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It is a sad truth that some adults still employ pre-school questioning skills.
What is tai chi? What is Taoism? Will tai chi fix up my health? How long will it take for me to defend myself? How long will it take for me to get good at tai chi?
Asking a question isn't a problem. The problem lies with the expectation of a simplistic, straightforward answer.
Few things in life can be summarised in a single sentence or even a paragraph e.g. marriage, family, work, love, sex.
understanding is simplistic;
simplicity after understanding is
(Edward De Bono)
Example question - What is a car?
Google said: "a road vehicle, typically with four wheels, powered by an internal-combustion engine and able to carry a small number of people."
This sounds quite comprehensive. But is it really? Does the answer enable you to build a car, insure, tax, maintain, service, design a car?
The answer is simplistic; superficial, cursory. It is the beginning of understanding, not the end.
If simplistic questions sound reasonable to you, it may be worth improving your questioning skills.
Read some relevant books:
• Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
• The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli
• The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward B. Burger & Michael Starbird
• Curious by Ian Leslie
How long does it take to learn to play the
guitar? How many lessons are needed to speak Japanese? Obviously it depends
upon your purpose. Do you want to be the next Segovia or Clapton, or just to
play a few simple tunes? Do you intend to translate haiku, or are you simply
preparing for a two-week vacation? Although the skill of your teacher and
your talent level will certainly influence your progress, the duration and
intensity of your study will be determined ultimately by the level of
expertise that you seek.
Example question - What would I do against a knife attack?
The question sounds reasonable.
Let's break it down with a few example considerations:
When attacked, where are you located?
At work? At home? In the street? In a car park?
Are there other people around?
How isolated is the location?
Can you call for help?
Will anyone respond to a cry for help?
Are there any shops or people nearby?
What is the weather like? (Rain = reduced visibility, slippery surfaces etc)
Have you been approached by an individual or a group?
If this is a gang situation, where are the other people situated relative to you?
Does the attacker have an accomplice? Where are they?
Is the knife being brandished?
Is the knife being waved around or held still?
Does the attacker hold the knife close to their body or at arm's length?
Is the attacker stationary? Are they moving?
What kind of knife is it?
Is the attack from the front? From behind you?
Is the knife touching you?
Where is the knife touching you? Solar plexus, kidneys, throat?
Is the assailant holding onto you?
What is their demeanour? Angry? Calm? Confident? Nervous?
Has the attacker already stabbed you?
Or are they trying to intimidate you?
What does the attacker want?
Robbery? Rape? Murder?
Are they young or old?
Do they look experienced with violence?
How fit do they look?
Do you think they can outrun you?
Left handed or right handed?
Left foot forward or right foot forward?
How are they holding the knife?
Do they look competent with the knife?
How far away is the attacker?
Do they need to step closer in order to cut you?
What are your combat skills like?
By whose standards? Yours? Your instructors?
How often do you train martially?
Do you practice dealing with knife attackers? How often?
How fast are your reflexes?
Are you any good (martially)?
Can you perform skilful applications under pressure?
Do you have the ability to adapt, change and improvise?
Are you composed?
Are you panicking?
Where is your mind? In the moment? Speculating?
What is your level of awareness?
Did the attacker catch you off-guard?
What are you wearing?
Are your shoes suitable for running?
What are you carrying?
How far away is your car?
How rested/tired are you?
What time of day is it?
Are you fresh out of bed or at the end of a long day?
Can you run? If so, for how long and how fast?
Where will you run?
Can you outrun the attacker?
Is there a clear exit?
Where is the attacker located relative to the exit?
How fit are you?
Do you have any health conditions e.g. bad knees?
Is there an improvised weapon to hand?
Can you reach it without being cut?
Will the improvised weapon be useful?
How skilfully can you handle it?
What are your expectations regarding this encounter?
How do you measure your chances? By what criteria?
Are you over-estimating your level of skill?
If your skills are not good, is there a chance you going to be killed?
Can you talk your way out of this?
What is your best case scenario?
What is your worst case scenario?
A handle on it
When people are provided with a simplistic answer, they naively believe themselves to have a comprehensive grasp of the subject matter. This is far from the truth.
What they have is usually facile, illusory and preliminary - an introduction to the greater complexities inherent in most things.
People try to break down complex situations into bite sized chunks of information.The problem with this approach is that most of the relevant data is discarded.
Instead of gaining a textured, meaningful level of understanding, the individual has a cursory notion - a headline.
You cannot repair a car using the Google definition of 'car'. You cannot handle a knife attacker having watched a stuntman do it on a movie. To perform any skill, you need to know more.
A lot more...
The drawbacks of being 'simplistic' are fairly obvious:
• You know far less than you think you know
• Your knowledge is incomplete
• You are working on a faulty/erroneous premise
• You are making mistakes
• You may be perpetuating errors
When learning any in-depth skill or art, a highly experienced, qualified teacher is needed.
There are very few people in the world who can learn to play the piano by themselves, cook like a French chef, become a doctor, speak Spanish or perform tai chi properly without professional help.
If you imagine that learning tai chi is any different to learning how to play the piano... your understanding of tai chi is woefully simplistic.
Very often, people confuse
simple with simplistic.
The nuance is lost on most.
18 April 2005
Last updated 16 June 2023