Sunday, November 16, 2008

Paralysis by analysis

My last 2-3 posts seem to have struck a chord in some of my readers. We've been talking about whether or not the way we practice is congruent with our ideals or our goals.
But something to watch out for when you start thinking about whether your practice is congruent with your ideals, is what I call paralysis by analysis. It is possible to get so deeply tangled up in martial arts thought and theory that you end up literally unable to do anything. A couple of personal stories may serve to illustrate this.
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One time, my aiki-buddies and I were at a seminar and I saw one of them, a new shodan, standing on the edge of the mat, frozen, unmoving. I walked up to him and asked, "What are you doing?" "Walking kata," he said. "But you're not moving" I pointed out. "Yeah, isn't that weird?" He went on to explain that some random hi-ranking somebody had come up to him and blown his mind with some high-powered theoretical thinking about the walking kata and now he wasn't even able to take the first step in the kata without violating the principle that the high rank had expounded to him. "Hmmmm." I said, and watched him for a couple of more minutes, valiantly fighting against himself in an effort to take a step.
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Another similar instance happened when I saw a different new shodan working with a lower rank. The shodan was attacking and the lower rank was trying to execute a technique. Uke would attack and tori would take one step and the shodan would stop them, giving a bunch of explanation about the move they were trying to do. Then they would start over and make 1-2 steps into the technique and the shodan would stop them again for more correction. They continued this way for several minutes, sometimes getting 2-3 steps into the technique, sometimes barely starting the technique before stopping for more talk, but never getting to do the actual meat of the thing. I asked the shodan about what he was doing and he said they'd decided to make sure that every single movement was exactly right. Again, I said, "Hmmmm," and walked away.
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Both of these shodans have by, the way, become amazing aikidoka, but both of these cases are classic, textbook examples of paralysis by analysis.
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How about one more story: A ronin was walking and came upon a monk sitting by a stream meditating. The ronin watched the monk for a few minutes and finally asked, "Hey, what are you doing?" The monk, annoyed at the interruption, said, "Meditating," and went back to his practice. The ronin watched for a few more minutes and then asked, "Why?" The monk, even more irritated, said, "to gain enlightenment," and he returned to meditating. The ronin sat down right next to the monk, picked up a couple of fist-sized stones, and began striking them together loudly. After a few moments the monk, nearly in a rage, asked, "What are you doing?" The ronin calmly and logically replied, "Trying to make a mirror." The monk laughed. "You idiot. You can't make a mirror by knocking rocks together!"
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"Well," The ronin replied, "You can't get enlightened by sitting on your butt."
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The moral of these stories: You cannot realize an ideal without tons and tons of non-ideal practice. You have to be practising something even if it is not perfect.

3 comments:

  1. You have to be practising something even if it is not perfect.

    Well, I've got that much down. I have yet to practice anything perfectly. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice commentary Pat - definitely agreed. It can be difficult striking a balance between avoiding bad habits by correcting them, and simply trying until you get it right.

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  3. IIRC, some studies performed in hospital settings have found that bedridden patients improve their condition by watching other people practice.

    You are probably familiar with the more popular study, wherein basketball players visualized hitting free throws and thereby improved their "real-life" performance.

    Every moment your mind is moving, you are practicing something.

    ReplyDelete

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