May 14, 2008


Caption: Judo throw (osoto-gari), courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme at Goat Rope lately is applying some ideas from the martial arts to working and writing for social change or social conservation. You'll also find links and comments about current events. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

One of the most central concepts in many martial arts is that of balance. It's also an important thing to keep in mind when working to change or preserve things.

In martial arts, at the very least it's hard to deliver effective techniques when you're off balance. More to the point, any time you are off balance--whether you do it yourself or someone or some thing does it to you--you can fall or be thrown. Hard.

To lose balance is to lose self control. To lose self control in a serious situation is to risk losing everything.

(Have you ever noticed that a lot of folks who want to change things have serious self control issues? This is probably going to sound really bad, but when I'm deciding which individuals and groups I'm going to work with, I tend to divide them into those with and without self control and avoid the latter.)

You don't need to be grappling with a physical opponent to lose your balance. You can lose it under the influence of anger, fear, ideology,or even a conviction of being right. Those things impede a person from responding adequately to cues from others or the environment. In writing, people lose balance by venting inappropriately, exaggerating, inflating rhetoric, twisting facts and logic, and using hyperbole.

I knew the US was going to be in really BIG trouble post 9/11 when then Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said US military policy was going to be "forward leaning." To be forward leaning is to be off balance; to be off balance is to be vulnerable to over-reaching. Over reaching means there's a good chance of being thrown, falling--or in this case, leaping--into a quagmire.

In judo, the art of breaking the opponent's balance is called kuzushi, which can be the first step to victory. But, as with all this, your opponents can do all this to you.

I also remember being involved in some serious labor struggles several years back. We used to have some pretty big ones in WV. It often happened that during a strike or lockout, companies would import "goon guards," as they were sometimes unaffectionately called, from out of state. It wasn't unusual for them to try to provoke union members or their families into losing their "balance" and doing things that could discredit their cause.

That's a classical example of kuzushi in action. The trick is not to take the bait.

I'll close for today with a couple of suggestions straight from judo:

*Any time one's opponent overreaches and loses balance, an opportunity exists. I've spent a lot of time waiting for such moments. As Tom Petty sang, the waiting IS the hardest part. It can take years.

*It's always a good idea to figure out what your opponent would like you to do--and then not do it.

HOW DOES YOUR LIST COMPARE? Here's a good collection of Bush administration disasters. Which ones were left out?

INVISIBLE HAND VS. GREEN THUMB. This item from Scientific American shows the flaws in neo-classical economic theory which are particularly telling in dealing with things like climate change.

SPEAKING OF CLIMATE CHANGE, I hope these guys are wrong. They probably do too.

JUST ONE COMMENT about the WV primary. It looks like Massey Energy just lost a friend on the state Supreme Court with the defeat of justice Spike Maynard. (Note any similarity between this story and the theme of today's post is purely coincidental. But that's what I'm talking about).



Wabi-Sabi said...

Great stuff as usual.

We'll never throw all the bums out of office, secure our complete and total victory and annihilation of those who oppress us by using hyperbole.

That's why I always avoid exaggerations and hyperbole at all costs and nothing you can say or do will ever get me to do so.


El Cabrero said...

You are TOTALLY right. The utter supremacy which we so deeply deserve will only come from the elimination of the verbal hyperbolists.

Ditto re: the people who over-react and have little self control. They make me want to punch out a plate glass window, which I just did.

I gotta go. I'm bleeding now.