Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Skeptical Martial Artist: An Introduction to Logical Fallicies

    The Japanese suffix of "-jutsu", as in kenjutsu, or jujutsu, as it is usually applied to martial arts has a couple of interesting translations.  In some books I've seen it translated as "art", in others; "techniques", and a couple I've seen it translated as "sciences".  Science could be the best way to translate it because martial arts should basically work like the scientific method.  A technique should be tried, evaluated and reviewed, and then re-tried.  As such, the martial arts should be filled with logic.  However, many times cultural biases, ignorance of application,  and ego get in the way of logical progression.  There are arguments presented that are not logical or even really reasonable in their nature.  What follows is a couple of logical fallacies that are frequently present in martial arts.  For logicians out there, these are really what are called informal fallacies as the argument may or may not be true... but not because of the reason presented.  The logical fallacies I'm going to talk about today are a group that are called Irrelevant Appeals.  There are other appeals, but I'm going to talk about those most applicable to martial arts and artists.

Appeal to Antiquity/Tradition

This is when something is done in a martial art because it was they way it was done in the old days, or because it is tradition.  This doesn't mean that there is anything inherently better about that way of doing it.  In fact, many modern applications may be better, because of the increased knowledge of anatomy and psychology that we have today.  The idea of these arguments are that these older ways are better simply because they are older.  They traditional way may very well be better, but not due to the simple fact that they are the older way of doing it.  There could also be a cultural reason why we do things in the arts, just not a martial reason why we do them.  And if part of your experience in martial arts is the cultural exchange, then by all means continue.  Not to pick on the Chinese arts, but the Confucianism that was ever present says that the way of the ancestors is better, and you should do it that way.  This may lead to some of the appeals to antiquity.

Bruce Lee: Evidence based Martial Artist?
Appeal to Novelty

    This is the opposite of the Appeal to Antiquity.  The argument is that because it is new it is, by definition, better.  As martial artists we see this in people trying to convince you that a martial art is better because it isn't bogged down by tradition.  This may be an appeal to some people, but it is not an argument that it is a better, or more effective martial art. Sometimes it manifests as the martial art that combines all the other arts into some new form.

Appeal to Authority

    This is one of the most common appeals.  Well...Funikoshi said this, so it must be true.  In many cases there is a reason these authorities on their subjects are the authority.  And it can be a true argument.  However, simply because an authority figure said it, does not make it true.  Although great masters of martial arts, they were (and are) human and therefore fallible. 

Appeal to Popularity

    The appeal to popularity goes something like this..."The most popular martial art in the world is Taekwondo, so it has to be the best right.  Otherwise, why would all those people do it."  Just picking on Taekwondo, no offense meant.  Simply having a large number of people do something does not make it sound evidence.  Many Southern Americans believed in economics of Slavery.  That doesn't make slavery the best economic system.


    First ask questions about why you're doing some of the things you're doing.  Questions are always good, if their asked in the right format.  Don't just blurt out challenging questions to your instructor while he's in the middle of a technique.  But when you do ask your question, be wary of answers that have logical fallacies in them.  You could be doing some things for completely different reasons that what you initially thought.