The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Monday, March 04, 2013

Follow the Feeling

I recenty read an outstanding book on the topic of personal self defense. I am referring to The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker.

Mr. DeBecker is a security consultant. A central topic is his theory is that there are dozens of tell tale signs that a violent episode is about to occur, but that our logical minds are too slow to sort through all of the data and reach the appropriate conclusion. 

Instead, he says that we should let our unconscious sort through it all and let the conclusion bubble up through was we call our "intuituition," and pay attention to it.

This falls in line with a concept found in both classical and modern Japanese martial arts; at least I am familiar with the terms from JMA. I am referring to "kan" and "ken." Feeling and seeing.

I am in a customer facing role and I know that when I've been training both regularly and well, I just have a knack of reading a room a whole lot better. 

Rather than do a poor job explaining these concepts myself, I am going to post a short excerpt from a post that has already appeared on the internet at The Classical Budoka. The full article may be read here.

38. Ken and Kan: Seeing and Feeling

November 4, 2011

There are many philosophical, mental and attitudinal elements in learning traditional, classical budo. More so, I think, when learning a koryu, which is much more intricately tied to traditional Japanese culture.

One of the concepts I think many of my own students still have a hard time wrapping their heads around is the notion of ken and kan, or literally translated, “seeing” and “feeling.”

To elaborate: in learning a traditional Japanese art, such as a koryu, there are things you can learn by “seeing,” i.e., through a visible, clear, rationalistic learning process, and things you need to learn to intuit, or “feel.”

Most of modern budo, although not all and not all teachers of modern budo, are often very good at the former teaching pedagogy. They take apart a kata or a method and in clear, logical terms, talk about the physical and technical structure of the movement and the results thereof. In large part, this rationalism is a reaction against what was perceived as a haphazard, archaic way of training that stereotyped the koryu when the modern budo were formulated.

To a degree, such criticisms of koryu might have been valid. But I have to wonder, after decades of training in both koryu and modern budo, if it’s a matter of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There’s something to be said for developing a sense of intuition in martial arts.

The longer I train, the more I realize that there’s an ineffable, intuitive, inexplicable aspect to budo. I don’t mean the woo-woo mystical “wave your hands and the guy will fall down” mumbo jumbo. I mean aspects of a koryu martial art that are really, really hard to explain in logical, verbal terms, aspects that cannot quite yet be captured and exposed clearly in digital media such as videos, books or photographs. It’s a feeling. A mood. A kind of tension, timing and subtle movement, spacing and distancing that can best be felt, but not yet explained easily in words.

“Ken” comes from another way to pronounce the Japanese verb “to see,” miru. Seeing with one’s eyes is symbolic of logical, rational thought processes. You see a technique, you try to repeat it overtly with your own body movements. It’s all there in front of you to see.

In contrast, “kan” comes from the verb “kanjiru,” or “to feel, to sense.” In koryu, it’s not just a matter of physical aping. It’s a matter of understanding very subtle body dynamics, spacing, timing, rhythm, distancing, breath, angle of entry and evasion. I can explain these terms individually, but putting them all together into one seamless whole requires not just rational cognitive learning skills, but also a “sense” of how they fit. This calls for intuition, “feeling.”

This is not to denigrate the ability to see what’s in front of you clearly. It is to emphasize that the ability to learn rationally and empirically is just one component of the mental training process. The other necessary part is learning to develop one’s intuition.

It may be that the ability to ken and kanjiru are two sides of the same coin; the two are actually fluid terms, and the rational and intuitive need to flow one into the other, like the Yin and Yang of Taoist philosophy complimenting each other. You need both.

Indeed, I’ve seen where students have a hard time grasping the essentials; the basic, signature movements of the koryu school. If you can’t process which foot goes ahead of which foot, then all the intuition and “feel” in the world won’t help you. You need the rational, step-by-step essentials.

But I’ve also seen cases where I’ve seen some students in my school and in other koryu demonstrate, and I’d turn to an acquaintance and we’d agree, “That guy has got the moves and order right, but he still hasn’t got it.”

–“IT” being that underlying “feel” of a true practitioner of the style, who can MOVE like a Takeuchi-ryu person, or a Shinto Muso-ryu Jo person, or a Tenshin Sho Katori Shinto-ryu person.

Each koryu has a particular kind of fun’iki, or “feel,” and if you watch the really good practitioners, no matter how their own body morphology and personal character shapes their movements, there’s something about their kata that is imbued with the style. They got it. It’s in their heart as well as mind.  The person who doesn’t get it may have used half his brain to learn the moves, but he hasn’t used his other half of his brain to intuit the “feel” of the style.


All of this also resonates with what Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his excellent book, Blink. From the Wikipedia article:

The author describes the main subject of his book as "thin-slicing": our ability to gauge what is really important from a very narrow period of experience. In other words, this is an idea that spontaneous decisions are often as good as—or even better than—carefully planned and considered ones. Gladwell draws on examples from science, advertising, sales, medicine, and popular music to reinforce his ideas. Gladwell also uses many examples of regular people's experiences with "thin-slicing."

Gladwell explains how an expert's ability to "thin slice" can be corrupted by their likes and dislikes, prejudices and stereotypes (even unconscious ones), and how they can be overloaded by too much information. Two particular forms of unconscious bias Gladwell discusses are Implicit Association Tests and psychological priming. Gladwell also tells us about our instinctive ability to mind read, which is how we can get to know what emotions a person is feeling just by looking at his or her face.
We do that by "thin-slicing," using limited information to come to our conclusion. In what Gladwell contends is an age of information overload, he finds that experts often make better decisions with snap judgments than they do with volumes of analysis.

Gladwell gives a wide range of examples of thin-slicing in contexts such as gambling, speed dating, tennis, military war games, the movies, malpractice suits, popular music, and predicting divorce.

Gladwell also mentions that sometimes having too much information can interfere with the accuracy of a judgment, or a doctor's diagnosis. This is commonly called "Analysis paralysis." The challenge is to sift through and focus on only the most critical information to make a decision. The other information may be irrelevant and confusing to the decision maker. Collecting more and more information, in most cases, just reinforces our judgment but does not help to make it more accurate. The collection of information is commonly interpreted as confirming a person's initial belief or bias.

Gladwell explains that better judgments can be executed from simplicity and frugality of information, rather than the more common belief that greater information about a patient is proportional to an improved diagnosis. If the big picture is clear enough to decide, then decide from the big picture without using a magnifying glass.

Here is an archive of articles Mr. Gladwell has written for the New Yorker Magazine, some of which he further developed into books.

I would be remiss if I didn't close this topic with an appropriate music video:


The Strongest Karate said...

I enjoyed De Becker's book. Gave it to my mother and had her read it too. Gave it to my wife after that. And I'll give it to my nieces when theyre older.

One of my few beefs with the book, and to a lesser extent the author, is that he has trained himself to become a hammer, so the whole world is a nail.

In one section he demonizes persistent men when it comes to courtship and dating. And this I feel is too far.

It is a simple fact of the dating world that, while when it comes to touch "NO MEANS NO", there are no hard, fast, rules when it comes to how many times a guy should ignore a girl's knee-jerk rejection.

The entire book was informative and educational, but if I used his interpretation for my own experience then I nearly became a predator in the process of courting my wife!

Rick said...

The rules of dating are far too complex for this old guy to comprehend. I'm glad that I'm married.

Paul said...

I had a lady friend who called the police when a suitor of her became too persistent (I was not sure whether she read De Becker's book, but I did). That was perhaps 10+ years ago. This lady friend of mine remains single today..

Rick said...

A former female co worker was also dan ranked in TKD. She had a stalker. She beat the crap out of him and he stopped.