Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Here Be Dragons

We are in an era of 'Reality Based' martial arts, a necessary reaction perhaps to the fantasy version prevalent for so long - All those neat outfits, mysterious wise men, unbelievable feats, and unassuming, virtuous heroes with magical skills and mythic weapons .....
Romantic, exciting ... and ... fiction.

Now, however we are all about 'reality' ... right alongside the endless debate about what 'the real deal' actually is, and who it is that has it.

You would have thought that a good dose of reality would be a breath of fresh air after all that fantasy. That it would imbue confidence in people ...... real skills, real martial arts, real world application .... useful, pragmatic, realistic ....

But here's the trap - there is no absolute reality.

All knowledge is by it's nature limited. In the case of martial arts, this limit is set mostly by the person who experienced it as real.
Something they experienced may be absolutely, unarguably true in a certain situation ... but change the circumstances, the environment, the time, the people involved, and throw in luck ... and perhaps the truth is not so absolute anymore ...
Add personalities and psychologies to a situation and absolute truths becomes even more furry, and if reality is subjective ... where does that leave truth and certainty?
If you think about it, really, all we have ever had are probabilities, not certainties .... and that knowledge can be an unsettling thing.

So, if truth/reality is limited by experience, I would suggest that EVERYTHING outside our personal experience is, to a greater or lesser extent, a fiction from our point of view.
Fiction contains our imagination, and the experiences and imaginations of others ... all the way out into a larger space which we have not imagined yet, so large that we can never even be sure where the boundaries are. And that's where everything 'we don't know what we don't know' lives.
We can embrace this fiction, this unknown, or 'yet-to-be-true' space, either as a giant, exciting, playground to be explored, or a scary place to be avoided, even within the mind.

Truth and fiction are NOT separate before we ACTUALLY experience them ..... all we have is trust (of others/teachers) and probability (corroboration/evidence).
Those seeking certainty and answers will have little luck finding them through others' truths, if they too are relative and limited.
And if they became interested in martial arts in search of answers .. well I don't see this new found 'reality' as being much more helpful to their general well being than the fantasy crapola that's out there. Because it's the fear of the unknown that we are trying to calm .... and very very few reality or fantasy training methods address this at all. Both lean towards promoting certainty, and that seems to be a bad thing, as all certainty is fantasy in another context.

As far as martial arts are concerned, I would propose that along with physical skillsets, learning how to be comfortable with uncertainty, and learning skills that make us physically and mentally adaptable and agile, alongside learning how to really SEE our environment and those that inhabit it, would be far better goal than merely being possessors of a box of someone else's solutions to someone else's problems.

To be comfortable with the unknown is to make peace with the fact that all cannot be known, not everything can be predicted, and not everything is safe (though thankfully nature at least seems impartial).
Of course there are laws of physics, and some noticeable patterns both in the larger universe, and in the human condition, and happily, as we are part of this universe and it's mystery, not separate from it we can infer much.

Fixate too much on finding 'reality' however, and it too will become corrupted, as fiction has been, into meaninglessness. My worry is that this earnest new search will become a neurosis, narrow and downward looking, rejecting creativity, exploration, and critical thinking.
The inspiration will be gone, the urge to explore too, and perhaps the fear of what we don't know we don't know will drive us to put our faith even more in others, to seek even greater insularity and separation from life as it is ....

Confidence and balance come from looking into the void and admitting that we have no certainty what's going to happen next ..... and being OK with that.

It's worth remembering of course, that chance also favors the prepared mind ...


Mike Panian said...

Coming full circle, the relativism that you are speaking of is why important concepts have often been transmitted through the use of allegory or even fairy stories. Some truths can be alluded to, mentioned in passing, talked about but not directly described.
So we come up with ways of communicating really important things and most of them are allegorical...designed to elicit a similar albeit surrogate experience in the reader while admitting that you simply cannot describe the experience adequately. It's a zen thing is it not?
You can talk about certain experiences and give people some riddle or poem or story or name that allows them to explore and to discover something that just might be what the writer experienced. Something that prompts ..."So that's what the writer was getting at" or "Now I get it."
Perhaps it's a moot point exactly how similar the understandings are or not as long as it relates or furthers understanding.

Maija said...

Ah my friend, I believe you are right. Fiction used for good was definitely at the back of my mind when I wrote this. Thanks for finding it between the lines :-)

Jake said...

Nice. I have a whole piece I keep meaning to write on the story of martial arts...I gotta get on that.

At the BTS camp over the weekend, Zach Even-Esh spoke of the importance of getting comfortable being uncomfortable. He was talking about S&C, but the idea applies...

Unknown said...

Very, very nice work Maija