One of my students likes to torment me by Googling my name and sending me links to what people write about me. I’ve learned to fear his research (he pays for it during our training sessions…) and often click away after 2 seconds because there’s only so much I can endure. Every now and then, I reply to people but over the years this has become very rare. Simply because those discussions all too often end up as shouting matches.
The latest link he sent was of a forum discussing one of my blog posts. As usual, I was impressed by how people seem to read into my words something other than what I wrote or put words into my mouth that I never spoke and then argue about it amongst themselves (straw man anyone?) Disagreement is fine, even more, it’s necessary for any real growth to occur. But all too often, egos get in the way and the flame wars get started. That’s why I have pretty much stopped participating in forums, barring a few exceptions.
I’ve written about this ad nauseam but for clarity’s sake, I’ll repeat it here: Nothing I write is gospel. This is all just my opinion and it may or may not be valid for whatever circumstances you live in. I’m just a guy, like you, with his own set of faults and virtues. If you find a use for what I write, awesome. If not, that’s OK too. Let me add some more points to that:
- I could be wrong. I frequently am (ask my girlfriend…) and it’s no big deal. I’m not married to my opinions; they change all the time. The only thing I try to commit to is a standard of reasoning as to how I reach my opinions. I try to make sense whenever I can. Doesn’t mean I’m right about anything though…
- My books and videos don’t mean anything. Anybody can write a book or make a video; who cares? Being published doesn’t prove anything. I know tons of people who are hell on wheels to fight, but they never published anything. I’d put a small fortune on those same people if they were to go up against some of the biggest names in the self-defense industry. And vice versa: some authors aren’t all that impressive in their writing or on the screen. But I’ve met them and trained with them, I know how incredibly effective they are.
So all in all, I’m just a guy who shares his opinions on certain topics. I’ve been fortunate that a bunch of people seem to find them helpful and that keeps me going, but as I explained in my post about internet experts, popularity doesn’t mean anything either. So I say again, who cares?
If anything I write doesn’t make sense for you, then by all means just move on. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with somebody. However, I believe there is something wrong if the discussion turns to name-calling and rhetorical tricks to “win”. When I see that stuff happening, I pick up my marbles and go play elsewhere. I’ve been on the internet for well over 20 years now and have seen all kinds of flame wars: I’m done with those.
If you want to have a meaningful discussion, I believe it takes a level of maturity and self-monitoring to get anywhere. I always liked this hierarchy of discussion tactics. The top ones are the “best”, the bottom ones are useless, except for pissing people off:
Funny thing though, what you see the most in forum discussions is the bottom three tactics along with pars pro toto reasoning. I’ll get back to that in a bit.
If you can’t have a discussion without those bottom three tactics, then I humbly submit you aren’t interested in discussing anything. Might as well quit and skip ahead to saying neener-neener. If you are interested in exchanging ideas and debating a topic, then this flow chart is a good place to start:
It looks straight-forward but very few people can get through a discussion by adhering to this flow chart. It’s so much easier calling somebody names or misinterpreting what they say or write. Which brings me to my point.
A tai chi brother of mine said my posts are usually wordy (he’s too kind, I tend to write epic-length posts…) and sometimes hard to finish. I understand that isn’t always easy on you, the reader, so here is a bit of an explanation:
The reason I get so wordy sometimes is that:
- I like to be clear
- I don’t think simple means easy.
I think it’s the hallmark of a good teacher if you can bring across your thoughts in as clear as possible a manner. In part, this means structuring your thoughts and putting them in the proper context. But a trick I learned from one of my teachers, Bob Orlando, a long time ago is to also state what you don’t mean when you explain something. As a result, I often put a lot of pieces on the table before I get to my point. That takes time.
This turns off a lot of people because they want quick fixes instead of long explanations. The upside of those long explanations is that there is less the risk of people misinterpreting what I write. As witnessed in that forum when people put up straw men in my name and knock them down one by one, “proving” how wrong I am: they still don’t get what I actually wrote. It’s inevitable, but you can minimize it by explaining that you’re only talking about one specific part, which doesn’t mean there aren’t any other parts left to discuss. The one doesn’t exclude the other.
A second criticism I often get is that I only write basic stuff. This implies that the “basics” are OK but I should move on to more complex or advanced things. This one always strikes me as funny, because my co-author often gets the same criticism. We talked about it at length when we first started writing and I agree with his take on it: fighting should be simple. You shouldn’t make it more complex than needed and when in doubt, simple is usually better than complex. This isn’t always the case but I believe it applies the vast majority of the time.
Here’s the thing: “simple” does not mean “easy” and “complex” does not mean “difficult”. These words are not synonyms. Something can be extremely simple yet incredibly difficult to do, let alone do well. For instance, when I teach stand-up fighting to MMA or muay Thai guys, I teach them a simple concept:
In all stand-up fighting competitions, only two things matter: you need the ability to deliver forward pressure and be able to deal with the forward pressure of your opponent. Everything else flows from that.
There you go, simple.
You can go ahead now and become the next UFC champ. Shouldn’t be a big deal now, right? Because I broke it down to something simple and fundamental that you can understand right away.
But that’s not how real life works.
Just because you get this fundamental concept, doesn’t mean you can apply it. Simple does not mean easy.
For the fighters I train, I have a specific plan and training hierarchy that teaches them to understand and apply this simple concept (along with many other concepts…). There are layers upon layers of nuances in that plan, all of them teaching the many different aspects of that simple concept. It takes them years of hard training to make those things their own and do them instinctively when they fight. The same goes for martial arts and especially self-defense: at its essence, it should be simple. But that doesn’t mean you can easily pull it off.
Case in point:
When somebody wants to ram a knife in your gut, all you need to do is get your gut out of the path of the knife and block/grab/redirect/whatever the attacking arm.
But again, it isn’t easy. There are all sorts of nuances and details that you need to understand, train and ingrain before you can reliably perform such a technique when your life is on the line.
Much of what I write is about those nuances and details.
It’s about looking at those simple things from a specific angle (one of many) and figuring out how it all fits in the bigger whole. That’s what I enjoy talking and writing about. And that’s why I get so wordy, because it takes time to describe the context.
But I also despise the elevator pitch and think Einstein was full of shit about the whole “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” thing. I think those things let people get away with spouting high and mighty nonsense that makes for a great soundbite but it’s nothing more than lies to children. True knowledge doesn’t come from any of that stuff. It comes from digging deeper and deeper into those seemingly simple statements instead of using them as a punch line. Which brings me back to those forum discussions:
One of the critical mistakes so many practitioners make is “Yeah, I know that already” thinking. As I’ve explained at length before : the differences are just as important as the similarities. If you aren’t open to this and if you aren’t constantly checking yourself, you’ll fall into this trap. Just because it looks simple and basic, doesn’t mean it is the same thing as what you learned before.
Case in point:
A long time ago, I invited Bob Orlando to Belgium to teach a series of seminars. He was always extremely well prepared and followed a logical progression in his seminar presentations. As in, he had a complete script with drawings and written instructions for the curriculum he’d show. The key is this: everything he shows prepares for what comes next. One of the primary components of his teaching was block left. Here’s an example:
Notice how his right hand doesn’t slow down when it connects with the punch. Bob always explained clearly why he parries like this: instead of stopping when making contact with the attacker’s arm, you keep speeding up and let your hand stop automatically when it hits your own chest. I saw him explain the exact same thing during the seminars, correct people in person, etc.
Over half of the participants still got it wrong.
They parried the hand and didn’t “sweep the area clean” like Bob explained. The worst offenders were the Silat and Kali practitioners, some of them with decades of practice. They only saw the similarities with what they were already doing and not the differences. As a result, they had a hard time with some of the drills and techniques that followed.
Block left is simple. It’s not easy to get right consistently. That takes practice.
All that said, does that mean I never talk about those more complex aspects? Not at all.
- In Timing in the Fighting Arts, Loren and I go into great detail about this complex topic. For the record, it is the book I get the least amount of feedback on from readers. This despite the fact that it’s the most complex subject I’ve ever written about…
- In Power/Control, I give a detailed explanation and a progressive training plan on learning to hit hard and stay in control of that power. This is one of the most complex subjects in any martial art or self-defense system.
- In some of my How To guides here, I also dig into the more complex nuances of a number of topics and techniques.
I’m sure I could dig up more but this is the first few things that come to mind. So it’s not that I have an aversion to writing about “complex” stuff. I just don’t think the so-called “simple” things should be ignored or no longer re-visited after you learned them the first time. Especially as so many people keep getting them wrong or believe their interpretation of them is all there is to it. That’s not me being elitist, that’s me having experienced this problem over and over for almost 30 years now, when teaching students who already have a background in other styles. Again, read the post on Ego, you’ll see what I mean.
On the other hand, there is also nothing wrong with writing short articles without all that context and other stuff I mentioned. So I’ll make sure to write a couple of those too. If I’m feeling particularly sarcastic, I’ll even include some of those complex topics…
It’s been 8 years since I wrote this. I have gotten even more wordy in the mean time… I like to think I’ve also covered more complex and “advanced” topics and concepts in that time. I still focus on keeping it simple, but I’ve found that these simple things tend to be complex. Though as stated above, that doesn’t necessarily mean difficult. Regardless, I enjoy exploring nuance and dig a bit deeper than the surface.
I hope you do too.
In these internet times, simply statements are so common. Its good to have someone around who writes longer articles packed with solid knowledge and good thoughts. Your articles (most of the time) makes sense to me, and I think to a lot other people also.
Keep the words (and your training) flowing.
Thanks Dennis, much appreciated.
An enjoyable article again. About the Einstein quote: I find that it is true for me that if I can’t explain it simply enough for someone to understand it then that means I don’t understand it well enough. I think it is possible that you may be thinking in terms of the misuse of the sentence in trying to sell someone something (ie do you not want to live longer or save money or become an unstoppable warrior). The intention behind the statement is key. Rather like your mission is to come home safely which hopefully negates your ego getting your into trouble as that guiding principle will keep your focussed on the job at hand and not escalating social violence.
Please don’t take this the wrong way as I am a big fan of yours but the front cover of your book on timing says your guide to winning in the ring and surviving on the street is a kind of elevator pitch ( although that may just be the publisher trying to incentivise the purchase with a carrot approach which I have no objection to as why would someone want to buy a book and just get mediocre results although myself I enjoy the different perspectives that books or other mediums provide).
Also if I purchase a fast good looking new car (as if!) and tell everyone it is a cracking car it is a kind of a lie to children justifying my purchase until I actually get to test it in different conditions and it doesn’t cost me alot in repairs that would not normally be expected in the first year or so.
For the stand up fighting, I would have gone for hitting the target and hopefully not getting hit as that would get the points/knockdowns. For the knife part, I would want to address how the situation arose in the first place that someone would want to do such a thing to you (if it is social violence, you have a big say in that and even in asocial you have a say by removing yourself from the criminal lifestyle but not so much by a predator stalking you although again avoiding ambush locations would help tremendously) and either advocate running away as you have said in the past so long as you don’t need to protect someone you care about or keeping the knifer at bay hopefully with some object that can be used if you can’t flee. I would have to say to people that knife defence for me would have a low chance of success but I would prefer the term knife awareness.
Anyway, I know you know all the stuff I have just written but perhaps it shines a slightly differently light on it that may be of interest.
I’ll go over your comment in bits and pieces:
I think it is possible that you may be thinking in terms of the misuse of the sentence in trying to sell someone something
Not at all. My point is this: maybe it's just not possible to explain certain things in simple terms. Maybe attempting to do so results in incomplete and misleading statements to the point where more harm than good is done. Again, lies to children.
Please don’t take this the wrong way as I am a big fan of yours but the front cover of your book on timing says your guide to winning in the ring and surviving on the street is a kind of elevator pitch
No offense taken. Two things: first, an author has usually very little say in such matters. This book is no different in that regard. Second, I don't think a sub-title is an elevator pitch. If anything, it helps giving more information about the book.
Also if I purchase a fast good looking new car (as if!) and tell everyone it is a cracking car it is a kind of a lie to children…
I disagree. Lies to children is a teaching method, your example isn't IMO.
For the stand up fighting, I would have gone for hitting the target and hopefully not getting hit as that would get the points/knockdowns.
That is part of the two things I mentioned. But there is a lot more that it covers, which your examples don't. E.g.: sometimes, you don't hit the target or miss on purpose.
For the knife part, I would want to address how the situation arose in the first place that someone would want to do such a thing to you
What you're doing now is the pars pro toto thinking I tried to explain. In my example, I'm talking about "When somebody wants to ram a knife in your gut" and not about what happens before or after. Had I explained that specific context in more detail, you would have seen it right away. Personally, I thought it was clear enough, but apparently it wasn't. Hence the need on my part for getting wordy. :-)
For the record, I don't disagree with you on those aspects. But I was talking about something else.
Anyway, I know you know all the stuff I have just written but perhaps it shines a slightly differently light on it that may be of interest.
My position is that discussion is always valuable if it can be done along the lines of those two graphics in my post. I think ours here more than qualifies; we haven't started calling each other names just yet so it's all good. :-)
Bob Patterson says
I laughed when I read your post title!
In my alter ego I used to write scholarly articles. The pinnacle of my Kingdom of Dirt came when one “peer-review” editor said I was too plain spoken. A second editor from the SAME journal concerning the SAME article said I was too wordy.
Bracketing out the section on method I decided to not change a damn thing.
It still got published.
Sometimes you have to go with your instinct.
If I really went with my instincts, there’d be a lot more profanity in my articles… :-)
What happened to you? Your blog is deleted!
I see it just fine.
John W. Zimmer says
Very interesting and wordy post Wim! I enjoyed it though.
You are a good, concise writer and always seem to address the main point of your essay. I have a hard time with that and tend to wander a bit, but try to tie it all together at the end.
I especially liked the pyramid and flow chart.
Thanks John, much appreciated.
Interesting post. Common Sense and Trusting your instinct is a good match.