Monday, October 5, 2015

Kata bunkai and confirmation bias

"In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias (or confirmatory bias) is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions, leading to statistical errors."

This is the definition of the confirmation bias according to Science Daily, and it's the biggest mistake I see in kata interpretation.

The very foundation of the scientific method is to try and prove your conclusions wrong, not to try and prove them right. According to Nassim Taleb in his book The Black Swan, you can have a thousand days of positive results and never prove yourself correct, but you only need one day of negative results to prove yourself wrong. I'm paraphrasing, but the gist is basically that it's easier to know that something is definitely wrong than definitely right.

I see people make this mistake with kata bunkai. It's the easiest thing in the world to string together movements and call them bunkai if you never actually test them. Most of the time the reason these interpretations are wrong is because people have two hands, and they usually don't wait patiently for you to apply your super technique to one arm and do nothing with the other.

The point is there might not be any "correct" bunkai, but there definitely is incorrect bunkai.

A good technique should: protect you from harm, give you better positioning, disadvantage the opponent, prevent the opponent from attacking and most favorably end the conflict. This includes escape, evasion and deescalation.

At the very least the technique should protect you from harm and give you better positioning.

So the next time you're trying to decipher some kata movements, remember that you should try and prove them wrong, not try and prove them right.