Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hero Homework #7



 
The Heroes’ “Howdy” Duty


I remember being "new" on the job. Plus, I was the only non-Black guy on the crew. There was a locker room where the crew ate, and played hearts during the hour lunch break.  The first time I walked in, the place went silent and still, everyone staring at me. "Awkward" doesn't begin to describe it. I belonged there like a screen door belongs on a submarine.
Finally, "Dad," the elder statesman of the crew, without even looking up from his cards, said to me, very casually,  but so everyone cold hear, "Ain't you gonna eat, boy?"
At those words, the rest of the guys went back to what they were doing, and I found a place on a bench where it could sit and eat my sandwich. Those words also made me part of the crew. I still had to earn respect and trust, but that gesture metaphorically, as well as literally got me in the door.
I've never forgotten it.

Research initiated by psychologist Henri Tajfel (1) in the 1970's has shown that all it takes for us to begin to divvy up the worlds into "us" and "them" is the random flip of a coin. Only minutes after being divided into the A or B group by the coin flip, the participants in Tajfel's experiment rated members of both groups on various attributes, such as intelligence and likability. Overwhelmingly, people rated the members of their own group as more likable and intelligent. They also rated the members of the other group as having less variety in personality than individuals in their own group.  Within the span of only a few moments, these ordinary people began to stereotype the other group and to treat them with discrimination- even though the members of both groups were complete strangers at the beginning of the experiment. Tajfel called this phenomenon the minimal group paradigm.

Imagine how difficult it must be to break into an established social group, when the members of the "in" group have developed prejudices against those who are not members of their group.  By “reaching out to someone who is not a member of your social group, you can facilitate the group's acceptance of new members.


Your hero workout for this week:

 Help someone new to feel included in a group setting.




(1) Tajfel, H., Billig, M. G., Bundy, R. P., & Flament, C. (1971) Social categorization and intergroup behavior. European Journal of Social Psychology, I, 149-178. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.2420010202

adapted from the Heroic Imagination Project


Monday, October 20, 2014

Hero Homework #6


STANDARDS: DOUBLE OR NOTHING


I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"
- Evelyn Beatrice Hall, (writing about Voltaire.)



Many people seem to have no moral compass.
They seem to have become infantilized They don’t know what’s right or wrong, they only know what they “like” or dislike. They equate what they like with “right” and what they dislike with “wrong.”  

For example, if someone “likes” Republicans (probably because he and his family ARE Republicans!) then no matter what a Republican says or does, that person will  believe the Republican is “right,” and anyone opposing that “right,” no matter how valid their arguments might be, must be wrong. 
Everything that benefits them must be “right” everything that costs them must be “wrong.”  Regardless of the merits of the case, if they win “justice was served” and if they lose it’s a gross and incomprehensible miscarriage of justice.

These are people who believe in “freedom of speech” only for those they like -- those with whom they agree -- but are perfectly happy to curtail freedom of speech for those whom they don’t like or with whom they disagree.
At a sports event every call that favors the team they “like” is a good call and every call favoring the opposing team is a “bad call” --- no matter how accurate or inaccurate the call actually is. The rules don’t really matter. What matters is whether the team you “like” wins.

And so we call those people who engage in violence against us “terrorists,” while those who commit the same atrocities on our behalf are “freedom fighters.”
When OUR soldiers kill innocent women and children, it’s unavoidable “collateral damage” arising from “liberating” the country we’ve invaded. When people in that invaded country fight back against such “liberation,” they are the “insurgents,” and every one of our invading soldiers whom they kill is portrayed as if he were an innocent child cravenly murdered while sleeping peacefully in his own bed.
We wind up with two sets of rules – one for ourselves and our friends, another quite different set for everyone else.


A fighter learns to assess himself and to assess his opponent in an objective manner, noting both strengths and weaknesses. It is disastrous to under-estimate an opponent’s abilities  -- and can be equally disastrous to over-estimate them. The fighter’s success in choosing appropriate and adequate strategy and tactics, depends on an unbiased, unemotional, objective assessment of the combat situation, including all aspects of the opponent, and all aspects of himself.

The heroic individual cultivates a capacity for critical thinking and objective honesty, and repudiates all double-standards.  He/she is able to critically evaluate an idea, or position on it own merits, and determine its validity regardless of whether the person offering that idea is “liked” or “disliked.”  He/she is ready, willing and able to identify flaws in his friends as well virtues in his enemies. He/she is as vehemently protective of the rights of those he/she “dislikes” or disagrees with, as he is of those he/she “likes” or agrees with.

And so to next our hero workout:

Find something that you can honestly compliment, respect and/or admire about at least one person whom you don't like. For extra credit, tell that person what it is you respect or admire about them. For EXTRA extra credit, tell others who dislike this person what it is  that you respect or admire about him or her.

This is a tough one.
Do it anyway.


- aac 



Monday, October 6, 2014

Hero Homework # 5








A Point in Line


A hero acts at great personal cost or risk.

It may be the risk of death or grave bodily injury. It may be the risk of imprisonment. It may be the risk of embarrassment, ridicule or social ostracization. It may be a sacrifice of time or money. That all requires thinking of someone else’s life, welfare, or feelings before you think of your own.
That’s not to say you should be the world’s doormat, and become a martyr to everyone else’s least whim, and never to go after your own needs, goals or dreams.
What it does mean is that you’re prepared to set aside your own needs to help another.
It’s an acquired taste.
Let’s start to acquire it.


This week’s workout:
                                        Let someone else go first.


Whether it's the line at the grocery store or merging on the freeway, take a few minutes out of your day to allow someone else to go first. Being mindful of the needs of those around you and practicing selfless acts of kindness are both behaviors that define an everyday hero.


- aac




(adapted from the Heroic Imagination Project) 

 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

shades of grey


Shades of Grey
or
Johnny d'Thesis Meets Mary Jane McAntithesis

I’m going to borrow a couple terms from Hegel, and give them a twist to have a particular meaning in the context of studying hoplology, though you may find this applicable to other subjects as well: thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

Thesis.
Thesis is simply a stated proposition. For our purposes the thesis is a particular martial art or martial art style, being a proposition about how one should fight. Shotokan karate, Uechi-ryu karate, Spanish rapier, German longsword and the Italian School of fencing are examples. 
There’s an old saying: when the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to treat everything as if it were a nail. That’s stylism in a nutshell.
A “stylist” is a person who practices a given “tradition,” (a charitable word for “because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”) and learns to view the combat world through the eyes of that “tradition.”  Extremely dogmatic, stylism is characterized by high degree of authoritarianism, with a religious reverence for the “master” who founded it, in proportion to how long that master has been deceased. If the master committed anything to print, that work is considered a holy book. Stylists will adopt the terminology of the master, no matter how obscure, and no matter what language he spoke, or what language they, themselves, speak.  If he is alive, a stylist may mimic the master’s speech or accent. They may adopt the master’s style of dress, or, at least, attempt to mimic that of his time and place. The style is seen as something that unchangeable, something to be kept “pure.” Techniques are neither added nor removed from the repertoire.  Typically, because the stylist is convinced that his own particular style is superior to all others, there is antipathy and disdain for other styles, leading to rivalry between them, a characteristic stylism shares with nationalism, and one that forms the plot of countless low-budget kung-fu movies. Other “styles” are considered emotionally instead of rationally, and followers of other styles are subjected to all manner of vilification, ridicule, derision and scorn, both stylistically and personally, consistent with the maxim: “any stigma to beat a dogma.”
Stylism is very common to the youngest, to the least experienced, and to the least morally mature students studying their very first “style.”  In Maslovian terms, while undertaking to study any particular style may originate with survival and/or safety needs, the dedication to a style is rooted firmly in social and esteem needs. Stylists strongly identify as a member of they style in-group and strive for success and recognition within that group. Lawrence Kohlberg would probably rank stylists at the third and fourth stages of moral reasoning, typical of adolescence.

Antithesis.
Black/white. Soft/hard. Heavy/light. Right/wrong. Ugly/beautiful.  All of these are pairs of words in which one is the antithesis, or the opposite, of each other. This is a very either/or, all-or-nothing way of looking at things, but it does seem reasonable, doesn’t it?  A thing is or it is not.
Antithesis, for Hegel, is the negation of a thesis, or a reaction to a given proposition.  I use “antithesis” to refer to certain stage of, or approach to learning  that focuses on the differences between things, how they are unlike.
Perhaps you’ve been acquainted with an adolescent who fell in and out of “love” about every twenty minutes. And the new love was always the most perfect, the most beautiful, while the previous perfect love was now “just an infatuation, and the previous “most beautiful,” was now observed to have an unsightly mole, instead of a “beauty mark,” and knobby knees, and an irritating laugh…
Antithetical thinking says that two different things cannot be the same thing, and if not the same thing, then they must be opposites.
When a stylist is forced to learn a new style, it’s a common response for the stylist simply to shift his fanaticism from his previous style to his new one. His previous “great master” may now be seen as false prophet while the new master is the messiah of the true faith. Alternatively, the stylist may conceive of the new style as something so completely “different” from his original faith (no matter how alike they may actually be) that it is another thesis rather than an antithesis. This helps to dispel  -- or, at least suppress -- any cognitive dissonance arising from contradictions between two true faiths.  Too that end it’s helpful if the new religion has it’s own unique language, costume and rituals.
While still motivated by social and esteem needs, belonging and success, the student may, at this point, be grudgingly dragged toward Kohlberg’s stage five.
The antithesian is a person who proudly proclaims he is master wheelman, having studied many different driving arts including: red cars, blue cars, white, cars grey cars, and black cars.  In the anthesis arena you will find the person who claims black belts in a half-dozen different styles of karate, or someone professes to be a master of both the Italian and the French Schools of Fencing, both German and Italian longsword, both Italian and Hungarian sabre, or perhaps, both English and western, as well as bareback riding.

Synthesis
“A fencing master is someone you can put in a room with a weapon he’s never seen before, and by the end of the day he can teach you how to use it effectively.” (Rev. Steve Cook, Maitre d’Armes)
*****
Synthesis, Hegel says, reconciles thesis and antithesis by recognizing their common truths.  I’d like to take that a bit further --- quite a bit. I propose that synthesis is an approach that recognizes foundational principles common to superficially different things, focuses on the similarities between things instead of on their differences, and integrates seemingly disparate things into a coherent whole.  Synthesis sees individual things neither as unique an independent, nor as part of mutually exclusive antithetical pairs, but rather as complimentary pieces of a larger puzzle.
Borrowing from the Yin and Yang user guide in the appendices of Chinese Philosophy for Dummies. I propose that every combat situation, no matter how similar to another, is unique. And every combat situation, no matter how unique, is similar to others. For the synthesist, paradox is the highest for of truth. Things aren’t black OR white, things are black AND white.
To the true “master” of combat, all styles are valid, and all are limited. Every technique taken from whatever “tradition” discipline or style is assessed by simple criteria: it either works or it doesn’t – in a given tactical situation.  Every technique is just another tool in the fighter’s toolbox, and the question isn’t what’s the right one or wrong one, but rather simply what tool is best suited for this particular task? From follows function.
One element of synthesis is the realization that “styles” don’t make great fighters; great fighters make styles.  The developed example of an inferior principle can exceed the undeveloped example of a superior principle. In this case, an excellent practitioner of an inferior style can beat a poor practitioner of a theoretically superior style.
Synthesis corresponds to Maslov’s self-actualization needs and to Kohlberg’s sixth and highest stage of moral reasoning. Self-actualizing people are self-aware, concerned with personal growth, less concerned with the opinions of others, and interested fulfilling their potential. Morally mature people practice moral reasoning using universal ethical principles.

It is worth noting that, in past times, it was not uncommon for a fencing master to also teach dancing or horsemanship. Chevalier St. George is but one example of an excellent swordsman who was also an accomplished musician. Is it possible that even such diverse activities as these might share certain principles?
The answer is “yes.”
And “no.”

- aac

 



Monday, September 29, 2014

wordswordswordswords...swordswordswordswords...



 
A Rosoideae by Any Other Name
or
“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate…”


Item: I once went to my doctor and old him I had pain in my kneecap. He examined it and told me I had “chondromalacia patella.”  “What does that mean,” I asked. “That means,” he replied confidently, “that you have pain in your kneecap.”
Item: I had a friend who was incredibly proud of his infant son saying the word “ball.” Sure enough, when I visited, the tyke was playing with a big red one, happily giggling to us “ball… ball…”  What a prodigy! Of course, he also used the word “ball” to describe a shoe, a hat, a cookie, and the cat.  Perhaps you can imagine how pleased the cat was to be included.
 
*****
”I propose that the fundamental purpose of language is to communicate. By communicate, I mean that what the message receiver hears is what the message sender meant. It doesn’t always go down that way. Maybe you’ve noticed.
Part of this failure to communicate is because about 90% (your mileage may vary) of communication has nothing to do with the text, that is, communication isn’t limited to the actual words you say.  The largest part of the meaning in the message is non-verbal: posture, gesture, facial expression. Another chunk is para-verbal: volume, pitch, tone, pace, inflection.                                                                                                                                                             Actors do an exercise in which they play a scene, say, a couple breaking up, but instead of dialogue, they just say the alphabet. They focus on the non-verbal and para-verbal elements, stemming from what actors like to call the “sub-text.” As in, “What’s my motivation in this scene?”   That’s why you can understand what’s going on in an opera sung in Italian, even when you have no idea of what words they’re singing. It’s also why email is such a lousy method of communication. But to be fair, ANY print medium deprives the message senders and receivers of the para-verbal and non-verbal dimensions of communication, emoticons, notwithstanding.
Another part of the communication problem is that not everyone uses language to clarify, elucidate, and illuminate. Some people use language to confuse, obfuscate, complicate and confound. Yes, Virginia, some people are liars. But also language can serve to identify who’s in with the in-crowd, who’s hip and who’s a drip. That’s why teenage slang is always changing; once adults get hip to it, it’s not cool anymore, that is, it’s no longer a reliable identifier of US as opposed to THEM.  Criminal slang changes when the cops get hip to it.  When the enemy knows the password, you change it.
Some people use language as a power trip, to denigrate, ridicule or disenfranchise others who don’t know the right secret words.   For example in a recent online (there’s two strikes against communication, right there) discussion of the longsword, I mentioned that I had had the opportunity to learn something of this weapon from a mentor many years ago, about a decade prior to the other party’s involvement in it.  The other party –who for some reason believes that the longsword had been dead and forgotten until he and his pals discovered it--- then, rather rudely demanded to know what “sources” (texts) I had used. He further demanded to know if I knew this or that medieval German longsword term.  This gentleman’s position was 1) that I could not possibly learn longsword from an actual teacher, without meticulously scrutinizing some ancient book and 2) that I could not possibly know anything about the longsword if I did not use the same arcane pet-names for it that he did himself.                                                                                                                                           The gentleman’s underlying error here is learning domain confusion. He’s likely very good at the cognitive domain, but it leads him to believe that the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, can be found exclusively in and through his sacred text.
But a book no more contains truth than a clock contains time.
Well. I don’t speak German, that’s a fact. And neither does a longsword. It has no idea whether you are speaking German, French or Venusian, and it doesn’t care. Whichever language you choose to describe it is irrelevant to how the weapon is used. Fighting-form follows function. When fighting-form follows fashion, you’re toast.

  “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right   names.
                                   --- K’ung Fu-Tse (Confucious)

A third part of the problem is that context often defines the meaning of a word, for example when used in a court of law. Many words that are commonly used with broad latitude of meaning  have more specific, narrow and particular meanings as terms of art, the jargon of a particular field.  Therein lies the hub of the rub.
For example, the word “attack” is used by most people to indicate any forceful aggressive action intended to injure or destroy.  As in: “He attacked her in the alley.” “The bombers attacked the city.”  “They attacked his character.”
You might also “attack the problem head on.” Or you could say, “He attacked the steak with gusto.”  “He attacked the problem head-on.”  It can mean an incident of something “an attack of hunger, an attack of loneliness or anxiety – or an attack of silliness.
However, as a term of art in music, “attack” has a particular meaning and refers to the manner in which a tone is begun.
Likewise, in hoplology, “attack” refers to the initial offensive action in a phrase comprising more than one offensive action.
Good science requires that you define your terms as narrowly as possible, and use them in accordance with those definitions. Avoid using two different terms to describe the same thing, and avoid using the same term to describe two unlike things.
 "Tell us...in your own words." Do you have your own words? Personally, I'm using the ones everybody else has been using. Next time they tell you to say something in your own words, say, "Nigflot blorny quando floon."              -George Carlin
I believe the lexicon of a particular discipline should facilitate understanding and communication.  It should be as precisely definitive as possible.  The use of foreign language terms, for any other reason, is merely as an obstacle.
Many languages have a word that means, “cut.” If your language is German, then it makes perfect sense for you to use the German terms. If your language is French, what’s the point of adopting the German term? Is it somehow more precisely descriptive of a “cut” than the equivalent French word?   It’s possible.
Take for example the fencing term “deceive,” as in “to deceive the blade.”  To deceive the blade means that your opponent intends to make some blade contact, to touch your blade with his own. When you avoid that blade contact, that is to “deceive” his blade.
Fair enough.
But suppose there are two very tactical different situations.
In the first, the opponent’s attempt at blade contact has an offensive character, that is, it’s an attempt at preparation (engagement, beat, press, etc) to facilitate a  subsequent attack.
In the second situation, you are making an attack, and the opponent’s attempt at blade contact is defensive in character, That is, your opponent is attempting to parry your attack.
In English, the word “deceive” is used to describe both situations.
But in French, there are two words “tromper” and derober.  Derober can mean to slip away or shy away from or to hide from.  Tromper can mean to cheat, swindle, tease, trick, fool,  falsify or hoax.
If the opponent’s attempt at blade contact has an offensive character, then when you avoid or “deceive” his blade contact, you are slipping away, shying away, or hiding from it.   
If the opponent’s attempt at blade contact is defensive, in response to your particular attack, then when you avoid or “deceive” his blade contact and continue your attack in some other line, to some other target, you have tricked, fooled, teased, cheated or swindled him – having appeared to be doing one thing, but actually doing quite another thing.
I submit that the French terms derober to describe your “deception” in the first situation, and tromper to describe your “deception” in the second situation, are more accurate and precise than using “deceive” for both situations.  Therefore, in the interest of clarity, I would favor using the  French terms derober and tromper over the single English term “deceive.”
Let’s consider another example.
In fencing, there are various trajectories (called “lines”) that a blow, whether cut or thrust, can take to reach the target. The trajectory can be above or below the opponent’s swordhand. In English we refer to that above the hand as being in the “high” line. That below the swordhand we call the “low” line.
In French, the two words are dessus (on top of) for the high line, and dessous (under, beneath or below) for the low line.  Despite their similar spellings, and, to the untrained ear, similar pronunciation, these words mean opposite things. Further, these words have no special meaning that the English words do not have. That is, they do not define the high and low lines any more precisely or accurately than the English words do.  I would submit that, for an English-speaker, the lack of any greater clarity with the French terms, combined with the high likelihood of confusion and error in using the French terms, suggests that the best choice would be to use the English terms “high and “low, and not the French terms “dessus and dessous.
 
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."
       - Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass (1872)

The reason that selecting appropriate terms is important is that the way you talk about something strongly influences the way you think about something. And how you think about something strongly influences how you behave in regard to that thing.
This is important to understand, because, as already noted, terms are not always used to improve understanding and facilitate accurate communication.
For example, let’s consider the word “terrorism.”
Back when I was first learning about such things, “terrorism” had a very narrow, specific and precise meaning.  It described a very particular type of coercion. In the law, “coercion” defines the use of force or the threat of force to compel a person to do something that they have a legal right NOT to do, or to prevent someone from doing something that they have a legal right TO do.
Terrorism is the use of force or the threat of force to coerce a given population to do or not do something in order for the coercing party to achieve some political end. The political component is a sine qua non. Using coercion so you can rob a bank is not “terrorism.”  Further, not only must the end be political, but  with “terrorism” the coercion must target the innocent, non-combatants – especially children, and be characterized by extreme depravity, brutality or cruelty (the unnecessary infliction of unnecessary pain) that one could say “shocks the conscience.”
Given this history of “terrorism,” it is no wonder that in the popular consciousness a “terrorist” is considered to be a vicious, and sadistic person, lacking in compassion, decency, fairness, courage – indeed lacking ANY respectable human qualities at all. A bully and a coward.  Such a person is typically regarded with an immediate negative emotional response,  disdain, contempt,  outrage, and hatred.
Savvy political propagandists, however, have no interest in maintaining the once-narrow definition of terrorism.  On the contrary, their interest is in expanding the term to include anyone and everyone who opposes them or might oppose them. Indeed, they have spent the last couple of decades broadening the definition of  terrorism to include --- well, practically everything.  People who have the gall to resist a foreign army invading their country and killing their friends and families, are all most certainly “terrorists.” People trying to protect the environment from wholesale pollution and destruction by parasitic mega-corporations are now “eco-terrorists.”  People who want to save animals from living lives of unimaginable horror on factory farms are now “agri-terrorists.” Peaceful protestors, people who esteem the bill of rights, Muslims, Christians, Gays and Feminists have all been described as some form of “ domestic terrorist.”  Once there were jaywalkers; now they are pedestrian terrorists.                                                                                                                                  It is the hope of the political propagandist that by dubbing someone a “terrorist” other people will respond emotionally, automatically condemning the “terrorist” based on those characteristics that they associate with someone who is, in fact, a true terrorist, according to the narrow, accurate and precise definition of that word. To the propagandist, eliciting that emotional response is important because they know that their audience cannot respond emotionally and rationally at the same time. And “rationally” would give the lie to their use of the word. But to the extent that they can keep you emotionally aroused with some combination of fear, anger and hatred, they can be sure that you will remain incapable of the critical thinking that would almost certainly conclude that the propagandists, themselves, are liars, thieves and murderers.

Truth-seeking is contingent upon rational analysis and critical thinking. It can be greatly facilitated --- or substantially obstructed --- by the use of language.
That’s a good lesson. Courtesy of the Sword.

 aac
 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hero Homework #4




 Sticks and Stones

“Redskins.”
“Niggers.”
 “Nips,” “Krauts,” “Frogs,” “Gooks,” “Kikes,” “Towel-heads,” “Chinks, “Slopes,”  “Guidos,” “Mics,” “Spics,” “Dagos,” “Wops,” and “Pollacks.”
These are all pejorative ways to refer to some ethnic/racial group. Terms like these negatively caricaturize vast numbers of people, reducing them from unique, living-and-breathing human beings to cartoon stereotypes, based on a single characteristic they have in common --- a characteristic that none of them chose, and is beyond their control.
On a hot summer day, would you be as happy to drink a nice cup of sulphuric acid as you would a cup of water? Why not? They’re both “wet,” aren’t they?

To dehumanize someone, to treat them as an object, depriving them of their human qualities, individual personality, emotions, intelligence and spirit, is the first step on the road to oppression, torture and murder --- whether that’s lynchings, so-called “enhanced interrogation” (that is, torture), or genocide on a staggering scale.
Often, the dehumanization is very popular, like the current stereotyping of Muslims as “terrorists,” and the power of group conformity makes a trend like that difficult to resist.
But resistance is not futile.
Resistance is critical.
And so we come to this week’s workout for your hero muscles. It has two parts.
 Each day this week:

1. Write down what you find interesting and valuable about a different person each     
2. Write down something that you have in common with that person, some way in which you are alike.  

Select people as different from you as possible, ideally members of racial, ethnic, or religious groups other than your own.

The less acquainted you are with individuals of the maligned group, the easier it is to malign them.
The judgments you make about others depend not only on their behavior, but also on your interpretation of their actions within a social context. By taking a few minutes to acknowledge the unique qualities of an individual you can learn to see past stereotypes and develop appreciation for those who are different from you.  You will become aware that people who are very different from you, are still quite like you in some way(s). And this exercise will help you develop the capacity to see with your own eyes, and not through the eyes of your “group.”

aac


A few good links on group conformity:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On Applied Behavioral Hoplology


                                    
 Observations on the Science
of
Applied Behavioral Hoplology

A recent “discussion” with some very emotional longsword aficionados, compelled me to make note of three important lessons that, while they may seem obvious to the well-initiated, are apparently not universally known and understood.
I’d like to be clear that when I offer a critique, even one that may seem harsh, I’m not pointing out the errors of others in order to imply that I, myself, don’t make any. On the contrary, the reason I sometimes find it so easy too see the errors of others is that I have made the same error, myself. I’m in a position to warn you about potholes in the road, because I’ve driven on this road before and run over them.

Ritual Combat and Real Combat are not the same thing.
I once trained with a teacher who did only kata (etudes) in his school. They did NO kumite (sparring). When I asked him why, he explained, “In kumite, you must hold back. In a fight you must not hold back. You will do what you train to do.”

In a real fight, your primary objective is to completely disable your opponent(s) offensive capabilities. Killing him is usually a reliable way to do the trick.  At the same time, your secondary objective is to avoid getting killed, yourself.
As soon as you impose any restrictions, as soon as you have “rules” for a “fight,” it becomes a ritual combat.  “No holding, no eye gouging, no rabbit punching, no head-butting, no hitting below the belt…” and certainly no biting groin-kicking, knee-breaking.”  Hey, what is this, a Quaker ice cream social?  In a real fight, head butting, groin kicking and knee breaking are all highly recommended gambits.

My brother from another mother and father, Richard Alvarez, did a fun little film called “American Jouster.”  It features interviews with a variety of professional jousters  --- mostly, but not exclusively, sturdy young lads ---performing on the Renaissance Faire circuit. One of my favorite moments is when he asks the interviewees what they think the relationship is between jousting and “real” combat.  There are degrees of waffling from the boys who find varying degrees of similarity.  But one fellow – who just happens to be a recently returned army combat veteran – immediately and unequivocally, responds that there’s absolutely no comparison whatsoever.

The Roman historian Vegetius wrote, “They are most enthusiastic about war that are the least familiar with it.”  Likewise, if you’ve never experienced real, life or death combat, it’s easy to think that your ritual combat veers fairly close to the real deal.

It doesn’t.

There may be a risk of fatality involved in the ritual combat. Even the duel, which may indeed be deadly, is subject to rules and conventions that establish the duelists are members of a particular social group and have a certain status within that group.
But with most combat sports and games if a fatality happens, it’s due to accident or negligence, and is seen as a tragedy, because death is not generally the sine qua non purpose of the ritual.
Instead, ritual combat is an elaborate variation of posturing, one of the four threat responses. (fleeing, yielding, posturing, fighting).  Ritual combat is about fulfilling social needs, to be recognized as a member of a group (initiation rituals such as the German student duels) and to achieve status and success within that group.

Real combat is all about survival.

Like many other young men in the throes of testosterone poisoning, I never understood the distinction between ritual fighting (posturing) and real fighting until it very nearly cost me my life.

I have no problem whatsoever with whatever combat sport or game anyone wants to invent. All I ask is that they are honest about what they are doing, and not pretend to be something that they are not. What I object to is misrepresenting this or that sport or game as “real” combat.

It isn’t.
Be glad.

Doing and Teaching are not the same thing.
It’s an extremely common error to assume that if you can perform well, you can teach others to perform well. But it ain’t necessarily so.  For example: Throwing punches in bunches and managing the punching mitts to teach someone ELSE how to throw punches in bunches, are two completely distinct skill sets. Lots of boxers have never worn punch mitts in their entire lives. Not their job  
On the other hand, you have someone like boxing trainer Angelo Dundee who worked15 boxing champions including: George Scott, Jimmy Ellis, Jose Napoles, Sugar Ray Leonard, Carmen Basilio, Willie Pastrano, Luis Rodriguez, George Foreman, and the incomparable Muhammad Ali. But, although his brother Joe was a boxer, Dundee, himself, never held any boxing titles. Indeed, had never been a professional or even amateur boxer. He dedicated himself not to learning how to fight, but to learning how to train others how to fight.
Typically, martial arts “teachers” are simply those who have memorized what they were taught and then try to imitate how their teachers taught them. They are not trained to be teachers; they have not acquired that specialized body of knowledge or that physical skill set.
There are, of course, excellent doers who are also excellent teachers. But they are excellent teachers, not BECAUSE they are excellent doers, but because they have learned how to teach.


Knowing and Doing are not the same thing.

I’ve read several excellent books about birds, but that doesn’t mean I can fly.
It’s important to understand the difference between the cognitive domain and the psychomotor domain.

The cognitive domain involves knowledge and the development of intellectual skills (Bloom, 1956). This includes the recall or recognition of specific facts, procedural patterns, and concepts that serve in the development of intellectual abilities and skills. 
People use the cognitive tools so much that they begin to believe that it’s the right tool for every job.  Cognitive learning is an exceptionally good tool for learning about combat. It’s a miserable tool for learning how to fight.

The psychomotor domain (Simpson, 1972) includes physical movement, coordination, and use of the motor-skill areas. Development of these skills requires practice and is measured in terms of speed, precision, distance, procedures, or techniques in execution. It is perfectly possible to be a fine violinist without having a knowledge of the history of western music, the construction of violins or the science of acoustics. While those subjects may be fascinating and add to your appreciation of the violin, that knowledge will not make your fingers faster or more accurate.

Fencing is a particularly good example of what we could call “learning domain confusion.” Fencing is replete with aficionados who can name-drop with the alacrity of Inigo Montoya on a mountain top, cite titles and dates, have memorized and use the most esoteric terms for the most simple actions, and even offer impressive quotations from “the great masters, “ but who cannot stand on guard, cannot move without losing their balance, or manage a sword in a controlled and disciplined manner to defend themselves effectively.  These are folk who don’t understand the distinction between knowing and doing, or the process required for either one.

Two out of three ain’t bad, but I suppose I should make some mention of the affective domain.  The affective domain (Krathwohl, Bloom, Masia, 1973) includes the manner in which we deal with things emotionally, such as feelings, values, appreciation, enthusiasms, motivations, and attitudes.

If the cognitive is the domain of knowing, and the psychomotor is the domain of doing, then the affective is the domain of feeling.

When we say that we teach the “Art, Science and Spirit of the Sword,” we’re not trying to come up with a clever sales slogan. We are describing a way of being that derives from the perfect holistic integration of the three learning domains knowing (science), doing (art) and feeling (spirit.)

In our next exciting episode, I’ll address some aspects of language, terminology and jargon.

Be sure to tune in, same bat-time, same bat-station.



aac.