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  1. DAYoung is offline
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    Posted On:
    2/13/2011 4:47am

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    What is Martial Value?

    This is a discussion of ‘martial value’. I'm posting it in YMAS because it's a work-in-progress, not a fully-fledged concept. It'd be nice to have a short explanation in the 'Standards' forum, but I'm not at that point yet.

    First, a little background. The concept was developed at the 2010 ‘Philosophy and the Martial Arts’ conference, which I co-hosted at the University of Melbourne. One of the common debates in martial arts is ‘Is X a martial art?’, where ‘X’ is usually something like Tai Chi, wushu, Capoeira.

    Their defenders will sometimes point to the lineage, tradition, beauty, athleticism, or health. All important, but are they relevant? Not really.

    And even when the credentials of the arts are obviously dubious, there are often counter-examples. San Shou competitions often include Tai Chi fighters. Jackie Chan did wushu, and won street-fights. Silva did Capoeira. The debates get bogged down in examples and counter-examples, which rarely answer the question. We end up with something like this: Sometimes Tai Chi is a martial art, sometimes it isn’t. Is this helpful? Not really.

    I think the question itself can be a distraction. And I realised, at this conference, that it reminded me of a question in aesthetics: Is X art? The defenders of art will often say that it’s historical worthwhile, expensive, educationally useful, and so on. But does this make it art? In the same way, some things are art in a gallery, but not in ordinary life – like Duchamp’s urinal, for example. The game of examples and counter-examples goes on forever, and rarely helps us judge whether something is valuable. It’s an interesting question, but often it’s unhelpful.

    One of the ways to sidestep it is this: Don’t ask ‘Is X art?’, ask ‘How is X valuable?’ More specifically, what is its aesthetic value? This is the value of a work, insofar as it offers something to aesthetic experience (which I’ve defined at length elsewhere). This allows us to identify what artworks do best, and to distinguish this from things they also do. We can recognise that a painting has very high historical and economic value – it’s old and expensive. But it might have very low aesthetic value – that is, it offers little to aesthetic experience. So we don’t need to put the works into a grand ontological category, we can judge them on a case by case basis.

    I think ‘martial value’ is similarly helpful in martial arts. We don’t need to include or exclude arts into a grand category of ‘martial arts’. We can simply ask: ‘What is its martial value’? If someone replies, ‘Well, it helps me understand Japan,’ we can say: ‘That’s its cultural value. I’m talking about martial value.’ Likewise for history, fitness, and so on.

    To do this, we need a robust idea of what martial value is. First, the martial arts are crafts. They’re forms of embodied knowledge, which can be systematised and taught. As in medicine, science informs this knowledge, but it is not a science itself. And as a craft, it has predetermined outcomes: the incapacitation of the resisting opponent.

    Now, note that the methods of the incapacitation are not determined. There are various treatments for some diseases. There are various ways to break an opponent’s arm, knock him out. The important thing is incapacitation, rather than being incapacitated. Also note that this doesn’t specify the degree of the incapacitation: it might be a lock, it might be unconsciousness, it might be death. The chief point is incapacitation somehow, which is another way of saying ‘in control’ in such and such circumstances.

    Which introduces the circumstances. The martial value of an art is circumstance-dependent. So we can’t just say ‘The art of hydrogen bombs has the most martial value.’ They are good with multiple opponents. And they leave valuable military and industrial assets intact. But they’re literally overkill. They’re useless for the many kinds of unarmed combat that occur daily. The same is true for firearms and knives. Yes, they increase our chances of incapacitating an opponent. But they can also increase our chances of dying, or ending up in jail. Here martial value conflicts with other kinds of value, e.g. moral, political, familial.

    By being more specific about circumstances, we can narrow the focus a little. When we talk about martial arts, we chiefly mean hand-to-hand combat with one or more resisting opponents. Then the question is: ‘What is the value of this art for incapacitating one or more resisting opponents in hand-to-hand combat?’

    Because martial arts are crafts, they have specific outcomes, and they’re systematic and teachable. And because of this, they can be tested. So asking about any art’s martial value is also asking: ‘How is this art tested?’ If an art claims to be valuable for incapacitating one or more resisting opponents in hand-to-hand combat, we can ask: ‘Can you test this for us?’

    If an art does not or cannot test its claims, this does not necessarily mean some of its techniques cannot incapacitate. Aikido’s locks and throws are sometimes identical to those in Judo, for example. The only difference is this: Aikido does not test its techniques properly, against resisting opponents. If Aikido teachers regularly did this, they’d be better able to assess their contribution to their style’s martial value. Those with unhelpful contributions would be discarded, as they were in Judo a century ago.

    This idea of martial value does not tell us anything new. It’s simply a clarifying concept, which helps us discuss martial arts. Instead of becoming bogged down in debates about the nature of martial arts, we can talk about their value. If someone doing Tai Chi wants to call it a martial art, this is fine. We simply have to look at how they train, and ask them to show us how they test their techniques. If they fail to test their techniques, or their techniques fail to incapacitate resisting opponents, then we can reply with something like 'You've demonstrated no martial value' or ‘Your Tai Chi has very little martial value, but plenty of historical, aesthetic and medicinal value.’

    This also allows us to rank arts. We can acknowledge that point-fighting Shotokan has some martial value (see this thread), and more aesthetic value, while MMA has a great deal more martial value. This is helpful because it recognises that arts can change: their martial value is small now, but can be increased.

    That’s all for now. Let me know what you think.

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    Last edited by DAYoung; 2/13/2011 4:52am at .
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  2. CrackFox is offline
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    Posted On:
    2/13/2011 5:35am

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    OK, sorry if I'm rehashing stuff you've already covered, but these are my thoughts.

    I think the problem with asking is X a martial art is that the type of people who ask that question are the type of people can't grasp that, a) martial art is a vague and ill defined term, and that b) this doesn't matter, very few things are well defined.

    Anyway, on to the subject of judging martial value - why are you distinguishing that these are martial arts at all, and that they somehow need to be judged differently than anything else? Why not just say this group, that engage in this activity make these claims about the activity, and then evaluate those specific claims.
  3. DAYoung is offline
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    Posted On:
    2/13/2011 6:13am

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    Quote Originally Posted by CrackFox View Post
    OK, sorry if I'm rehashing stuff you've already covered, but these are my thoughts.

    I think the problem with asking is X a martial art is that the type of people who ask that question are the type of people can't grasp that, a) martial art is a vague and ill defined term, and that b) this doesn't matter, very few things are well defined.

    Anyway, on to the subject of judging martial value - why are you distinguishing that these are martial arts at all, and that they somehow need to be judged differently than anything else? Why not just say this group, that engage in this activity make these claims about the activity, and then evaluate those specific claims.
    It helps to distinguish various kinds of value. In this way you can say of this group, well you're doing well at X and Y, but not at Z. If you are claiming Z, then you need to pull up your socks.
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  4. CrackFox is offline
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    Posted On:
    2/13/2011 6:24am

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    Quote Originally Posted by DAYoung View Post
    It helps to distinguish various kinds of value. In this way you can say of this group, well you're doing well at X and Y, but not at Z. If you are claiming Z, then you need to pull up your socks.
    So you're looking for a set of reasonably concrete metrics that can be used to compare various styles?

    If that's the case then I would think you need a statistical data to do that, otherwise you're just going to get people trying to argue around any evaluation you make. Problem is, outside of the sports styles there are no stats.
  5. Squerlli is offline
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    Posted On:
    2/13/2011 6:30am

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    Maybe I'm over simplifying here but I always believed that:

    1) MARTIAL value is based on how the martial art deals with each range (outside, clinching, ground). The way you determine that is with common sense and science. When marital art X is used or technique Y is used how effective is it? Does it usually work? How often does it work? Under what specific conditions has it been tested in? And etc...

    2) External value such as improving your health or athleticism without teaching you how to fight effectively makes it more aerobics then it does a martial art. A lot of people (men especially) seem to cling on to this concept of "since I train (insert martial art) then I'm a martial artist/fighter/whatever...". That's not necessarily true and it seems to be the major reason for why people are getting sand in their vagina about this specific topic.

    Did I miss anything?
  6. DAYoung is offline
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    Posted On:
    2/13/2011 6:33am

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    Quote Originally Posted by CrackFox View Post
    So you're looking for a set of reasonably concrete metrics that can be used to compare various styles?

    If that's the case then I would think you need a statistical data to do that, otherwise you're just going to get people trying to argue around any evaluation you make. Problem is, outside of the sports styles there are no stats.
    I don't think it has to be a metric, although this would certainly be useful. As I said, it's more a conceptual tool to avoid fruitless debates, and focus on what's important. It shifts the debate from ontological talk to discussion of domain-specific value. And this value is gauged through outcomes. If you want to claim martial value, you have to provide some kind of tangible evidence of this.
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  7. DAYoung is offline
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    Posted On:
    2/13/2011 6:36am

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    Quote Originally Posted by Squerlli View Post
    Maybe I'm over simplifying here but I always believed that:

    1) MARTIAL value is based on how the martial art deals with each range (outside, clinching, ground). The way you determine that is with common sense and science. When marital art X is used or technique Y is used how effective is it? Does it usually work? How often does it work? Under what specific conditions has it been tested in? And etc...

    2) External value such as improving your health or athleticism without teaching you how to fight effectively makes it more aerobics then it does a martial art. A lot of people (men especially) seem to cling on to this concept of "since I train (insert martial art) then I'm a martial artist/fighter/whatever...". That's not necessarily true and it seems to be the major reason for why people are getting sand in their vagina about this specific topic.

    Did I miss anything?
    The concept of value allows us to join these two areas into one conceptual scheme. We can say: "Yes, those are valuable things. They're good things. But they're not martially valuable. Because martial value is..."

    This avoids putting folks offside by claiming they're not really practicing a martial art. The onus is then on them to show how the art is martially valuable, alongside its other worthwhile qualities.
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  8. CrackFox is offline
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    Posted On:
    2/13/2011 6:45am

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    Quote Originally Posted by DAYoung View Post
    I don't think it has to be a metric, although this would certainly be useful.
    It's sounds like you want to narrow down the parameters you're evaluationg and at least put a measure of it being good or bad, that sounds like a metric to me.

    As I said, it's more a conceptual tool to avoid fruitless debates, and focus on what's important. It shifts the debate from ontological talk to discussion of domain-specific value.
    Ha ha, I was thinking of mentioning ontology, but thought I'd better not go there. This is probably off topic, but do you think there would be benefit of a properly researched martial arts ontology? (Information science style) I did up a judo one a while ago for shits'n'giggles, I guess it would be interesting to see what would happen if I tried to expand it.
  9. DayOfTheJackass is offline

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    Posted On:
    2/13/2011 9:07am


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    I wish I had of made that conference, and good luck with this def
  10. DCS is online now
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    Posted On:
    2/13/2011 9:12am

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    Suscribing.

    BTW, arts don't make claims. People do.
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