Common Sense Filters and Critical Thinking in Martial Arts

Life constantly provides us with information. As a premise, this seems irrefutable and logical. For example, if we study a subject, we obtain more information about that subject. Does this mean that we actually learn more, or simply that we have more information about it? What we do with that information, how we process it and interpret it, is ultimately governed by a myriad of combining processes which are biologically, psychologically and socially based. Each of us have individual variances, filters if you like, which consciously or unconsciously interact, influencing our evaluation and therefore our representation of the received sensory information. Quite simply, two people receiving the same information may come to two very different conclusions as to what it means. The real question here is, can then one conclusion ‘truer’ than the other?

The logical people approaching this question will immediately provide an answer of, well if the information evidences and supports the conclusion then it’s true. For much of physical science this accepted fact. If we can evidence a process, say a reaction between two base elements occurring when they meet, and this reaction statistically occurs more often than not, we would be correct in concluding that there is a clear and proven relationship between the two. There is a causal link. The reaction is caused by the interaction of the elements. Whilst there are exceptions and this is a very simple example, generally speaking physical science is concerned with what we can prove or can’t prove (inductive logic) and the application of these conclusions (deductive logic). However in social sciences there is a much greater opportunity for less empirical and more creative interpretation of information. Indeed physical science is not without opportunity for bias and skewed interpretation of results, however agreed physical laws do tend to prevail. Social sciences however are often much more subjectively based, with information being interpreted on slightly more tenuous observations and individualised theories. As a quick example, just consider for a second how many religious and political parties currently exist. All of these ‘groups’ you’ve identified essentially interpret the same information (that being the ‘human experience’) using applying different filters and resulting in different ideologies.However (and regardless of popular support) what actual evidence is there to support the original premises on which these theories are based? Indeed can some of these premises ever truly be objectively proven or disproven?

To place this issue into the context of martial arts, particularly traditional martial arts, this issue of subjective interpretation becomes even more apparent. The study of martial arts can provide us with a variety of fantastic individual benefits, physical, emotional and spiritual.Taken as a whole, the field of martial arts study also provides us a great microcosmic view of wider society. They can provide an opportunity to look at something small and potentially identify social concepts and processes, and help us better recognise and understand how these apply and exist in a broader and more general context. This article is essentially concerned with highlighting the need for critical thinking filters in the martial arts, essentially how we collate and interpret the information we receive. The principles discussed are as relevant to wider society as they are to the specific field of martial arts practice.

The issue of thinking (and more importantly critical thinking) is a massive area of social, psychological and philosophical study. Even a relaxed, gentle exploration into the subject will present philosophical, sociological and psychological rabbit holes for you to go into and potentially get lost in too. As a logical beginning, we are going to start this particular investigatory process by looking at a small philosophical issue which sits at the heart of not only some academic studies, but also the study and practice of martial arts.

Whilst the French mathematician and scientist Rene Descartes (1596-1650), considered to be the first modern philosopher, is widely misquoted as saying “Cogito ergo sum” or “I think, therefore I am.” (the actual quote is slightly more embellished, wordier and significantly longer) the study of human thinking can be traced further back to antiquity of human history. In western philosophy Socrates (470 - 399 BCE) is widely regarded as the one of the founder members. Pre-socratic philosophy was essentially the philosophy of nature. Philosophers prior to Socrates questioned the world around them, seeking more rational explanations to life than the simple premise that all things in the natural world could be attributed to the ancient Greek gods. Pre-socratic philosophers were considered to be mostly concerned with describing nature mathematically(1) and “cosmological and physical speculation” (2)