On one of the first courses we had with Steve Morris, he opened proceedings with a dialogue, part of which stated that there were no absolutes. The thrust of the argument was that as Martial Artists we should be striving to evolve and progress, continuously checking and re-evaluating our understanding and performance of our physical and psychological abilities.
I found this approach refreshing and unusual. Being used to ‘traditional karate’ where often students are corrected on form to the nth degree, there are absolutes galore. For example, the insistence on movement in stance holds rigid rules about form which absolutely have to be obeyed. Or something as daft as the Crane stance in the final fight scene in Karate Kid. This, ‘no absolutes’ thing reminded me of something puzzling during my time at university.
As part of my undergrad research methods course, we were told that any theory has to be disprovable. You think about a problem, come up with potential solutions, test these and form a theory to explain it. Great! But then you have to go and disprove it.
The whole premise seemed very strange to me. Isn’t it pretty counterproductive to create a theory which has to be disprovable? Surely we are searching for the truth? By disprovable the lecturer explained that the theory must be testable, experimentally! Ah that’s a little more understandable. The theory must be testable, unlike Freud’s ideas which are difficult to test to say the least.
The lecturer then went into detail concerning the design of experiments (tests) for hypotheses (questions) and statistical procedures based on these designs. Great, it all started to fit into place, other than the rather odd ‘disprovable’ thing. But over time it became clear, science is a beautiful evolving beast, it morphs over time as theories come and go due to the development of better, empirically tested explanations. That is, as scientific study proves a theoretical explanation of some phenomenon a previous sub-optimal theory is replaced.
Scientific literature rarely, if ever, talks in absolutes. Statements tend to suggest, propose, imply or evoke; claims of unequivocal evidence are few and far between. This is partly due to methods of testing experimental evidence with statistics. Some people say that stats can be twisted to say what you want them to say. But stats do not deal with absolutes either.
Statistical procedures are developed by mathematicians and rely on probability of the reliability of an effect rather than a chance finding. That is an effect, such as kick a delivers greater force than kick b, has a probability ‘score’ of between 0 and 1. For the effect to be acceptable, statistically significant in scientific terms, this score must be less than .05, i.e. it must have less than a 5% probability it appeared due to chance. In broad terms what this is what scientists base their findings on.
In anyone’s book this approach does not deal in absolutes, as 5% equates to 1 in 20, so it follows that science does not deal in absolutes. Thus if as Martial Artists we evolve by continual re-evaluation and testing we are taking a scientific approach to our training. Not all Martial Artists, or scientists for that matter, actually take this approach. After all it would be difficult to accept that your life’s work is flawed, perhaps seriously, whether as a scientist or martial artist. Therefore, a progressive approach to martial arts training is scientific.
It occurred to me how motivating it must be to be continually progressive, continually re-evaluating and striving to evolve? Taking the ‘rule book’ dissecting it, tearing it up then starting over, not once, or twice but continually, both physically and psychologically. Often people talk about going beyond the comfort zone, or thinking out of the box. More often this is merely given lip service. After all the comfort zone is, well, comfortable. But if we base our reality on there being no absolutes there can be no comfort zone, there can be no box to ‘escape’ from we simply work at improving everything through testing. As long as the testing procedure is valid we’re onto something.
The simple statement “there are no absolutes” sets us free. Free to experiment and progress. Free from limits. Free from the idea that technique a is THE way to punch, technique b is THE way to get power, technique c is THE way to avoid attack d. Yeah, there are no absolutes.