As martial arts bloggers sometimes we want to make a case for or against something. Or from time to time we run into comments from others that set our teeth on edge. I’m starting this series to help us both in our writing and in our dealings with others.
We in the martial arts world have names for our movements. In Karate, we have oi tsuki, mae geri, etc. These movements are known and labeled so we can recognize them when we see them and communicate about them efficiently. We also know how to counter them when they’re thrown at us. Bad arguments have labels too. The fact that logical fallacies have labels means lots of other people recognize that these tactics do not build a case for one’s side of an argument. We can learn to recognize these tactics, defuse them, and hopefully not use them ourselves.
Untrained people invariably throw haymakers because they haven’t been trained in more effective ways of striking. It’s the same way with arguing. Most of the time if people use logical fallacies it’s because they simply don’t know how to construct an argument. Sometimes, though, people will try these tactics in order to get your goat. Don’t let that happen. Choose your fights wisely.
So let’s get started with a simple, very common tactic called:
When a scent dog gets to a certain level of training, he will be asked to find and follow a trail designed to test his focus. A person will walk off into the woods leaving a scent trail behind and the dog will sniff an old T-shirt and be asked to find that person. At some point while sniffing through the woods, the dog will encounter a distraction – the scent of a yummy rotten fish leading away from the scent of the person he’s supposed to find. If you know dogs, you know how exciting that is! The dog must continue to follow the scent of the person he’s supposed to find no matter how wonderful the stinky fish smells. See if you can spot the equivalent in the argument below.
Daniel: Your Sensei doesn’t teach good ethics. He encourages his students to be bullies and he threatened Mr. Miyagi.
Johnny: You don’t train in a proper dojo, so who are you to talk?
The issue here is not Daniel’s current level of training or where he trains. The real issue is the ethics taught at the Cobra Kai School of Karate D’oh! I’d say this Red Herring has a dash of ad hominem sauce (personal attack). Johnny is dodging the issue.
If you’d like to learn more, you can follow along in the book The Fallacy Detective by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn.
The first time I started karate (when I was 13) I was sore for a couple of weeks and that was that. The second time I started karate (as a middle-aged matron) I quickly found out I’d underestimated the effects of age and weight. I thought I was prepared for rigorous exercise when I first joined my daughter in karate. After all, I’d been walking the dog for a little over a year. I’d been idle for an entire summer before I’d started karate at age 13, so I reasoned that my exercise in the past year would count for a lot. It turns out the only thing walking the dog had done for me was I didn’t have a heart attack and die during my first class. I figured out later that I’d been avoiding steep slopes and favoring flat places. I should’ve been doing the opposite. Two months prior to joining the dojo I should have been stretching, doing pushups, doing situps, and attending the two other exercise classes I’ve since added. I struggled mightily for weeks to get to the point where I wasn’t gasping for breath during class. I was totally unprepared for hard work.
When I came home from that first class I was dripping with sweat and I stank so badly my dog started gagging. I still drip with sweat, but either the dog has gotten used to my stink or maybe there’s a different mix of hormones that doesn’t distress him. I’m lighter by sixteen pounds now, so that helps me move better. I may be moving better, but I’m working just as hard or harder than I did when I was carrying all that extra weight because I’m always pushing myself to do better – hence the sweat. Movement would be easier if I were content with shallow stances and sloppy technique. I know better than to slack off, and my Senseis know I know better! I come to class prepared to work hard, harder, and yes, even harder.
After about three weeks, I got to the point where I wasn’t too stiff or sore to start practicing on the other five days of the week when we don’t have class. Five whole days a week without karate. Let me tell you right now I’m not sure why we only have two days a week at the YMCA and I’m not about to throw blame or point fingers. As far as I’m concerned, it is what it is and I just have to adapt. Working hard on my karate has to come from myself. Even if the dojo were open 24/7 I’d still have to practice the things I personally need to work on.
One of the great things about practice time is my daughter and I can make as many mistakes as we like, go as slowly as we need to, and repeat things until we’ve got them down pat. My daughter and I set the agenda. If I find myself flapping around like a spastic duck in class I remind myself I can practice on my own. I’m more confident next class if I managed to improve whatever’s been bugging me. Practice gives a real boost to my attitude.
If I remember I’ve overcome a lot of things in practice time I’m more likely to cheerfully embrace new challenges in class. I will have a better attitude when my muscles burn, when I’m dripping with sweat, when I’m getting control of my breathing while craning my neck to watch Sensei patiently demonstrate the technique for the third time.
Bad attitude is easy. Burning muscles aren’t fun. Sweat itches. I feel old when I’m fighting to get control of my breathing. It’s so easy to pop up out of the stance when Sensei’s busy talking to the class about something. It’d be easier to go to the locker room and take a shower than to stay and sweat some more. Giving in to the desire to collapse and gasp for air is easier than breathing properly and eliminating muscle tension when and where it’s not needed. It’d be easier to tune Sensei out and be miserable about my discomfort than to actually learn what he’s teaching. But Karate is not about easy. It’s about moving towards positive outcomes, and that includes attitude.
A good attitude is crucial to learning and practicing karate. There’s a long list of ingredients in the recipe for a good attitude: among them is patience, positive thinking, listening ears, humility, courage… The list of ingredients goes on and on. The ingredient I like to focus on is joy. It is a fierce, wild joy that keeps me pushing my limits to see what I can do. I unleash that fierce wild joy when I perform kata. It is an elated joy when I have a “perfect moment” and I get a thumbs-up from Sensei. It is a playful joy when I’m sparring with someone who needs to learn how to spar. It’s a proud joy when that someone hits back! It’s a joy mixed with a love for the art when I learn bunkai “hands on.” It’s a joy that can’t be contained when my daughter has just beaten the snot out of me in kumite and I just have to laugh and hug her. I often (but not always) remember joy when I get frustrated or discouraged.
I confess I need to try for joy when I’m exhausted and sparring yet another round against someone better than I am! If I dig down and find the joy, maybe I could move beyond wishing class were over and merely reacting to the opponent. I’ll bet if I prepare ahead of time and practice what I can the attitude will naturally follow. I’ve overcome tough things before, so I can do it again. That said, I’m only human and there may come a day when I actually break down in the dojo (as Sensei Ando Mierzwa of Los Angeles puts it). I’ve already come close to it once, but someone came alongside to help. I’ll be writing about that next week.
So what do you do for preparation, practice, and attitude?
I take a walk every morning with my dog. I have various routes to choose from and I make my decision based on what I have going on later in the day. Often the walk involves an elevation loss of roughly 380 feet (115.8 m). Of course I have to regain that elevation to go home. Most of the time when walking uphill I can’t see very far ahead because I’m among trees or I’m walking on streets with limited sight distance. But on one of my routes the dog and I come around a bend in the road and there before us stretches a straight street up a big hill. We have to gain 200 feet (61 m) elevation in half a mile (1.6 km). This after we’ve already gained 160 feet (48.8 m) elevation in a quarter of a mile (0.4 km) to get to the road that will lead us home. Psychologically this is the hardest route because I can see every single inch we have to climb.
Sometimes when I’m watching black belts demonstrating techniques or performing kata it’s like looking up that hill. I’ve already come a little way and now I see how very far I have yet to go before I reach that level of proficiency. I know it’ll take years and years. This could be discouraging if I open the door to self doubt.
Typically I take a moment to look up the hill… OK, really my dog stops to sniff something, but we’ll pretend I’m the one who decides to pause in the walk. Like I said, I look up the hill and I acknowledge it for what it is. Then I put one foot forward (when the dog is ready, of course). Then I take the next step… You get the picture. I look up the hill from time to time to see if there are cars coming or people I should be aware of. Yes I do measure my progress occasionally. But mostly I’m looking around near where I am. I see the beautiful things people have done with their houses and yards. I watch birds. My dog often makes me laugh. Sometimes there are frustrations – the dog lunges at a squirrel and takes forever to quit barking or a car nearly runs us over where the shoulder of the road is overgrown with shrubbery. Usually the benefits of walking up the hill vastly outweigh the occasional frustrating events. It takes time, but we eventually get up that hill. I always find I’ve enjoyed the journey.
In the dojo I’ve learned to enjoy the journey. Class is always an adventure – I never know what we’re going to work on, what new insight I’m going to get, or if I’m finally going to be able to do the technique that’s been challenging me. Of course I always must work towards getting better. I have to keep taking that next step. And yes, injuries happen or sometimes I have to own up and do push ups for something. But I don’t have to be discouraged by those adversities or by how far I have yet to go. I can enjoy the discoveries along the way. I’m told there’s not really an end to the hill I’m climbing – there’s another hill I haven’t seen yet. If life circumstances and hard work get me to a black belt, I’m told there will be more hills, more discoveries – enough to keep me busy until I am not physically able to do karate anymore.
That puts fire in my heart. I can keep going through the time it takes to accomplish my goals if I remember to enjoy the journey.
Sometimes when others tell me I can do anything if I set my mind to it I come up with some unrealistic expectations. My tendency is to think I will achieve my goal instantly all by myself. Of course if I entertain that notion for any significant length of time I set myself up for disappointment. None of this is the fault of the person who is trying to build me up. Usually when someone tells me I can do anything if I set my mind to it he or she is simply encouraging me to keep on keeping on. If this comes from someone I trust I know that person isn’t saying it as a platitude. Chances are he or she is going to back it up with an offer to help.
I don’t instantly achieve anything in Karate. I’m told I never will. As I strive to move, strike, and block effectively (or as I at least try not to flap around like a spastic duck), I constantly remind myself:
Plenty of time. I’m currently trying to get my feet to land correctly during one move in a particular kata. I’m thinking in terms of weeks before I can get that movement up to tournament or promotion standards. That’s not negativity. I’m being realistic for my lowly belt rank. Once I can consistently get those feet just right, I can’t stop practicing it. I’ll have to continue practicing it otherwise I’ll have to start back at square one. Remember, I’m talking about just the feet in one movement in a kata! I have a feeling I’d better get used to spending loads of time on each new technique. Patience is a virtue.
Lots of hard work. After class my gi is so stinky and wet with sweat I often chuck it straight into the washing machine when I get home. I spend time outside class both practicing karate on my own and attending other exercise classes to build up my strength, flexibility, grace, and endurance. Karate is hard mental work too. For instance, it’s easy to get upset over the angst that a partner displayed while working in a drill. It’s a lot more work to create opportunities to encourage my fellow student and get her out of that angst. With each rank I achieve the work will get harder. I have to be ready to take on the new challenges and responsibilities once I’m promoted. It’s difficult, but it’s worth it!
Tons of help from others. Feedback helps you set realistic goals and overcome negative attitudes. You don’t have eyeballs outside your head, so it’s difficult to see what you’re doing – even with a mirror! Different perspectives will direct you to loads of things you’ve overlooked. Expert advice is precious and vital to your success. For example, three Senseis, one Sempai, and my own daughter have invested time teaching me that foot movement I mentioned above! I’ve been amazed that each of the four men and my daughter have taught me different aspects of how my feet are supposed to move in that one little part of one kata. So if that much time and input have been given to me for a foot movement that should be executed in less than a second, how much more has been invested into me during the few months that I’ve been training? A lot – and probably a lot more than I realize.
Success. Maybe once you’ve actually achieved something, success doesn’t quite look the way you pictured it before you started pursuing it. That’s OK. You’ll probably find your achievement to be even better than you imagined. But here’s a word of warning. One thing I’ve learned from belt promotions is once you’ve achieved something, it’s time to set new goals. Thus the cycle begins again.
I’ll be exploring each aspect of this “equation” in the weeks to come, and I’ll add links above as I publish the articles.
So what do you think when you hear the words, “You can do anything if you set your mind to it?”
One of my hobbies is photography. I haven’t yet found out who coined the term “the perfect moment.” Experienced photographers know when they’ve hit the shutter button at the perfect moment. It’s a sort of “knowing” that you feel deep inside the core of your self. The “perfect moment” is the instant you know every element is in place – shutter speed, aperture setting, lighting, composition, focus, and the subject – especially if the subject is in motion like Grumpy Rooster.
You hit the shutter button at the right time and there’s your next prizewinner. Miss that moment or worse yet leave your camera at home and it’s a real bummer. But is that moment really “perfect?” I can look at my top twelve images and pick apart every single one of them. I could lose confidence about my photography. Is there room for improvement in my photography? Absolutely. Are there better photographers than I? Oh yes. So for the sake of my sanity, I’ll define “perfect moment” as my personal best – far beyond my average.
Karate has its own “perfect moments.” It’s when you feel all the elements are there – timing, position, breathing, stance, target, kime… and you’ve nailed the technique or at least you’ve come as close to perfect as you can given your current level of training. It feels awesome especially if it’s something you’re doing with a training partner. For me in karate, “perfect moments” are exceedingly rare. I’m a beginner so that’s to be expected. I know all you black belts reading this are chuckling right now – remember, I’m defining “perfect moment” as “far beyond my average,” not, “grand-master standard.” In photography, I get “perfect moments” fairly frequently. What’s the difference? A little over two decades of experience versus four months of training. Frequent practice vs. writing blogs when I should be practicing (Please excuse me while I do ten pushups for that admission! Ichi… ni… san…)
Do “perfect moments” come easily to me as a photographer now that I’ve developed the technical knowledge and the instincts to capture them? Not always. Sometimes I do just happen to be at the right place at the right time and I nail it. More often than not I get cricks in my neck and back while taking about 20 or 30 frames of the same stupid daisy.
Passers-by have probably wondered about the strange lady contorting herself and muttering to her camera for fifteen minutes at a time. I have a confession: the vast majority of frames I take suck. That’s why I often spend time contorting myself to get a different perspective, constantly adjusting the camera settings and the composition of the picture for each frame. I take lots of frames. One of those frames might be worth the effort. Sucking at photography used to be expensive back in the days of film.
Imagine if you had to pay money every time you made a mistake in the dojo. That’s what had to be done with photography in the “old days” of film – you had to buy rolls of film, pay to have them developed, pay for prints, and maybe if you were lucky you might have one truly amazing photo in a roll. Digital photography has freed me to make more mistakes – therefore I am better able to work on technical stuff, to experiment with composition, and to make sure I get the most out of each subject. Now that I don’t have to deal with film I have loads more “perfect moments” because I have far fewer constraints on the art of taking pictures. Guess what – sucking has always been free in karate. Yes, you do have to pay for your class time, but even if you’re amazing, you still go to class, right? Right? The correct answer, by the way, is a resounding “Yes!” As long as you have the time to do so, you are free to make loads of mistakes, to work on technical stuff, to experiment, and to make sure you understand and explore every movement. There’s really no shortcut – it takes work, time and patience to get “perfect moments.”
I can hear the protests, “If you suck at taking pictures, there’s PhotoShop and GIMP!” I am proficient in GIMP, and I can tell you that there’s really no way to make a purse out of a sow’s ear. It’s much easier to tweak an image that is mostly good. It’s even better when I don’t have to edit at all. There is no substitute for a decent photo. Karate doesn’t have PhotoShop. Nobody’s going to wave a magic wand and make your belt turn the next color. You can’t get by with sloppy kihon, half-hearted kata, or lousy kumite. There’s no substitute for hard work and practice, for good technique, for the heart of a warrior (Buzz word! Ten more pushups for me!), and for years and years of time to develop your skills. I’m told I must get used to sucking in karate and yes, even feel good about sucking. I believe it because of my experience with photography. Still, I love those “perfect moments” and I hope to have more of them as time goes by.