Monday, May 5, 2014

Answering the Tough Karate Questions

Comedian David Brenner hit the late night talk shows in the 1970s with a bit that included the line, “Of course you always find things in the last place you look; who would find something and then keep looking for it?”

The answer, interestingly enough, is Albert Einstein.  Turns out our national treasure, developer of not one, but two theories on relativity, and a one-time Patent Clerk often kept looking for things he had already found.  Maybe that’s why he gave us a second theory.

Stay with me for just a sec... Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity deals with space and time, but didn’t explain the effects of gravity - thus the need for a second theory.

Asked about his approach to problem solving he once remarked that most people, when looking for a needle in a haystack, stop looking once they find one.  He however, was compelled to keep looking until he had found every possible needle.

More to the point, even though he revolutionized our thinking about the universe, he recognized that his first theory wasn’t sufficient, i.e. the first step in solving a problem is in recognizing that you have one.

When you are trying to understand a technique, a form, a defense, or philosophical element of your art - do you stop thinking about the problem once you have found a solution?  Or like Al, do you keep examining the haystack, until you have considered every possible solution?

Henry Louis Mencken was quoted as saying there is always an easy solution to every human problem - neat, plausible, and wrong.

The martial arts have been around a long time and much of the meaning behind the training is not obvious.  For instance, in my art of Tang Soo Do the first two forms (Hyung, Patterns, Kata) we teach are almost identical.  Why would this be?

Is it because students cannot learn new movements?  That doesn’t sound reasonable.  Is it to build confidence in the learner that the movements of #2 come more easily than #1?  Well, that is indeed true - but don’t stop there.  Have you ever found yourself starting one task only to have your brain reroute you to another.  For instance:

  • Driving off to church, only to end up heading to work
  • Walking into a room only to forget why you are there
  • Opening the refrigerator to put away the paper towels
  • Throwing a dirty shirt into the waste basket instead of the laundry basket
We all do these things, and there are psychological explanations for all of them (Capture errors for instance), but fundamentally they result from a lack of concentration and focus.  You are running on autopilot and the signals get crossed.  

Martial arts improve concentration by having you remember complex (oh, they start off simple enough) combinations of moves that have a strong correlation with other complex combinations of moves, and force you into maintaining longer and longer periods of focus.

There is great science behind martial arts training, as well as terrific philosophical meaning.  Ask questions, think about what you are doing, and don’t stop thinking just because you found one good answer.

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