Advice vs. Programming

While I was at fighter practice last night, I had the interesting opportunity to talk with and give advice to another fighter. Now, part of me was thinking: “What authority do I have to give advice? I’m not a knight.” But I also had a feeling that that part was being more humble than necessary, and the more I thought about it, the more confident I felt. Not to toot my own horn (no sarcasm there; I really don’t like bragging about myself), but I do have quite a bit of martial arts experience. I’ve been doing some sort of martial arts for at least twenty years: Taekwondo for ten, and SCA for about the same. I’ve also taught martial arts professionally; teaching definitely takes a different skill set than practicing, and I’d like to think that I’m pretty good at it.

We talked about a lot of things, mostly about the mental game (à la The Axesperiment), and I may expound upon certain points at length later (how to “unthink” being one of them). But one thing came up towards the end that I thought was important, and that’s about the dangers of well-intentioned advice.

This fighter also fought in Crown Tournament. We talked about our experiences, and how his differed from mine. One thing that he said he found distracting was that, aside from thinking too much, he had two different people giving him advice. Inevitably this advice is going to conflict. So what do you do? Do you ignore one knight in favor of the other? Do you try to follow both sets of advice? Do you get locked up about what to do and not do?

That’s when I realized: advice, especially when well-intentioned, should still be taken with a grain of salt. After all, when a person gives advice, they are speaking from their own meandering existence. Even if they try to put themselves in your shoes, they still come at things with their own biases, what works for them, what doesn’t.

It can be useful to get a different perspective, but also confusing. Thus, it can be bad to take advice too literally, as a program to be run verbatim even if it actively works against your instincts. That way lies discouragement and pain, maybe even madness. I know I’ve been on the receiving end of this myself. This can be a touchy road, though, as discomfort is often a precursor to growth. One doesn’t want to throw away advice because it doesn’t work right away.

Even I’m guilty of this when giving advice. Because I started learning martial arts so young, I take for granted many things that others do not. But only recently am I feeling confident enough to sort through what advice works for me and what doesn’t. And that may be the heart of the manner: self-confidence. You have to know yourself really well to be able to suss out what advice is spot on and what misses by (less than) twelve parsecs.

I guess that got a bit rambling (I blame the wonderful cold my girlfriend gave me after she brought it home last week). I guess if I had to distill what I was trying to say to its essence it would be this: think about what advice people are giving you. Try to factor in where they’re coming from, and how it differs from where you’re at. Don’t do this on the fighting field, of course, but be mindful about things. And if you have any other questions or thoughts, I’d be more than happy to discuss them. I think of myself as a pretty good teacher, and am willing to take the time to explain concepts in a variety of ways until it makes sense to my student. Plus, I kinda like it.

Of course, don’t forget to take all this with as much salt as you need.

1 thought on “Advice vs. Programming

  1. Pet

    I had an experience with too much advice when I started shooting Archery again… OMG… I could not possibly do all those things at once. I finally decided that it was nice to be aware of the 27 different ways to do things while using the 28th that worked for me. I give great thanks to the -one- person in that process (Other than your awesome GF!) who noticed I was trying something different one day and didn’t tell me I was doing it wrong, but asked me if there was a reason I had changed my tactics, and then when I said I just wanted to see what happened, let me go on my merry way.

    Having always been a competitor of some sort, it has always been important to me to know how “the other guy” does it. This allows me to get in to their brain and figure out where I have an extra few seconds while he is not looking (or maybe specifically while she -is- looking to complete a particularly intimidating looking flip turn or something…) to get an edge. It occurs to me that getting advice from all over the map could be a very good thing as long as you are able to keep it in your head as “this is how this person thinks about this move” and not necessarily get it gummed up with how -you- complete that move, except when you are going against that person, and it would benefit you to adapt your technique to out brain his. This also requires you to pay attention and make sure the person does as they suggest… but watching them is going to be important anyway, and even if they do different than they suggest, you have just learned something about their style… This applies to more in life than martial arts. Try it in business, but be just as careful!

    Also, thinking this way is apparently not natural, and part of what makes us teachers.

    Your ramble has begat my ramble. Hope it makes sense.

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