Monday, February 19, 2007

Sometimes it's hard to see

Perception is funny.
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There is a neat trick that bicycle racers play on themselves to improve their performance. When starting up a hill they focus their eyes a few inches in front of their front wheel. This way they can't see that they are on a hill so they feel at least a little better about struggling on.
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If you look at the hood of an old hoopty car, it takes on different characteristics at different distances. From a distance it looks smooth but as you get closer it looks bumpy. Focus closer still and the bumps smoothe out. Look thru a microscope and it looks bumpy again.
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Standing at the bottom of a valley you can only see a few yards but as you walk up the hill you can see progressively more and more until you can see for miles. At a height without obstructions you can even see the curve of the earth.
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Often it is hard to judge our own progress in the martial arts. John recently wrote that he didn't feel worthy of his yellow, green, or brown belt promotions at the time that he got them. Andy recently expressed frustration with his sporadic attendance and progress as well as "6 out of 10" satisfaction with his progress. Guess what guys, that cognitive dissonance doesn't really get better. Uchideshi wrote a while back about his panic when he was told he was ready for shodan test, which he subsequently excelled at.
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A few weeks ago the head of our organization called me up and informed me that I was under-ranked. Just when I was getting used to being one rank, it's time for the next. Do I feel like I deserve it? I don't know. Do I think I'm as good as most folks that rank? Probably not. Do I get to tell the head man that he's wrong in his evaluation of my rank? Nope.
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Anyway, my point is, individuals tend to become so absorbed in the daily logistics of practicing their lives (and their arts) that they not only don't have perspective but they don't realize that they don't have perspective.
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Martial arts rank is a funny thing because on average it takes progressively longer to get each successive rank. So, when you get shodan all of a sudden you start comparing yourself to all shodans, many of whom have been shodan for a while. When you get godan you are forced to compare yourself with other godans, many of whom have been godan for YEARS. This is made worse by the colored belt scheme. When you get shodan you get a new black belt and all of a sudden you have to compare yourself to everyone who wears a black belt. In some systems that is everyone up through 5th dan and in other systems that's all yudansha!
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So it is bogus to compare yourself to the "average" person of your new rank (or belt color). That's a recipe for failure and depression. What you have to do is compare yourself to some objective minimal standard that has been set by someone or some group that has enough distance and height to have perspective.
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For some more interesting reading and perspective on the subject, check out:

6 comments:

  1. Plus, the fact is that people are better at some things than others. One would like to think that the dans would be equally good at all things, but you know it isn't true.

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  2. It's funny you posted this today Pat, I was just writing about something similar to put in my blog when I got back. I was actually going to say I felt like I was a sankyu this weekend. While me and Andy went over a few things in the dojo before you got there Friday, I realized I could do all the moves required of my rank and that was enough. Too bad I didn't feel that way when I got it all those months ago, but hey maybe you'll feel like a 5th degree if you give it another year...or after they promote you to a candy-stripe :)

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  3. Exactly right, grasshopper ;-)

    It's an instance of the Peter Principle: "Every man is eventually promoted to his own level of incompetence." Just when you begin to feel competent in your current position they advance you to a new position in which you feel incompetent.

    The pessimistic view on this is that when you die or retire you are virtually guaranteed to be in a position of incompetence. The optimistic view is that you are provided a stimulus to growth prior to stagnating.

    Sorry to scoop you on your blog ;-)

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  4. So you're saying now that I'm happy being Sankyu you're going to promote me so I feel like I have to strive hard to feel comfortable where I am again?

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  5. No one ever thinks they did well on their tests. That's because they're being tested on techniques for their level - not the perfect example of that technique.

    I think the best one can do is just keep working to improve and enjoy the moment.

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  6. Yep, John. No resting on your laurels for you. You're too good to be a sankyu. And Bryce is far too good to be a shodan...

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