Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Entropy Game

We had a really interesting discussion the other day about the nature of how we train, how we think, and chaos.

Pretty deep stuff for a martial arts training session, I know, but bear with me.

Then we talked about the nature of unconsciousness when I knocked him out.
JUST KIDDING.

One of my training partners is at the stage of his development where he's going from learning patterns and set responses to specific situations to having to learn how to act and react to what is in front of him.

My friend is a very organized and concrete thinker.  He's one of those people who likes things just so.  He is that kind of martial artist too, sort of - he works very hard at understanding the patterns of what we do, so he can competently execute what he's learned when presented with a specific situation.  He can do so with precision and skill.

That works very well, at the beginning of our journey.  We learn action and reaction, attack and defense, if (a) then (b).  If you're an organized mind, you can - and do - memorize all of this. This is the time where your training really boils down to "a collection of techniques".

The problem is, the nature of conflict and violence is that it is not organized or orderly.  It's chaotic, in the meaning of "unpredictable".  People don't always act or react in the ways we might expect. The technique you've learned for situation X may fail... so now what?  A guy doesn't attack in the way most advantageous for him (in fact, he does something really dumb) - how do you react?  What happens when you are presented with something outside the set of techniques you've memorized?

If you cling too much to patterns and order, you'll fail to act properly in chaotic situations.  You'll freeze during the fight.

This is one of the great leaps forward in development in our art - the ability to take the patterns and drills you've learned and apply them to more chaotic situations.  I suspect that this is also true for every martial artist reading this.

I think most of us train this way.  We start with basic, orderly patterns, isolated in time and space.  I punch, you block and react.  I kick, you avoid and react.  I do this, you do that. Over time, the incoming attack is more complex, and so is your response.  As you gain a lot more experience, there is less isolation in the attack, and the more options you have to cope with the situation you are presented with.

Thus, learning the martial arts is an entropy game. Training in an orderly way - known, set patterns and drills - eventually must lead to situations where it's unknown how or where an attack (or counter attack) will come.  We have to learn enough to be able to take what is presented to us and act, immediately, versus waiting for the patterns we recognize.

Image found here.

Of course, conflict is NOT a closed system, but an open one, and we can and do impose order (or patterns) on the situation at hand. But we can't expect to do so for very long.  The patterns will dissolve back into disorder once again, until we can impose order on it again.  And so on, and so on, as long as the conflict lasts.

This is not just the nature of how we train in the martial arts.  It's the nature of the known universe.  It's how things are.

We have to learn to live in a chaotic world - or rather, to survive in it. While we try our best to "arrange" the conflict to suit us, we aren't always successful in those attempts.  We have to have many ways to respond, depending upon what's presented to us - single attacker, multiple attacker, armed, unarmed, intent of the attacker, left or right handed, trained or not trained, range... we are bound to see what we don't expect to see.

We can't freeze when the unexpected happens.  We have to act and react, and we don't have time to think about it too much.

This is a "higher" skill level of the martial artist.  It's not being able to do so many techniques, or being able to kick or punch with perfect technique.  It's the ability to cope with the chaotic nature of conflict, and survive.

How do you play "the entropy game" in your training?  I'd love to know your thoughts!