blogs.)


Lisa said...

I like Jake's viewpoint.

Most people who sit down to read a book disbelieve that aliens fly into our atmosphere or that a magic wand can create tea and crumpets. Authors ask us to suspend that disbelief for the purpose of hearing a story.

Most people who start studying martial arts probably disbelieve that they can slip a punch. But the world is full of martial artists of all stripes who can slip a punch. There is a difference between disbelief in things that are unlikely to ever become true, and disbelief in things that may become true given enough hard work and talent.

It is completely useless (in training) to ask someone to believe something untrue that is unlikely to ever become true- predators are unlikely to ever attack me with an open, obvious, knife thrust to my abdomen.

I think it is useful to have a realistic assessment of my abilities (as in, I am not able to slip a full-speed, determined punch to my face). But if I believe that will always be true no matter what I do, why bother training? Wouldn't it be useful, then, to temporarily suspend my disbelief pending further training and subsequent reassessment? I may get punched in the face (but I've come to believe that isn't always a bad thing :). Our teachers ask us to temporarily believe something untrue/suspend our disbelief for the purposes of training.

Rory said...

Thanks, everyone. This has been interesting to follow, and interesting to see subtle differences in how everyone defines the terms.

Like I said, this seems so obvious that I may be too close to look at it myself, and so (though I really want to) I'm not going to question or argue any point that anyone has made here. Just let it sink in. It's what I need for this thought.


Drew Rinella said...

Hi Rory. I have a topic I need you to write about: Cazy homeless people in Portland rant about invisible people coming to get them, worms inside their veins, etc. Crazy homeless people in North Idaho rant about world currency devaluations and Obama. What is the phenomenon we're seeing here?

Nate said...

"Suspension of disbelief" in fiction and in martial arts are two very different concepts.

In fiction, as you discuss in your post, you have to allow yourself to temporarily forget that what you are watching/reading are fake in order to enjoy the experience without constantly interrupting yourself by dwelling on the impossibility of it all.

In martial arts, you are right to point out that you shouldn't have to pretend it is real if you are being taught effective techniques under proper training conditions. In this context a "suspension of disbelief" is still necessary but it is a very different type than in fiction.

Many people who are inexperienced bring with them preconceived notions of what is "real" or "effective" based on what they have "learned" watching movies or sport martial arts on tv etc. These students have a tendency to see real technique and believe it is fake or ineffective because it does not match what they expect it to be.

In order for many students to begin learning they must suspend that type of disbelief and be open learning real technique even if they assume that it is not going to work. A good instructor will break down the technique and show the student how and why it works so that they can verify that what they are being taught is real and that it doesn't just work by magic. Thus, after a while, the student no longer needs to keep his/her disbelief suspended because if what they are learning is real their disbelief should soon vanish to be replaced by genuine understanding. This is unlike the suspension of disbelief in fiction where, after you are done with the movie or book, you know that it was indeed fake.

The phase "suspension of disbelief" in martial arts may be better phrased as "letting go of preconceived notions based on inexperience."