"Absorb what is useful" and the automotive metaphor

Tony Dismukes

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There are a couple of schools of thought which sometimes clash in forum discussions.

The first is often expressed through the Bruce Lee quote "Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own." The idea is that you don't have to take everything from a martial art as is. You can use the pieces that work for you as part of your own individual system.

The opposing view is that a martial art is an integrated system of inter-related principles, techniques, and training methods which are designed to work together. Picking a piece out in isolation doesn't make sense. A common metaphor to express this idea is to talk about the absurdity of designing a car by taking the engine from a race car in the chassis of a subcompact with the wheels of a semi, the bumpers of a SUV, the flat bed of a pickup, and the armor plating of a presidential limousine. You get a Frankenstein mis-mash of random parts which were not meant to work together.

I'll set aside for now the JKD response that the pieces selected from different arts are not chosen at random, rather they are chosen because they fit the principles of JKD (or the individuals expression thereof). Instead I'd like to extend the automotive metaphor further.

When I delve into another martial art, it's not because I want to assemble my own system one piece at a time. I'm more like a design engineer at Honda taking apart the newest offering from Volkswagen to see what the competition is up to and what I could learn from it. I'm not going to just take out the carburetor and stick it in our newest model. I'm going to look at all the tradeoffs the VW engineers regarding power vs efficiency, cost vs safety, use of space, quality of components, and so on. Maybe I'll find an idea I can steal directly. Maybe it will open my mind to new design possibilities in general ("we've always put part A on top of part B, but VW has them reversed. I wonder what other configurations will work ..."). Maybe I'll find a general concept which I can apply to our own designs. Maybe it will just be a good mental exercise in understanding engineering at a deeper level which will improve my own designs in the future.

I've been studying Wing Tsun for a bit over a year now, and I've already started integrating certain WT concepts into my own sparring outside WT class. I'm not trying to become a WT specialist, but I'm also not trying to just pick and choose random cool looking techniques from the art. I'm trying to learn the whole art well enough to understand why it works the way that it does. Some of my best discoveries have come from saying "hmmm .. according to everything else I've learned, this is a seriously flawed way of doing things. Why would they do it this way?" and then tracking down the answers. When I understand the concepts behind how things work, then I can understand how and when and if I can apply those concepts to my own art.

We talk sometimes about the different principles of different arts, but ultimately anything that works comes down to the same bottom line principles. The engineers at Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, Rolls Royce, Tesla, etc. all have to deal with the same laws of physics, the same laws of material sciences, the same laws of economics. They're just applying those laws in different ways depending on the intended purpose and market for their vehicles. Same thing applies to martial arts. We all are operating under the same laws of physics and biology. Different arts just apply those laws (some more effectively than others) in different ways according to the context for which they were designed.
 

jobo

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I dont think the car view point is usefull, most of the arts have evolved or devolved from a usefull fighting system to little more than dancing, with twirls and embellishments were non are needed.

its less take what's good, as throw away what is useless and then you have a fighting system worth doing
 

hoshin1600

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I dont think the car view point is usefull, most of the arts have evolved or devolved from a usefull fighting system to little more than dancing, with twirls and embellishments were non are needed.

its less take what's good, as throw away what is useless and then you have a fighting system worth doing
maybe you are hanging around the wrong people and schools.
 

hoshin1600

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There are a couple of schools of thought which sometimes clash in forum discussions.

The first is often expressed through the Bruce Lee quote "Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own." The idea is that you don't have to take everything from a martial art as is. You can use the pieces that work for you as part of your own individual system.

The opposing view is that a martial art is an integrated system of inter-related principles, techniques, and training methods which are designed to work together. Picking a piece out in isolation doesn't make sense. A common metaphor to express this idea is to talk about the absurdity of designing a car by taking the engine from a race car in the chassis of a subcompact with the wheels of a semi, the bumpers of a SUV, the flat bed of a pickup, and the armor plating of a presidential limousine. You get a Frankenstein mis-mash of random parts which were not meant to work together.

I'll set aside for now the JKD response that the pieces selected from different arts are not chosen at random, rather they are chosen because they fit the principles of JKD (or the individuals expression thereof). Instead I'd like to extend the automotive metaphor further.

When I delve into another martial art, it's not because I want to assemble my own system one piece at a time. I'm more like a design engineer at Honda taking apart the newest offering from Volkswagen to see what the competition is up to and what I could learn from it. I'm not going to just take out the carburetor and stick it in our newest model. I'm going to look at all the tradeoffs the VW engineers regarding power vs efficiency, cost vs safety, use of space, quality of components, and so on. Maybe I'll find an idea I can steal directly. Maybe it will open my mind to new design possibilities in general ("we've always put part A on top of part B, but VW has them reversed. I wonder what other configurations will work ..."). Maybe I'll find a general concept which I can apply to our own designs. Maybe it will just be a good mental exercise in understanding engineering at a deeper level which will improve my own designs in the future.

I've been studying Wing Tsun for a bit over a year now, and I've already started integrating certain WT concepts into my own sparring outside WT class. I'm not trying to become a WT specialist, but I'm also not trying to just pick and choose random cool looking techniques from the art. I'm trying to learn the whole art well enough to understand why it works the way that it does. Some of my best discoveries have come from saying "hmmm .. according to everything else I've learned, this is a seriously flawed way of doing things. Why would they do it this way?" and then tracking down the answers. When I understand the concepts behind how things work, then I can understand how and when and if I can apply those concepts to my own art.

We talk sometimes about the different principles of different arts, but ultimately anything that works comes down to the same bottom line principles. The engineers at Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, Rolls Royce, Tesla, etc. all have to deal with the same laws of physics, the same laws of material sciences, the same laws of economics. They're just applying those laws in different ways depending on the intended purpose and market for their vehicles. Same thing applies to martial arts. We all are operating under the same laws of physics and biology. Different arts just apply those laws (some more effectively than others) in different ways according to the context for which they were designed.


i really like this concept ..however it makes one assumption , that we are all engineers. which we are not. many people out there should not be messing around making these death traps of machinery. lol
 

Steve

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I don't see a problem with either approach. Some people like Androids and others like iPhones.

In the former, with the Android phones, you have more control over what you do and how you do it. You also have a lot more choices you can make, to tailor the phone to suit your needs. But with that increased autonomy comes some headaches in the form of instability. And sometimes, if you go too far, you can brick your phone.

in the latter, with the iPhone, everything is rigorously controlled and part of a coherent eco-system. You concede autonomy and control, but what you get is stability and a thoughtful, consistent interface.

Nothing wrong with either approach. one isn't better than the other. They are just different, each with it's own set of pros and cons.
 
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Tony Dismukes

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i really like this concept ..however it makes one assumption , that we are all engineers. which we are not. many people out there should not be messing around making these death traps of machinery. lol
Well, not really. I'm talking about what I do. At this point in my life I think I'm decently qualified to be a "martial arts engineer", so to speak. Thirty years ago, not so much.

Some people have the talent, brains, drive, and experience to become martial arts engineers much earlier in their training than I was. Many people (most?) never reach that point. Some people have the ability, but not the desire. Some have the desire, but not the ability.

It's just one way of approaching things which may work for some people.
 

jobo

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maybe you are hanging around the wrong people and schools.
I've done a certain amount of research, if you look at a full contact karate fight at a good level, then you will see a stripped down version, that only deals with,effective moves, no twirls' and embellishment. Anything above this is superfluous to the main purpose of hitting people whilst not getting hit
 

Bill Mattocks

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The first is often expressed through the Bruce Lee quote "Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own." The idea is that you don't have to take everything from a martial art as is. You can use the pieces that work for you as part of your own individual system.

Here's my take on it. I don't disagree with Bruce Lee's statement. However, I do not think most people are qualified (and I included myself in that group) to *know* what is useful and what is not. Period.

I hear it a lot. People tell me they took something out because it "doesn't work." Well, maybe it doesn't work, but if the base system is valid and OTHER people have managed to make it work, maybe the problem is not the technique.

I've had people show me techniques and tell me how worthless they are; funny, I can bust them up using ONLY that technique (not proclaiming how good I am, because I'm not, just that the preceding example has happened to me).

Yes, absorb what is useful. Discard what is not. But first, think about whether or not you're qualified to offer such a judgment. Even for just yourself. The you from ten years from now, after diligent training of what you do not think works, might disagree.

I know that I have seen techniques that I thought were either too difficult to apply, or that I simply could never do them due to my body weight, fitness level, flexibility, age, etc, and then later found that after a long period of training and trusting my instructor, surprise, what I thought was not useful actually was.

There is so much within the depths of most legitimate systems that I sincerely doubt any student could simply disregard any part of it as useless out-of-hand.

Exceptions for me would be a) if the system in question was crap (in which case, why are you studying it) b) the instructor is no good (same question) or c) you've been training diligently for over 40 years in that system.
 

Steve

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Here's my take on it. I don't disagree with Bruce Lee's statement. However, I do not think most people are qualified (and I included myself in that group) to *know* what is useful and what is not. Period.

I hear it a lot. People tell me they took something out because it "doesn't work." Well, maybe it doesn't work, but if the base system is valid and OTHER people have managed to make it work, maybe the problem is not the technique.

I've had people show me techniques and tell me how worthless they are; funny, I can bust them up using ONLY that technique (not proclaiming how good I am, because I'm not, just that the preceding example has happened to me).

Yes, absorb what is useful. Discard what is not. But first, think about whether or not you're qualified to offer such a judgment. Even for just yourself. The you from ten years from now, after diligent training of what you do not think works, might disagree.

I know that I have seen techniques that I thought were either too difficult to apply, or that I simply could never do them due to my body weight, fitness level, flexibility, age, etc, and then later found that after a long period of training and trusting my instructor, surprise, what I thought was not useful actually was.

There is so much within the depths of most legitimate systems that I sincerely doubt any student could simply disregard any part of it as useless out-of-hand.

Exceptions for me would be a) if the system in question was crap (in which case, why are you studying it) b) the instructor is no good (same question) or c) you've been training diligently for over 40 years in that system.
This is a real risk, but we humans are constantly making evaluative decisions like this. And in the end, fretting over much about what we aren't doing will actually prevent one from getting the most out of what we ARE doing.

You do a nice job of articulating some considerations involved. But in the end, I think generally the decision to be a PC or a MAC is an intuitive one. You're either inclined to be curious about other styles and accumulate experience in that way, or are inclined to commit to a single style and mine it for all its worth. In the end, no one way is better than the other.

And, as a MAC guy, maybe you will get that technique to work after some amount of time. Good on ya. But in that time you spent on that technique, the PC guy is working to get other things to work, too. Different things. Not better.

I'll also add that there is a tendency on the part of some MAC mentality people to think they are enjoying a deeper, more philosophical benefit as a result of their singular commitment to a method. I don't believe this is true, though. Not that there isn't a deeper benefit. Rather, that it's unique to these folks, and not similarly enjoyed by the PC mentality folks.
 

Buka

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Pretty much describes my entire life in the Arts, Tony. Couldn't have said it better myself. Might also explain why I've gotten my butt whooped for such a long time. :)

Bukamobile.JPG


But it has always gotten me where I wanted to go.
 

Kung Fu Wang

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Picking a piece out in isolation doesn't make sense.
Have to disagree with you on this.

If you are a

- striker, if you can master "single leg" and integrate into your striking skill. You don't need to master "hip throw", "leg lift", "foot sweep", ... to be a 100% grappler.
- wrestler, as long as you know how to obtain clinch in a fist flying environment, you don't need to master all boxing or MT skill into your grappling art.

For your "major" art, you may need to have 100% knowledge. For your "minor" art, you can just pick up piece here and piece there.
 
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Kung Fu Wang

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I've been studying Wing Tsun for a bit over a year now,
After you have trained WC, will you throw away all your body rotation movement (such as hook punch, uppercut, roundhouse kick, spin hook kick, ...)? Will you only use your YGKYM and throw away your bow-arrow stance, cat stance, chicken stance, ... I have trained WC for many years. I'll always use the WC center line theory but I'll never use WC Bong Shou or the WC YGKYM. I have also trained the Bagua outer 8 palms but I'll never use the Bagua "cross legs".

All MA systems has strong point and weak point such as:

- WC strong point is "center line" theory. WC weak point is "power generation".
- Bagua strong point is "double switching hands". Bagua weak point is "cross legs".
- Long fist strong point is "complete basic training". Long fist weak point is "door/gate concept".
- SC strong point is "throwing skill". SC weak point is "jacket dependency".
- ...

IMO, not knowing strong point and weak point for different MA systems may not be proper. If you do, it may be smart to "take the good" and "discard the bad". There is nothing wrong to add

- WC center line theory into your boxing skill.
- Boxing power generation into your WC skill.
- ...
 
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Tony Dismukes

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Have to disagree with you on this.
That wasn't my argument, that was one of the two schools of thought I was referencing that are commonly used as basis for arguments around here. You, obviously, are an advocate for the other school.

My own position is somewhere between the two.
 
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Tony Dismukes

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After you have trained WC, will you throw away all your body rotation movement (such as hook punch, uppercut, roundhouse kick, spin hook kick, ...)?
Nope. As I said, I'm not aiming to become a WT fighter or specialist. I'm working to understand certain WT concepts and tactics better so I can use them in my own system when appropriate.
 

Kung Fu Wang

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Nope. As I said, I'm not aiming to become a WT fighter or specialist. I'm working to understand certain WT concepts and tactics better so I can use them in my own system when appropriate.
The term "appropriate" is the key. You have developed a major system. Now you want to cross train some minor systems. If in those minor systems that have something contradict to your major system, you will discard it. In other words, you have your own believe. You will not blindly lead by your minor systems. I believe that was what BL also believed in.
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

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so what hypothesis are you putting forward?
Not drop bear, but this is how I would apply it, if I were using it from a standpoint of "absorbing what is useful"

Observation: This move appears useful.
Question: Will this move X (improve my ability in competition, increase my chances in SD, help me while fitting with my general philosophy, etc.)
Research: What styles have a similar move? How do they in general fair at X? Does that move appear important towards X?
Hypothesis: If I incorporated that move, I would be better at X
Experiment: Use the move in the dojo, try it out in competition, have others from the same fighting style or martial art try it out as well
Data:record results
Conclusion: "That move did help, let me practice it more"! Or, "that move didn't help, let me not bother". Or, "That move didn't help, but if I practice it more it might. Let me practice it more, then experiment again."

This may be entirely different than what he meant, but it was an interesting thought exercise.
 

jobo

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Not drop bear, but this is how I would apply it, if I were using it from a standpoint of "absorbing what is useful"

Observation: This move appears useful.
Question: Will this move X (improve my ability in competition, increase my chances in SD, help me while fitting with my general philosophy, etc.)
Research: What styles have a similar move? How do they in general fair at X? Does that move appear important towards X?
Hypothesis: If I incorporated that move, I would be better at X
Experiment: Use the move in the dojo, try it out in competition, have others from the same fighting style or martial art try it out as well
Data:record results
Conclusion: "That move did help, let me practice it more"! Or, "that move didn't help, let me not bother". Or, "That move didn't help, but if I practice it more it might. Let me practice it more, then experiment again."

This may be entirely different than what he meant, but it was an interesting thought exercise.
yes it was, Il try
observation I only have two arms and two legs
so does any potential opponent
question , how many ways do I have to move my arms and legs to be able to hurt someone/ stop them hurting me
research watch some full contact karate fights
hypothesis, three kick 4punches elbows and knees plus two blocks is more than sufficient.
experiment knock seven bells out of people who have spread themselves to thin trying to learn dozens of techniques' for situation that probably will never happen
data,, out come
conclusion enough is sufficient and sufficient is enough
 
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