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Monday, January 24, 2011

Martial Mythologies: Bad-Ass By Proxy

This is one of those strange mythologies that no one ever says aloud, but still exists, in spades, with the martial arts community. It’s related to a phenomenon I’ve seen referred to as MMAth (or MMA Math, or something like that), but it’s a lot more dangerous/toxic.

MMAth is the logic chain that goes like this: Fighter A beats Fighter B. Fighter B beat Fighter C. Ergo, Fighter A will beat Fighter C.

Now, while this is sometimes true, it’s not a universal principle. There are times, in fact, when it fails rather badly. Sometimes Fighter C has Fighter A’s kryptonite. Sometimes, Fighter A beat Fighter B on a close decision, or a fluke win.

The myth of the bad-ass by proxy is similar, but it’s way more dangerous. The bad-ass by proxy myth goes like this:

My Instructor Is A Bad-Ass. I train with my instructor, therefore, I am a bad-ass.

Or worse

The guy who founded my style 800 years ago was a bad-ass. I train in that style (which my instructor, who is a bad-ass, assures me has not changed in 800 years (another mythology for a different day), therefore, I am a bad-ass.

Now, to most rational human beings, the problem with this logic chain is pretty straightforward, but I’m going to spell it out anyway.

It does not matter what your instructor has done. It matters what YOU have done.

To use myself as an example: I study Muay Thai with Kru Mark Dellagrotte, who is undeniably an accomplished Nak Muay (Muay Thai Fighter). He’s traveled to Thailand. He’s fought professionally, both in Thailand and in the States. He’s competed at Rajadamnern Stadium, which is one of the most recognized Stadiums in Thailand.

And I learn from this guy. And I learn a lot, and much of what I learn from him is doubtless informed by his experiences. But that does not magically confer those experiences upon me. HE is an accomplished fighter; I’ve had one amateur Muay Thai fight, which I lost. Whatever else I can say about that experience, it hardly makes me an accomplished fighter, and definitely does not put me in same class as Mark.

Let me use a more extreme, if fictional, example. Imagine that I want to get stronger. So I seek out a strength coach. Say I find a guy who regularly deadlifts 700lbs. The day I start training with him, I will not deadlift 700lbs. I probably won't even come close. The only way I’ll pull 700lbs is by putting the time and work myself, until I really can deadlift that much.

Your instructors accomplishments are not yours. Only yours are yours. Whatever the people you learn from may have experienced or accomplished, do not assume that you have acquired that experience just by being around them. The only thing you own are the things you’ve done yourself.

[Note: In relation to my early post Disgust--I’ve also seen a variation on this which is, for lack of a better term, Moral Superiority by Proxy. It’s the same idea, but assumes that because one’s instructor is an exemplar of moral virtue, the student is as well. In my experience, the result is often that neither person is anything close.]

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