Monday, October 20, 2008

Back to the Lab

I have alluded before to the martial arts dojo being like a laboratory, but it is really worth a short discussion on what that means.

In our "laboratory" we can (and should) experiment. Like all good scientists ("martial scientists" that is), we can apply scientific method to what we do. This is broadly defined as:

basic research - lacking any particular problem, but designed to become more fluent with the tools, relationships, and environments
applied research - research aimed at solving a specific problem with a specific scope

For example, basic research could include working the heavy bag to develop a greater awareness of the relationship our foot placement has to generating punching power. Applied research would include studying and testing several specific variations of footwork to determine the best foot placement (measured by pounds of impact force per sq cm on the heavy bag). Yes, applied research often follows basic research, but it need not necessarily be so.

Another key component of scientific method that we must consider is hypothesis. In science, we use hypotheisis to define certain ideas/relationships which we can then test/validate. For example, a hypothesis can be that pointing palms down (parallel to the ground) when doing a knife block on angles 1 and 2 offers the best possible protection to the vital arteries and veins of the arms. To prove this, we run a series of tests using a training knife with chalk on the blade. Using 100 trials in both palm up and palm down versions, we carefully check the chalk marks each time and note how many cases in each trial resulted in chalk on a vital area. Based on the data, high levels of certainty can lead us to consider some knowledge as theorem rather than simple hypothesis, supposition or subjective opinion.

All good scientists use collect and use data - and with good hypotheses it is not hard to identify meaningful test trials that can generate data which will help to prove or disprove the hypotheses.

Finally, every good scientist is willing to trust the method rather than his/her own subjective opinion. Problems must be studied in detail, and no solution is ever considered valid unless it has had extensive testing and yielded a high percentage repetition of the expected result. Many martial arts could benefit from such a rigorous approach rather than reference to some mystical scrolls.

Some golden rules of science to remember are:

  1. Safety First - for both yourself and your training partners
  2. Use both basic and applied research - Both are important
  3. Develop meaningful testing scenarios - Be Creative!
  4. Trust the data and collect plenty of it - repeition is your friend
  5. Draw conclusions based on the results - this can lead to more hypotheses and so on
  6. Have Fun - science is about exploration and discovery
  7. Question EVERYTHING - Be willing to drop even closely held beliefs if the data does not support them
In summary, the school is a place where under careful supervision from qualified teachers we can take a journey of discovery that will help us understand our bodies and those of our partners. This awareness will make us better fighters and better people.

Seek out "puzzles/problems" for yourself and do not be afraid to let science help you find answers. It has worked for mankind since we started. Watch "Mythbusters" if you need to get inspired...

And you probably thought science class was no fun... :-)

PS: this book may help get your mind working
Martial Mechanics: Maximum Results with Minimum Effort in the Practice of the Martial Arts, by Phillip Starr

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