Category Archives: Martial Arts

“Monofocus” in Martial Arts

We have all met them: those individuals who have such a singular focus and dedication that they devote the entirety of their working lives to the development of a particular skill (or set of skills), and hence attain a rare and astonishing level of refinement of that one thing.

My suggestion: learn from them, as much as you can from as many as you can, but try to avoid becoming one.

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Posted by on February 17, 2017 in Learning, Martial Arts


Drawbacks Of The Old School

The old style of martial arts training originated in a world where cutthroat competition and secrecy were the norm, but today we live in a world of cooperation and abundance. The old style of teaching is fading away because it simply isn’t the most efficient mechanism for the transfer of knowledge in an open world. These are its main drawbacks:

It emphasizes domination over empowerment. A teacher isn’t worthy of your respect unless he proves that he can beat you up, ideally by direct demonstration. The effect of this is to create a culture of obedience and submission, and a pervasive element of fear. It also creates a prohibitive barrier to entry for teaching, which in turn impedes learning. Unless you can beat someone up, you’d better keep your mouth shut, whether or not you might know something that can help them, and unless you are sure you can beat everyone up, you’d better not even try to be a teacher yourself. The alternative is a culture of empowerment, where teachers are respected first and foremost for their ability to help students feel good about themselves and their efforts and accelerate their learning process.

It emphasizes competition over cooperation. You’d better keep your best tricks secret, to maintain your advantage, because prestige is based on relative ranking rather than individual progress. You’d also better not do anything that might help anyone else learn more quickly, for the same reason. Respect is earned by dominating people rather than by helping them. The alternative is a culture of cooperation, where teaching and learning happen together as an integrated process, where your fellow students are your extended family, and the better off any of us is the better off we all are.

It emphasizes skepticism over curiosity. Since you have exclusive access to the one true style, anything that is different must be inferior, and any change in the art must diminish it. The alternative is a culture of curiosity, where all martial artists constantly strive to learn from each other, to develop a versatile skill set, and where the default response to any new approach is “show me how” instead of “prove it”.

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Posted by on September 21, 2013 in Martial Arts


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Martial Arts Are Open Source

All martial arts are human inventions, they are not products of divine revelation. They are developed by people through a process of experimentation, observation, and discovery, which is the same process that every student goes through to learn them. They are evolving constantly through adaptation and innovation, which is how they grow, spread, and differentiate.

Why are there so many different styles of martial arts? Because they are being created all of the time. Where do martial arts styles get their names? Sometimes they have descriptive names. Quite often they have family names – the family name of the person who developed and promoted them. Older does not mean better; neither, for that matter, does newer. All martial arts are both old and new. When you are learning a martial art, you are learning your teacher’s version of it, which is necessarily new, but your teacher’s version can only be a recombination and unique expression of principles that are ageless and timeless.

There is no such thing as a “pure” martial art, other than in a strictly relative sense. The oldest martial arts, like the dinosaurs, are fossilized in the mists of time, and only live on through their descendants. Every martial art is a derivation and distillation. They necessarily evolve as they are passed on, and no martial art exists in its original form.

Like open source software, martial arts are editable by anyone, at any time. There is no “best” one, but there is a variety of applications designed to meet a variety of needs, and they do vary in quality and usability. The question to ask about any school, teacher, or style is not “is this teaching pure/authentic/correct”, but rather “does this work for me”. Universal principles cannot be made proprietary. A good teacher will provide you with the source code, not a write-protected GUI.


Posted by on September 14, 2013 in Martial Arts


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