On Thinking For Yourself

free thinkingA while ago I posted some thoughts on the Facebook page about the art of thinking for oneself. I thought the post would be worth publishing here as well, so here it is:

“I make a point of regularly checking to see if I am thinking for myself. That may seem strange. Of course we all think for ourselves, right? If only that were true. In this world, so much of our thinking is done for us– by the media, by institutions, by other people…sources that very often do not have our best interests at heart. More often than I’d like, I find myself taking on the opinions of others, just because of who they are or because they are an “expert”. Or I may accept a source of information simply because the source is said to be a “trusted source”. It is much easier to let other people do our thinking for us, rather than test things and discover things for ourselves. It is habitual, unconscious living. Thinking for yourself can be taxing in the extreme sometimes, but doing so offers the opportunity for massive personal growth, on a level much higher than that of not thinking for yourself…of living like a sheep. It takes a certain amount of courage to think for yourself, but forming your own thoughts and opinions on things is a very powerful way to make sure you progress in life. Sheeple never leave the flock, and die in ignorance of the fact that their lives could have been so much more. The last thing I want is be is a sheeple, grazing in a field of ignorance. Everyone should walk their own unique path in life. That path may turn out to be arduous, testing to the extreme, maybe even completely the wrong path, but at least it will be your path, and be self-governed. There are things out there—experiences, adventures, thoughts, ideas—that are uniquely yours to find. To discover…that is what life is all about. And to discover, you must first think for yourself. It’s so easy. All you have to do…is do it.”

Thinking for yourself means you have to try and think outside the box as much as possible. If you train in martial arts or self protection then you also need to look outside of those fields for inspiration, to look beyond your current field so that you can discover new information and possibly link that information in some way to what you are doing now. It’s about making new connections between things that you would never have thought to make if you were only thinking inside the box of your particular style or way of training. Look at what other athletes are doing in different fields. Examine their training methods and see if you can apply them to what you are doing in your own training. For this discovery process to happen though, you must have the requisite motivation to want to go beyond what you are currently doing. Many people are happy to keep on doing what they are doing without trying to change or improve what they are doing, and that’s okay, but things can get a little boring doing that. Any physical or mental stimulation you may once have felt in the beginning will eventually die down or cease to exist altogether.  It’s same old same old. We are creative beings. The urge to create and go beyond our limits of thinking and doing is innate within us all. Some people are not in touch with that feeling and never create anything new. Others are driven by the creative urge and spend much of their time trying to create new things, see things in different ways, look at problems from different angles and be as innovative as they possibly can in their chosen fields or in their lives in general. It is better to push the envelope than be trapped within it. That’s not to say it is easy to do so. Creative endeavour and innovation in anything requires commitment, time and endless amounts of patience. Only you can decide if the effort is worth it. Mick Coup posted a reply to the above post that is worth repeating here:

“This post  presents some very keen observations that I fully support. The issue of thinking for yourself is crucial as far as making progress is concerned, in any activity, but unfortunately it seems to be outside of the accepted ‘norm’ within this particular field. If you were to draw parallels between combatives…used here as a convenient term…and other endeavours, say ‘transport’ for instance, in terms of what is considered ‘state of the art’ we’d still be going to work on horseback…though some pedantics out there might argue that advances in ‘technology’ don’t present a comparable argument – so how about something more relevant from sports instead, that is highly ‘technique’ orientated, say ‘high jump’ competition? If we followed the example of many, to simply and safely regurgitate what has already gone before because it’s easier to just do what everyone else is doing – often strenuously defending the notion – then we’d still be scoring 2-metre heights in this event, since at one point in time this was the world-record ballpark figure, rather than adding nearly another half-metre as we have in recent years. What changed? Human body ‘technology’ is the same as far as I can ascertain, but the techniques involved have developed quite radically – at some point someone…Fosbury…tried something different, broke away from what was considered accepted practice…and consistently beat everyone else… Guess what? There’s no ridiculous online arguing in support of the old ‘Western Roll’ technique, nobody still desperately tries to cling to the ‘Scissor Jump’ method…why? Simple, because it’s been proven beyond all doubt that the ‘Fosbury Flop’ is superior in actual usage during countless ‘level playing field’ competitive events, pitting evenly-matched athletes against one another. Compare this to the ‘combatives’ business – rather hard to do whilst keeping a straight face! Straight off, there’s no real ‘outlet’ that can consistently prove the superiority of any particular method, nothing ‘task-specific’ as such anyway. Sure there’s an almost intolerable amount of ‘war-stories’ presented to persuade all and sundry that everything works just fine…but this is hardly ‘proof’ by any adult definition of the term. Strange that the closest real-time applications of ‘combatives’ that can provide anything approximating consistency from a ‘data’ perspective – namely MMA competition – is generally disregarded as being irrelevant by the ‘experts’ out there…why is this? I’d submit that two capable guys actually havin’ it in an MMA competitive format, even with those pesky rules, has highlighted a ton of truth and proof regarding personal combat…that mostly invalidates vast amounts of what is currently taught as being street effective, so it’s either ignored as if it doesn’t exist, or else ridiculously downplayed as being ‘just’ sport instead. Getting back to the issue of independent thinking, which in my opinion is fully interwoven with ‘originality’ also – I fully agree with Neal’s point regarding it being far easier, and less taxing, not to mention the instant ‘peer support’ you immediately buy into, when you simply adopt common practice and accepted doctrine – especially when there’s some weighty ‘name’ or three endorsing your choice. This is undoubtedly the chosen approach of some, who even try to justify their easy-option choice to only rehash and regurgitate as being some kind of noble duty in the name of progress somehow…personally I struggle to see how this works…surely this is better termed regress? Look up the word, and you’ll see what I’m getting at… Of course they invariably claim to add their own ‘stamp’ and ‘flavour’ to what they copy, and to always credit the source…when it suits them…but in reality this is rarely the case in my observations, and instead they present little more than a ‘tribute act’ offering a diluted version, that often has the original context corrupted or even misses the original point completely. It seems ridiculous – to me – that amongst all this striving to offer the best versions of other people’s material, all the effort expended researching and collating previous and current existing methods, the demonstrated pride in being so thoroughly unoriginal – why isn’t anything near the same work-ethos directed at some actual progressive output instead? Again, it’s obviously far easier to just proclaim ‘there’s nothing new anyway’ and let others do the hard work for them, but isn’t it strange how those that assure us of this, and that shout so loud about it to excuse their cliched approach, are often those that also like to lap up praise as being innovators and pioneers…does anyone see the problem with this train of thought, the contradiction? Fair enough, there are limits to originality regarding the available functions of the human body, but what about training methodology, technique refinement, tactical application, etc? Has everything been definitively covered, leaving no scope for true innovation as some claim? That’s downright weak thinking, right there… …and these guys hard sell themselves as being tough guys, when in reality they seem terrified of thinking for themselves… Strange that these types always manage to find new stuff to copy!”

And here is my reply to that post:

“Very well said, Mick. I think one of the reasons there is so little progression in Combatives is because people think there is no scope for progression, citing the old excuse of “there are only so many ways to hit someone and they’ve all been done”. This may be true, but if you take that attitude you are limiting your thinking from the start. As you say, there are other ways to progress things like finding different training methodologies, technique refinement, and different tactical applications. It is still a major challenge to improve even these things but I believe if you start with the right attitude and mindset, and put the work in of course, that it is entirely possible to come up with new stuff, or at least a more helpful and useful way of looking at the old stuff. There is greater short term reward in following others and doing what has already been done, which is why innovators in any field are few and far between. It comes down to your own personal philosophy, your principles and sense of integrity. Rehashing the work of other people, without trying to add anything new to it, is unfortunately the default path that most people take in the arts in general, but especially in martial arts. It’s something that has been institutionalised in martial arts for a long time, this idea of being a bad photocopy (as Peter Consterdine once put it) of someone else (other instructors). You also see this to an extreme degree in what passes for an education system in most countries, where it is not so much education as indoctrination. Innovation and free thinking are simply not encouraged, so it’s no real surprise that people are unwilling to embrace progressive doctrines, but instead do as they have been taught to do from a young age, which is follow the leader and don’t take risks for fear of upsetting the rest of the flock, or god forbid, look silly in the eyes of the flock.”

 I hope you found some food for thought in this article. Share it on Facebook with your friends if you did.  

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2 Responses to “On Thinking For Yourself”

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  1. Zara says:

    A critical attitude (basically common-sense coupled with a basic knowledge of science and logic) is indeed crucial in living a worthwhile, meaningful life relatively independent from group thinking and desinformation. Of course it’s impossible to check every bit of information that comes your way but being weary of the source and trying to trace it back to sound knowledge is always a good idea and it greatly lessens the chance of being deceived. “Sapere aude!” (dare to know), Immanuel Kant.

    As to Mike Coup’s comment: there’s nothing wrong with copying stuff that’s good and proven to work (it’d be pretty silly to try to re-invent the wheel and some things are so basic it’s hard if not impossible ot improve upon them), however I agree reflection and experimentation is important to weed out faults and, as far as possible, devise new elements that’ll improve efficiency and effectiveness. Still bringing something completely new to the martial arts is hard to imagine: even Bruce Lee took elements from many arts and combined them to suit his purpose, it’s hard to maintain he actually ‘invented’ something new. This applies both to his martial art aswell as his personal and martial philosophy which basically consists of elements from the various eastern religions. In that sense there really isn’t anything truly new under the sun (technique wise) and this will probably remain so for aslong as our body is what it is. Of course training methods and sports physiology are constantly improving so it makes sense to keep up to date and incorporate those insights into one’s training and teaching.

  2. Neal Martin says:

    Succinctly summed up. Thanks Zara.

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