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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Integrated vs. Disaggregated/Open vs. Closed

Recently finished listening Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs. I couldn't tell you why I read it, not being much of a Mac fan (despite owning a MacBook Air and an iPhone), nor knowing much about the computer industry (or computers in general). But, like so many things, I managed to extract some useful ideas from it.

Note: some of this is delving into computer terminology which I may be mangling. I am not a computer guy. If I am mangling this, sorry. 

It seems that one of the great debates of modern personal computing centered around two connected dimensions. The first is a question of Integrated vs. Disaggregated system. Integrated systems are ones in which the hardware, software, and peripherals are designed together, and designed to work seamlessly with each other. A disaggregated system is one where hardware, software, and peripherals are designed separately. They can work together, but they aren't built in tandem.

The second is the idea of Closed vs. Open systems. An open system is one where anyone can access the core material of the system and mess around with it. In a closed system, it's impossible to access it from the outside. The open system allows for tinkering. The closed one does not.

Jobs apparently came down on the side of an Integrated, Closed system. Which is why Apple makes products that work very well with each other, but don't always play well with others. Or so the idea goes (again, this is not my field of expertise).

Further, Jobs had the idea that all of his devices should work around a central "hub" (originally the computer, later the cloud) that managed and sychronized everything in a seamless, efficient manner.

I think all three of these ideas have some merit or application for martial arts training.

Integrated vs. Disaggregated

A good martial art system should be integrated, not disaggregated.

At one point in my life, I spent some time checking out various martial arts seminars, and bouncing around to a few different training locales. For me, I think, this was mostly a searching process--I was a bit lost on my journey and was trying to find my way. I thought, at the time, that by working with other martial artists, I would pick up stuff and bring it back to my own practice.

The problem with this approach is that you can end up bringing things back that don't really fit into the system. You just end up with a bunch of stuff. Some of it might work okay together, and some of it really doesn't. If you're just pasting stuff into your practice without much thought about how it fits into a larger whole, there's not much value in it.

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and potentially stir up stuff with some old comrades of mine. I think that parts of the Uechi-Ryu system are disaggregated. You have a system that was originally designed for extreme close-quarters combat, onto which were added drills designed to improve performance in long range point sparring environments. The two goals don't synch, and as a result, there is a lot of debate in the Uechi community about the utility of some of those drills.

Creating an Integrated training method is more challenging, but more efficient. You start with core principles. You make sure that everything you add to the system (if you add anything), plays well with the core systems goals and design.

I think you can take this approach further, by looking at how you cross-train (if you do). Some systems have more common principles to build upon than others. Judo and BJJ notoriously synch up well, because they share a common ancestry, and thus, a common set of core principles. Even Muay Thai and BJJ share some common principles, and a common set of assumptions about what proper training looks like (highly athletic, including a fair amount of dynamic drilling). Muay Thai might not play so well with, say, Capoiera, which seems to be founded on a very different set of dynamics.

Open Vs. Closed

Martial arts have a long tradition of being closed systems: you'd have a single family or lineage holder, whose job was to pass the system down at his (or occasionally her) discretion. The system, in it's entirety, was rarely revealed to anyone except a select few. The idea was to keep information which might be used by your enemies from falling into the wrong hands. It also meant that the system was unlikely to be modified or altered, except by a member of that privileged class.

Not all systems are closed, however, and in the modern era, more and more systems are becoming open. Boxing, as I reflect on it, might be one of the ultimate open systems. Finding access to info on the fundamentals of boxing is pretty easy. Even finding an instructor isn't too difficult. But every coach will have his or her own takes on the sport: they will emphasize different drills, or different strategies. Some will steal ideas from other places. Some will delve into the history of the sport, while others will take inspiration from modern champions.

Our modern era makes keeping systems closed harder and harder. It's possible for an individual school to become a closed system, but keeping an entire system hidden from public view in the era of youtube, DVDs, and other information systems is really tough.

Having an individual school be a closed system could work, but it's dangerous ground. It's easy to slide into a cultish environment where the Coach's (or whatever) word is considered infallible...which is rarely a good thing.

The Hub

This is mostly theory, but I think the idea is sound.

Take the "Integrated" concept, but bring it further. Make your art the centerpiece for...well, as much as you want to.

As an example: Tony Blauer has spoken often about his passion for CrossFit, and his belief that CrossFit aligns itself well, philosophically and conceptually, with the PDR/SPEAR System. His CrossFit Defense program is based around this idea: that with CrossFit as the hub, you can integrate PDR/SPEAR training on top of it, without compromising either system. Or, presumably, you could make the PDR/SPEAR the hub, and use CrossFit as your strength and conditioning program.

Looking at your art can give you clues about the kind of strength and conditioning program you want to follow. Or about what kind of arts you should, or should not, cross-train in. Heck, it might provide insight into what books you want to read, or what kind of diet you want to pursue.

Of course, this might just produce the wannabe samurai from apartment 3b, who wears his gi everywhere and speaks with a bad Japanese accent even though he's from Montana. Might be taking things too far.

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