Book Excerpt: The appeal of the obscure and pond size effect

From How to choose your Internal martial arts teacher – full table of contents below

Koi – by Dotun 55

I am curious about the appeal of the exotic and obscure in martial arts. This is what I have observed.

In the world of martial arts there are fads and fashions. For various reasons people fixate on the desire to learn a specific style. Perhaps they read an article presenting it as the best thing since the invention of indoor plumbing, or they saw some particularly impressive youtube video.

However I think that there is a degree of magical thinking involved in martial arts fashions related to the desire to never be be beaten.

My theory: On some level the searchers are scientific. They want the best, and thus least beatable, and that in theory a style exists that is invincible. They hear or read about a style for the first time and hypothesize ‘this style may be invincible’. Being scientific they then test the hypothesis and do some research based on the question ‘Is there an instance of this style being beaten?’ if the answer is yes then the style is in fact vincible.

Practitioners of any named style have been beaten in the past. It doesn’t matter if it’s Bagua people beating Taiji people, Taiji people beating Bagua people, wrestlers beating BJJ people, MMA people being beaten by other MMA people or some traditional school any well known style will have include a sample of people who have been beaten. Therefore the style is not perfect and does not confer invincibility. The better known the style the easier it will be to find instances of people who practice it and have been beaten.

However the newest, secretest, most esoteric, fashionable and obscure style? There is a good chance that you’ve never heard of anyone from that style who has been beaten, therefore the style might be invincible. Might be invincible is a better bet than definitely not invincible.

My theory about invincibility does not take into account what I call the pond size effect.

Take the least obscure of styles – say Judo. There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of practitioners who compete in Judo worldwide. It’s a pretty big pond.

Some of the fish in this pond will be quite small and very vincible. Some of them however will be monster fish, who have swept and slammed and thrown their way tournament by tournament, week in week out through ranks of good, better and pretty freaking scary judoka to make it to the top.

If the goal is to be biggest fish in the pond, you’re better off picking a smaller pond. A small pond will limit your potential growth though. But it is less likely to threaten your magical thinking….

Take pond size effect into account whenever a teacher claims quality based on being the highest graded, most decorated or least defeated of any style that does not seem to have a lot of adherents.

Incidentally disreputable and dishonest teachers are drawn to obscure styles. When a style is unknown potential students have no standards to judge it by. I know of several ‘made up’ Taiji styles and two ‘made up’ Bagua styles. Such teachers also do not have to swim in the big ponds with the big fish. The origin of most of these made up styles dates back to a time before Taiji and Bagua were well known in the West.


Table of contents of book

Why you or someone you know needs this e-book
My qualifications in writing this book
How to use this e-book
Reasons to learn an internal martial art
Meditation and calm
Intrinsic pleasure
Useful ideas to set the scene
Magic bathwater
The trap of the sage-warrior
Sheep, clouds and wolves
Before you choose you need to find
Internet searches
National federations
Ask people you have heard of
Sidebar: The appeal of the obscure and pond size effect
Sidebar: support local
Red flags green flags and tests
Sidebar: Get some perspective
Atmosphere and work quality
Condition of students
The style supermarket
Qi and magic powers
Form and push hands = fighting and self-defence
In the next seminar…
Secrets for sale
Empty force and unreal power
Too dangerous for MMA
The mystic goal swap
Too secty for my body – martial arts cults and how to recognise them
How not to piss off a teacher
Questions to ask a teacher (and some to avoid)
Style romanisations
Other books by Edward Hines
Online resources