The Three Missing Fundamentals to Clear, Purposeful and Bespoke Combative Training
Part 1 – The Cross Trainer and the Information Age
The Information Age aptly describes the era of the modern mainstream martial arts cross-trainer. Unfortunately The Confusion Age is an equally fitting title. The meteoric rise of the internet has provided most in the developed world with more instant access to knowledge and data than ever before in the history of civilization. Similarly, training in multiple combative disciplines is no longer the practice of the hard-core martial arts enthusiast or the heretical renegade who is forced to travel huge distances across the country and even the world to seek out knowledge. Today not only is there an unprecedented variety of fighting arts readily available within a geographical region but we have seen the proliferation of full-time martial arts training centres, where cross-training is actively encouraged by gym owners and embraced by certain clubs that offer training in different systems by guest teachers.
There is a flawed assumption that this age of information and cross-training should lead to the enlightenment of more people. Unfortunately such wishful thinking is without reckoning on human nature. Our cognitive reasoning is beset by a range of biases that shape how we filter and view information. Our tribal instincts push us towards the comfort of others with similar biases to reinforce our views. More access to information also means more access to misinformation and disinformation. The pursuit of knowledge can easily be derailed by the propagation of falsehoods and myths, especially if there is cognitive comfort in these stories. Furthermore, the sheer volume of information – even good information – at an unprepared researcher’s fingertips can often result in learning little more on his desired subject than if he hadn’t switched onto the internet in the first place.
To muse over metaphors once again, it is unsurprising that the phrase “surfing the net” became popular during the internet’s formative commercial days. If progress in any aspect of civilisation can be seen as a steady narrow current of knowledge that often has to gradually trickle its way around and often through hard rocks of prejudice, tradition, irrational protectiveness and fear in order to become established into the main stream (forgive the pun) then using the internet can be compared to handling a tidal wave. Rather than having to handle and carefully manage the gradual, steady flow of information used to fill a gulf of ignorance, the unprepared researcher is overwhelmed by a forceful mass of data that washes over him. Struggling for breath in his effort not to be drowned in the overload of facts he becomes numb to everything. He becomes confused. He becomes prey to his own bewilderment and also to the sharks of disinformation, which thrive and swim in the sea of knowledge. In the blinding chaos that is information overload the flailing researcher may even mistake such sharks for a valid float. Here is where conspiracists, pseudoscientists, pseudohistorians, archaists and purveyors of Bullshitsu strike progressive learning down. Yet we still have the skilful surfer or rider of the waves who has a far better chance at negotiating all the information available. Such individuals are no less vulnerable than the drowning non-swimmer – surfers still drown and are eaten by sharks – but they have developed skills and therefore have more available tools at their disposal.
The directed cross-trainer is comparable to the scientifically minded researcher. He can entertain ideas without being threatened by them or absorbed by them. He does well to ride the waves of information in the direction that will not overturn and engulf him; he won’t get drawn off-course to attractive islands and forget his way and he is experienced at spotting the sharks of disinformation.[i]
Below are three fundamental areas that are often not taught to students wishing to pursue cross-training. Whilst it is commendable that instructors encourage students to seek out different disciplines and research for themselves, many get discouraged when they start becoming confused. Confusion is entirely unnecessary if we think about what constitutes cross-training. As children we study multiple subjects in our most formative years often with different teachers who have different approaches. When we play sports, we learn many different games. Most occupations can easily be broken down into several different disciplines and skillsets. We know that historical martial arts practice comprised of cross-training and comparisons might be fittingly made with today’s military. The tribal nature of martial arts has led to the creation of a structure that makes students and teachers often feel unsure and vulnerable again when they train outside their usual art. Others ride through this anxiety and even embrace other arts, sometimes completely abandoning old systems for new, but struggle to blend different skillsets.
[i] See my chapters “The By-Product Myth” and “The Calypso Effect” in my e-book “Mordred’s Victory” for in depth discussions on how martial artists often get side-tracked in their training objectives.
Part II on clarification follows next week.