Revolutions and Alien Visitations
Taught my first statistics class today. I had prepared examples of sampling the class to make generalizations about the university population as a whole. Specifcally, I’d intended to use the class’s sex ratio as an estimator of the sex ratio for the entire campus population. Then I walked into class… and found a room filled with 120 students, about 6 of whom were men. Hey, I’m not complaining, but how does one get an almost all-female statistics class? Weird.
Remember this? And its follow-up? Weird things seem to happen to me at night. Two nights ago, I went to bed at 4:AM (as is my wont) and woke up at 9:AM. I live in a tiny, spotless condo, and I hate and avoid clutter. So you’ll imagine my surprise when I woke up to find a mysterious object lying on my living room floor. It was most definitely not there when I went to bed:
The next night, I went to sleep at 5:AM and woke up again at 9:AM. This time, I was greeted with a strange red line on my floor:
(The quarter was added for scale.)
So what’s happening? Well, after 30 minutes of scratching my head, I figured out that the weird object was in fact part of a clock that had silently exploded overnight. Mind you, why a clock would just explode is another mystery.
No clue yet about what that red line means.
I’ll let you know in the morning what the aliens do to me tonight.
In today’s class, I talked about the revolution of statistics. About 200-300 years ago, the modern science of statistics was born. In the subsequent centuries, the science matured very fast indeed. Since the 1950s, with the advent of computers, a veritable new revolution has occurred, with mass computations and the evolution of subtle new techniques.
And that got me thinking about other revolutions. So I ended up congitating on the evolution and revolution of the martial arts.
Quite a segue, no?
As has been well established, I’m a huge MMA (mixed martial arts) fan. For those not in the know, MMA arose only about 2 decades ago, with the rise of the UFC as a going concern. The UFC was itself created by Brazil’s Gracie family as a showcase for their style of Jiujitsu (now called Brazilian Jiujitsu, or BJJ), showing how it can be used to defeat any other style of unarmed combat, in a no-rules tournament format. What the Gracies did not anticipate was that they would inadvertently create a whole new sport, and possibly even a whole new martial art.
The history of what we consider to be the martial arts goes back many centuries. Legend has it that the Buddhist Indian monk Bodhidharma was the first to combine spiritual moving meditation with the physical act of boxing for fitness, and thus created the first Oriental martial art. Of course, fighting systems have probably existed literally for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years.
The modern arts evolved as Bodhidharma’s teachings spread from India to China, then to Korea and Japan, and eventually to Europe and the Americas. At the same time, in parallel, each nation was developing its own indigenous arts; for example, savate in France and Capoeira in Brazil. Wars spawned masters who had to refine their skills to simply survive. In those climates, different schools arose to embrace different fighting philosophies and technologies. The arts splintered into disparate styles. The most obvious break was between the stand-up striking arts, like karate, and the ground and grappling arts, like judo.
Literally, centuries of refinement passed, which allowed some techniques to be perfected, and others to become arcane and wrapped in obfuscating nonsense.
But since the rise of MMA 20 years ago, the revolution of practicality has transformed the martial arts yet again. What took centuries to do originally has been recreated in mere decades, a single lifetime.
Some say it began with Mitsuyo Maeda, the so-called “Count Combat”, a Japanese judo expert who made his home in Brazil. Maeda was among the first to point out the different phases of a fight: the striking phase, the grappling phase, etc. Most notably, Maeda taught Carlos Gracie, stressing a philosophy of practicality: do what works. Carlos and his younger brother Helio would go on to found Brazilian Jiujitsu, which became the bedrock of the UFC and thus triggered the revolution of MMA.
But others say it began with none other than Bruce Lee himself. Lee famously founded Jeet Kune Do, “the way of the intercepting fist”, which was an expression of his interpretation of the writings of Krishnamurti and others through combat. Lee always insisted that JKD was not a martial art, but a fighting system. Its philosophy was simply to do what worked, what ended the fight the fastest, and what maximized your own body’s abilities.
This was a philosophical revolution in the martial arts. It essentially stated that one should ignore centuries of dogma and embrace modern training techniques, the lessons of competing arts, and to embrace most fully those techniques best suited to one’s personal situation. JKD was the first organized attempt to bring together the best of karate, kung-fu, jiujitsu, American boxing, wrestling, etc., into one combat system.
This approach seems obvious to us today, but at the time –the early 1970s– it was both revolutionary and heretical. The masters of the status quo were quite offended by it. Indeed, even in my own youth, my first masters would be violently offended if I introduced a technique I had picked up in the gym or from sparring with practitioners of other arts.
JKD is convincingly the precursor to MMA, and as thus represents a dramatic paradigm shift in the way we view the martial arts. The rate at which its refinement has occurred these past 20 years has been simply phenomenal. Today’s fighters are generations beyond those who fought in the first UFC tournament. It’s sort of frightening to consider what amazing skills sets await us fans in just 2 or 3 years.