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The Scientific Method, Part I
Watch out! I know Trigonometry!
Okay that was a pretty stupid joke. But perhaps its best to start what could potentially be a very boring article with something light hearted.
The above is a pretty accurate example of how people are tricked into thinking a martial art is effective because it is scientific. I was certainly pretty convinced when I was training in the old _ing _un that it was, but I'd made an amateurs mistake.
You see, because the scientific method is a method of analysis, its possible to analyse pretty much anything in a scientific way. What I had confused was that effectiveness is not related to analysis - somethings not really good just because you can describe it scientifically.
You can have two people throw a ball, one person being a pro baseball pitcher, and the other being an unco-ordinated child, and you can perform two equally 'scientific' descriptions of the motion. You can go into the various accelerations, changing centres of mass, elasticity of the muscles, the projectile motion, its jam packed with scientific goodness, but it doesn't really possess the qualitive "who threw the ball better".
I'm a pretty big nerd, and I'm studying to be a scientist (sort of), so to me, approaching the martial arts this way was a very natural thing to do - and eventually, it led me away from _ing _un, because I realized that for a supposed 'scientific martial art' (and you should really laugh when you see that phrase), my teachers didn't really have a clue what science was all about.
Science is a tool to attack the unknown.
It can help you to refine your technique (say someone learns about leverage and a fulcrum to better apply in their grappling) but the science in and of itself does not make an old technique better just because it is described scientifically. The application of the knowledge and corresponding adjustments made to techniques, tampered by experience are what make you a better martial artist. Science is a living, breathing, adaptive set of concepts. Yes there are universal truths, however they produce difference results under different sets of cirumstances.
Heck, a lot of people don't know or don't need to know any of this stuff anyway, they will get better by sheer repetition and trial and error. In fact, you won't get better without repetition and trail and error.
The justification for a stupid looking move should not be 'scientific' or based on some twisted logic of fighting ('always attack down the centreline'), rather the justification should be qualitative. Use this technique, because it works in fighting. Not because it 'generates the most force' or 'can cover an attack from any angle' - but because it is reliable.
This in my opinion was a problem with the training offered by my _ing _un school. Lots of focus on the philosophical logical 'scientific' fighting style - attacking along the centreline, taking the shorter path to the target, standing in a contorted stance to 'generate a lot of force' etc. but the problem was this scientific analysis lacked the qualitative question mark of - does this work? Is it really reliable? Is it good? Are other methods effective? etc.
And it was all analysed in a kind of seperate dimension where you didn't have an opponent, or where you're opponent would be instantly losing after the first zombie lunge punch (and while you blaze away with chain punches uninhibited).
Students were offered a pre packaged system of logic rather than being given analytical tools to test and refine techniques.
As an example of how bad I eventually discovered the understanding of my instructors was - the older instructors really believed that if you had the correct stance, you would not experience a reactionary force when blocking/punching your opponent. If you have any scientific education, you should know this is a gross distortion of reality and is basically really really wrong. So in the end, they didn't really have a scientific understanding of their own martial art, they had a pseudoscientific understanding.
Here's a little picture of the scientific method.
With martial arts, there is a constant trade off of techniques between choosing what is best and what is appropriate. It might generate more force to kick someone, but if they are close in or it exposes your body in some fashion then it might not be appropriate. Similiarly, it might make more 'scientific' sense to keep your shoulder and forearms in a certain posture to generate striking power, but if you don't compromise and cover your chin you might get knocked out.
There is a science of technique and a science of fighting, and the two have been miscommunicated to the students.
I think the problem with bullshidokas is that they possess information, but what they don't have is method. A large component of science is not just searching and trying to uncover new truths, but also sharing the evidence and conclusions with others. This is called peer review. They have an idea about how something should work, but it is never tested, and certainly not in a proceedural, structured learning environment. This is often made worse by the paranoid "self defense" and "competition is just a sport" mentality in my opinion. No pressure testing or competition is done because its 'not real' and students don't form any database of personal experience about which techniques worked and which didn't, which were reliable and which were chance one off moves etc.
Having others prove your results is important too (even if that involves them being defeated by you, they don't neccessarily have to be able to repeat your own performance).
Repeatablility, testing, collecting results and peer review are all important elements of the scientific process. And we should call bullshido on people who don't do it.
Anyway, thats my rant for the moment.