Many experienced martial artists believe that, of all the different categories of training partners, absolute beginners are the most dangerous. To outsiders, this sounds like a paradox. Shouldn’t those with the least martial arts training be the least dangerous?
It is not truly a paradox, only a misconception. And not all white belts are dangerous, obviously. But those that are, if only on the mat, are so for the following reasons.
Their goal is always to win. They don’t yet understand the difference between trying to win, and trying to cultivate the skills that one uses to win. Real fights are chaotic affairs, and chaos is not a proper breeding ground for skill development; thus, training in respectable martial arts consists of a series of games, first introducing support structures (e.g. rules and conventions), then dismantling them one step at a time.
The need for, or value in this approach is not obvious–and it is not always explained at the outset. So some white belts never appreciate the context of their practice. Others consider themselves above the “organized despair” of the “traditional mess,” and when a rule stands between them and a sparring victory, they break it without hesitation. The conventions and rules of training, they reason, are “unrealistic in a real fight.”
There was once a monk who carried a mirror where ever he went. A priest noticed this behavior one day, and thought to himself, “This monk is so vain and shallow. He shouldn’t concern himself with his external appearance–it is the inside, not the outside that really matters. I’ll teach that monk a lesson today.”
The priest approached the monk and asked, “Why do you always carry that mirror?”
The skills that engender competence in a particular domain are often the very same skills necessary to evaluate competence in that domain—one’s own or anyone else’s. Because of this, incompetent individuals lack what cognitive psychologists variously term metacognition, metacomprehension, or self-monitoring skills. These terms refer to the ability to know how well one is performing, when one is likely to be accurate in judgment, and when one is likely to be in error.
Several lines of research are consistent with the notion that incompetent individuals lack the metacognitive skills necessary for accurate self-assessment. Work on the nature of expertise, for instance, has revealed that novices possess poorer metacognitive skills than do experts. In physics, novices are less accurate than experts in judging the difficulty of physics problems. In chess, novices are less calibrated than experts about how many times they need to see a given chessboard position before they are able to reproduce it correctly. In tennis, novices are less likely than experts to successfully gauge whether specific play attempts were successful.
We propose that those with limited knowledge in a domain suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach mistaken conclusions and make regrettable errors, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.
~ From “Unskilled and Unaware” by Justin Kruger and David Dunning
Learning a martial art is inevitably a process of trial and error. To a limited degree, we are all inventors of our own unique style of martial arts.
Some ambitious individuals choose to go further. Rather than building on the experiential framework provided by a living martial arts expert, these innovators attempt to create a superior new system from first principles.
Is it harmless creative expression, or dangerous folly?
While conducting some unrelated research, I recently came across an book written by the disciple of a blind kungfu master. I was gratified to read his advice, so similar to that which I received from my own martial arts teachers. I’ll explain why in a moment; first, a few quotations:
On the primacy of coordination…
The principle of “divide and conquer” may have some validity in those branches of education concerned with knowing rather than doing, but in the education of the artist, “integrate to coordinate” should be the battle-cry.
Demonstrating the ability to make one single movement by genuinely coordinated means, is worth more to the growth of the student than showing them now to negotiate any supposed technical difficulties by the employment of “end-gaining” methods.
Clumsiness in general, and technical failures in particular, have no other origins than in the making of simultaneous contradictory gestures.
In the ancient spiritual text Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna defined two paths to the highest realization of human potential. For those inclined towards introspection and contemplation, Krishna recommended the path of transcendent wisdom, or Jnana Yoga. For more active and extroverted people, he suggested the path of selfless service, or Karma Yoga.
Blogger Steve Pavlina discussed these paths in his recent article Are You a Lightworker or a Darkworker? After insisting that mastery requires a polarizing commitment to one path—and one alone—Steve denigrated the path of self-knowledge:
If you polarize as a lightworker, you are dedicating your life to serving the greater good. If you polarize as a darkworker, you are dedicating your life to serving yourself. To use a Star Wars analogy, it is similar to deciding whether or not to become a Jedi or a Sith.
For a darkworker the level of unconditional love is directed inwardly as love of self. It’s like a highly concentrated form of arrogance. It may not be expressed outwardly in the form of a smug attitude, but inwardly the person comes to embrace the idea that s/he is the most important person on earth and should act accordingly. Honoring this perspective can actually lead to a state of peace that is virtually the opposite of humility.
While some might label the darkworker path as evil path, I dislike using words like good or evil to describe these paths. They’re really two different sides of the same coin.
Are the paths of lightworking and darkworking truly exclusive? To understand the flaw in this theory, let’s examine a tool that is literally dedicated to gathering cosmic light: the Hubble Space Telescope.
Wuji zhuang is the weakest stance in Chinese martial arts. Standing straight and still with their arms down at their sides, the practitioner of the wuji stance is in no position to deliver an attack, or to defend against one. They are sitting ducks, utterly unable to resist force from any of the four directions. So why is wuji zhuang so esteemed among high hands, and considered an important part of training in taijiquan, yiquan, and other arts?
The practice of wuji zhuang, or standing meditation, releases the hidden power of self-knowledge.