Thursday, August 01, 2013


Talking with Wayne A. for the last couple of days... good talks-- he's smart, skilled and comes from a very different background (martially, upbringing, and professionally) than I.  So lots for me to learn.

One of the conversations was about community, inclusiveness and exclusiveness.  I'm almost paranoid about groups and organizations in the martial arts.  They stagnate or splinter, dissolve or become dogmatic.  I can think of a single martial organization that lasted beyond the death of its founder and stayed both coherent and effective (judo).  But even my beloved judo appears to be changing.

In martial arts instruction, a lot of people have observed that people come for self-defense but stay for other reasons.  Wayne says that they stay for the community, and I see that.  There was a time when I would talk about my 'martial arts brothers'-- we bled and sweat together.  We were tight. So I get it.  the judo team was tight.  Direct interaction with pain and sweat.  Also, nature of judo, it was hard to get away with being a poser.  Everybody rolled with everybody every practice. But add one layer of abstraction... College politics or the AAU or the Olympic community all appeared fragmented, political and nasty.  There were at least three organizations all vying to be THE umbrella organization for judo in the US (two big ones, actually and a couple of fly-by-nights).  All hated each other and it was all about power... if you can consider writing rules for sweaty strangers to be power.

I think it's worse in martial arts that don't have a strong competitive aspect.  Doesn't make sport better, but it makes it clear about what you are doing.  If you have competition, and you aim for competition, you have immediate feedback on whether your stuff works for competition when you compete.  If you aren't sure on what you are measuring or what you value, there's a lot more weasel room.

Self-defense?  How can you know when such a small percentage of your class will ever use it?  Deadliness? You can't know unless you kill people.  Authenticity/lineage/etc.  --hard to measure, even assuming you have actual documents and can read an archaic version of a foreign language. And even harder to show that it matters in any real way.

When people don't have a good metric, they tend to rely on received wisdom.  On dogma. When you can't know, you want to feel sure.  Dogma makes you feel sure.

That was mostly a tangent, but it ties back to community in a big way.  People want to be sure and have identifiers.  "We are the (insert name here)."  Once you have chosen your tribe, your tribe must be the best, and since no tribe (or style or school or method or nation or family or team) is or can be the best (too many different measurements of 'best' for that to be possible) your excuse-making brain goes into overdrive.

And a big piece of that process is coming up with an excuse to deny any information from a different tribe.

There is an exception, though.  Certain high end teams, the VPPG, and the valued friends that I refer to as 'honorable enemies'-- all have the same concept. We exist to challenge each other.  To push and shatter illusions.  "A man sharpens a man as steel sharpens steel."

I don't think it will ever spread very far.  Don't think a group like this will ever get very big or last beyond a small group at a certain time of life.  Most people want comfort and certainty.  The few I know who seek discomfort and doubt tend to be the men and women who bet their lives on their skills and can't afford certainty, comfort or similar illusions.

I believe it is completely incompatible with teaching subject matter (may be wrong about that-- competition teams are an obvious exception).  Preparing for high-chaos, high-risk environments, I'm confident you can't be dogmatic and continuously improve.

Would it be possible to create a long-term community dedicated to challenge?  I wonder, because the people who seek groups also seem to like to crystalize them.


Charles James said...

Wy oh why do you have to make such good sense all the time?

Rory said...

Ermmmm--- because the last five posts I tried to write were just basically rants and I don't publish them until I think they make sense?

Maija said...

Some friends of mine share an interest in driving, maps, and efficiency ... though it's probably more of an affliction than an interest.
We decided to call ourselves Road Bores Anonymous, and thought we should have a secret handshake to identify ourselves to others. We decided it should be the 3 hand signals for stop, right turn and left turn .... which is neither secret, or a handshake ...
It seemed appropriate.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

I think it would be possible to create such a group. Though as it would be based upon humans it would be constantly "under threat" from the usual issues. Even if it didn't fall prey to the usual suspects, one issue may be that as its goal is to dedicated to challenge, sustaining the definition of challenge would be the issue!
Still I believe it could work, but that it would be fluid, people would drop in and out and come back over time. It would be like the task specific groups you have mentioned before. Rather than a conventional group, it would be more like a resource?

RXian said...

One only need to skim through various martial art or tactical training forums to see the truth here.

Anonymous said...

A challenge based community, not sure if it's long term, as a model, might be the Crossfit\interw3bz\Youtube model.

Here's the challenge. Now document that you accomplished it. Now the new challenge is to beat it, etc.

Since it's stored publicly or semi-publicly you can get around some of the, "Well in my dojo, when nobody was there but all us senior students, then we...", type stuff that might cloud the issue.

Of course that's assuming your challenges are relatively physical and relatively documentable.

Not sure how you can have a random bouncer document talking down an X level or Y level threat in an X or Y type situation. So it suffers from issues of quantifying the challenges so they can be documented in some form.

In any case if the identity of the group is somehow abstracted and distributed beyond individuals and 'schools' you might be able to make it more challenge based.

Any jackass with a video camera can grab a Crossfit benchmark or something similar, do it, post it, and get ranked or accepted as having done whatever they did.

Powerlifters always wanna beat other powerlifters, even if it's just a grainy, compressed, lo-rez internet video of somebody they've never met.

Of course that's just PT stuff, easy to document, compare, etc, and you still get arguments and such over standards, BUT, it's AN example of a challenge-based community that exists beyond a single school\source.

Provided you can quantify and document the challenges and the overcoming of them, which the internetz make pretty easy, seems potentially workable as a model.

Kai Jones said...

OMG Rory, there are plenty of people who like to challenge. On the internet where it's just talk we call them trolls, but you know there are people who question, who challenge assumptions, who demand logical foundation for conclusions.

I self-identify as contrary. Surely there are people with physical skills who do the same.