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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

Not Wrong, Just Different

I was working with a few new training friends, showing them some basics from Presas Arnis.

Also in attendance - much to my relief because he was a huge help - is another person who's very well versed in the FMA's, just in a different lineage.  "Lineage" in the Filipino Martial Arts is convoluted, complicated, and not as direct as it is in the Japanese, Korean, or Chinese martial arts, but for the sake of this post, we'll use that terminology.  I am from one lineage, and he's from a different one.

To our friends, though, he and I do the exact same thing.

He was helping me get the group going, and he coached them to do slightly different footwork than what we teach initially. I hadn't seen that way before (but upon reflection it totally makes sense and I think it's a good idea) but in the moment, I was afraid of confusing the newbies and I was uncomfortable with just rolling with what he was saying.

It wasn't that his way is wrong. It's just different.

I regret now that in the moment, that I didn't adapt to his method, as it is actually a pretty good idea. I was still clinging to the way I was taught and the way I've been taught to teach it.

But we all do that, don't we? When presented with an innovation or a different point of view on something we believe we know well in the martial arts that doesn't come directly from our teacher(s), we resist the change by instinct.

Generally speaking, the martial arts world is pretty conservative. We prefer to do things as our teacher taught them, and changing things is a big deal.

Partly out of loyalty to that teacher, partly because some of the cultures our styles come from are pretty conservative and change-resistant, and partly because it's uncomfortable to change something you've been spending years working on a specific way.

And sometimes it's political.  That is, my teacher/lineage is the real deal, and those other guys are posers or liars or misunderstanding the technique or whatever. Because if you do it different, you must be wrong, right?

I first heard the phrase "not wrong, different" from Datu Dieter Knüttel at a seminar of his I was attending.  He was showing a specific method of doing something but he noted that others do it a different way and talked about why his organization chooses to do it the way Datu was showing it.

My teacher has always been good about sending the same message.  You can do it differently, and here's why he chooses to do it this way. However, the succinct way Datu Dieter put it "Not wrong, just different" has always stuck with me since I heard him say it.

Not wrong, just different.  There's more than one valid way to solve a problem, and each has upsides and downsides.  Which one you go with depends on which way you think that the upsides greatly outweigh the downsides.

It's helped me develop an open mind, which is very helpful as I do cross train a lot, not only with different FMA styles, but completely different unrelated martial arts styles as well.  I think I do a good job of "emptying the cup" as hard as I can when I'm in someone else's domain and trying to learn how they want me to do it.

As you can see, though, by the story I told at the beginning of this post, as open minded and as flexible as I believe am, I still feel uncomfortable when things are different.  That's especially true when I am working with people who are closer to what I do and my teacher teaches.

I'm still skeptical of what the other guy is doing, trying to justify what I'm doing and why we do it OUR way.  I still have to be bludgeoned over the head to see a good idea and recognize it as such in the moment.

I have to keep saying to myself, "Not wrong, just different" and understand what the reason is behind the difference, and see if it makes sense to me. I have to respect the difference, even if it isn't something I'd do myself.


I might find something that helps me (and my students) learn something I think is important, in a better way.

Do you agree or disagree with the idea that you can be different but not wrong? How do you "empty your cup"? How do you roll with it when presented with a different way? Let us know in the comments!

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