Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Silent Evidence and the effectiveness of martial arts

I've been listening to Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan, and in it he brings up some very interesting points about how we perceive evidence and our world. The book itself is about events that have far reaching implications and effects and how we can't predict them, but since I'm a martial arts and more specifically a karate nut, I see karate in everything.

One idea is that of silent evidence. I'll try and paraphrase the example given in the book. In the book a philosopher is shown tablets bearing the portraits of those that prayed to be saved from a shipwreck and lived. This is given as evidence that praying will save you from death by shipwreck. The philosopher asks "Where are the portraits of those that prayed and drowned?" So the idea is that the refuting evidence isn't around anymore to speak for itself.

Before I get into how this relates to the martial arts, I'm going to define what I mean as effective. When I say effective, I do not mean a martial art's effectiveness for fighting duels or the sporting arena. It can obviously be used for fighting with the effectiveness at about 50 percent. In a UFC bout, both participants are basically martial artists and there is one winner and one loser, so 50 percent, or a 100 percent success rate depending on how you look at it. I'm talking about effectiveness for self defense. This means keeping yourself safe from harm, or not dying.

Now you can almost always find evidence that (insert martial art) is good for self defense because Joe Martial Artist survived a violent mugging by using his super kung fu technique. I recently heard one of these stories except it was a street fight not a mugging, but it could have turned out really bad. You can find articles fitting this theme taped to most dojo walls. But, the idea of silent evidence tells us that the instances where Joe Martial Artist pulls out his super kung fu technique and gets stabbed to death will merely show up in the crime roll of our local newspaper as Joe Smith stabbed to death in robbery.

This means that we might never know whether any specific martial art, or martial arts in general, are effective or useful in a self defense situation.

This seems rather doom and gloom as if I'm bashing all martial arts. Well I am and I'm not at the same time. I feel that we should base the effectiveness of martial arts in the same way that we base the effectiveness of firearms. Mainly physics, and anatomy and physiology.

We know that a bullet has the capacity to kill someone especially if they are shot in the right place. The brain or heart. The kinetic energy of the bullet give it the power to damage. Martial arts should be viewed in the same way and just as seriously. With the correct movement a technique will generate the most physical force, or the force required, to damage anatomical weak points of the body or inhibit physiology. We can say with certainty that this has a very good probability of happening. What needs to be thought of as a gamble is the application of these techniques. We must therefore ruthlessly pursue those techniques that give us the best opportunity for minimal effort.

Martial arts for self defense should be viewed as a hedge against a bet that someone forces upon us.

Personally I think karate has an advantage in this regard because of the ambiguity of kata. It means we can do away with interpretations we find to be less optimal and adopt interpretations that are more optimal as we practice without changing the patterns of movement. Then all we have to do is retrain our frame of reference instead of retraining the movement patterns themselves. This allows for evolution, growth and creativity.