Critical thinking is woefully absent from the martial arts world. Martial arts subculture is largely based on a simple principle of following a teacher without question. Likewise, the system or style is considered to be sacred. Nevertheless, critical thinking has played a huge role in the development of virtually all martial arts. Every system or style has its root in one teacher’s critique. All the great founders were sceptics to some degree. However, they were also human and prone to seeing everything from their perspective. As time moved on they became surrounded by sycophants and further entrenched in believing their way was the only true way. Martial artists have done a great job of bringing scientific concepts into the refinement and progression of their systems, but few have fully embraced the scientific method as a whole.
The martial arts cross-trainer needs to apply critical thinking on his journey. This can make the quest quite lonely as our natural instinct is to try to find a tribe. Martial artists who switch styles will typically regard their new style like a new relationship and convince themselves that everything about the new class is better than the last one. On the other side of the coin a good number of martial artists will spend their time cross-training telling everyone about the greatness of their base art. Rather doing their best to completely absorb new material they will preach to their unfortunate training partner about what they do and why they do something in the main system they train. The critical thinker needs to be wary of both these temptations. He engages with the material and then later properly questions it with a rational and logical mind. Through this process the individual cross-trainer should understand that there is no certainty that anything will work, but he will also start accumulating a list of the most probable options.
Due to the tribal nature of martial arts and the lack of overall transparent regulation, irrational thinking has touched virtually every system of combat in some way or other. Pre-scientific ideas have persisted to be a part of many martial arts systems. Sometimes they remain as part of an appeal to tradition argument within the various schools wishing to continue a lineage. However, many modern systems don’t need such an excuse to buy into all sorts of quackery and unproven pseudoscientific concepts. Likewise, philosophical and religious concepts have been forcefully melded with the practice of martial arts and absorbed as absolutes. This dogma takes many different forms and appeals to novelty are just as responsible as appeals to tradition for their continued propagation. Cults of personality have also arisen where followers support the belief that their leader can never be wrong. The martial arts cross-trainer needs to be able to recognise these factors both in others and in themselves.
However, there is at least one caveat the eager sceptic or critical thinker must take on board before he questions everything: be wary of pseudoscepticism. The pseudosceptic denies rather than doubts. He is more of a cynic than a sceptic or is keen to cast scorn over anything outside of his own narrow view. They mask their confirmation bias with scientific sounding language, but fail to adopt the scientific method. They might apply a double standard by applying keen scepticism to one concept and yet not to his preferred choice. However, on the other hand, he might attempt to bolster his argument by attempting to drag down a view accepted by mainstream science as an equal opinion. Reasoned and informed questioning should be a regular part of healthy learning.
Scepticism allows the martial arts cross-trainer to truly free their mind and to resist certainty whilst allowing logical methods – such as Occam’s Razor and the Scientific Method – to lead them to the most effective solutions.