Weekly Reflections on the Traditional Martial Arts
from Hanshi Tony Annesi
I have to admit that one of my personal flaws (in my humble opinion) is that I tend to be an idealist. I want the world, which has such great potential, to be much better than it is, and for everyone, and ASAP, please. Watching the news revolts me (what passes as news, by and large, is negativity) and seeing friends on Facebook become so impassioned and irrational about politics makes me doubt if they are even the people I know. It’s not that they must agree with me to be “right”, rather I would prefer they disagree with each other more politely and constructively to make me feel the world was leaning away from negativity and toward perfecting itself. I then step back, listen to Mozart, reframe my brain, and realize that I am just being an idealist and a bit of a perfectionist.
I remind myself that perfectionism prevents itself. That is, since the world (and me in it) cannot expect to arrive at perfection, holding perfection as a standard will inevitably result in disappointment, which will, in turn, tend to increase the “negative energy” in the world (or at least the negative energy coming out of me), and thus contribute to “perfectionlessness”.
Many people to whom I have been drawn have been so positive that I often feel they are unrealistic, even Pollyannaish. I’ve known women who can thrill at the force of a hurricane so consistently that they don’t think of closing the shutters during the strongest winds. Other people are so self-assured that they expect to find a gold doubloon tumbling out of the next trash pile so they don't bother either investing the wealth they have already earned or removing the trash. Since it only takes one ticket to win the lottery, these positive thinkers would prefer to play Megabucks twice a week than put money in the bank once a month. Yet drawn to them I am, at least initially, whether I am on a mission to make their lack of realism more rational or simply to experience their positivity.
My rational “realism” may just be a cleverly hidden negativity trying not to be disappointed by their unrealistic positivity. In other words, I’d love things to go ideally, but don’t believe reality will cooperate. What might be a more realistically positive attitude?
I recall Soke Don Angier tutoring me on aiki principles. I saw him fail to throw a person only once (and frankly, I believe the person was not offering a sincere attack), but Angier’s attitude was simply, “Even monkeys fall out of trees.” That is to say, even expert arboreal-ists sometimes hit the shrubs. To him, an acceptable level of perfection in executing a technique was about 95%. If one expects 100% success for each technique, one should expect to be practicing it ad infinitum. If one satisfies oneself with 90%, one is taking a 10% chance that something will not work. All insurance and gambling has a level of acceptable risk. No gambling hall or insurance company wants to pay off if it loses, so it offers its deals such that the odds are not simply in its favor, but strongly in its favor.
Only the individual practitioner can decide if, for his tastes, a 95% success rate is too much to ask and if 85% is too little. Estimations like this are what account for the difference in quality between styles and schools. Even excellent martial artists, superbly trained and well practiced, can fail at applying a technique. Even awkward martial artists, cursorily trained and poorly practiced, can be successful at a similar technique.
Which type of martial artist will you choose to be? One who is satisfied that he can apply a throw, for example, against 4 of the 7 somewhat cooperative partners in his dojo (choosing the most cooperative among them with whom to take an exam), or one who keeps trying to figure out how to apply the throw on the largest simian in the dojo (and once he can, trains harder to make his throw both effortless and elegant)?
I think Soke Angier’s 95% goal is a pretty good starting point for success.
Next time: Why the 95% rate works against advanced budo.