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Saturday, August 21, 2010


Below is a dialogue from a comedy called Blackadder (1983), it is set in the Middle-Ages.

[In meeting room, Harry is holding a council with various lords].
Harry: My Lords of the Council, we face today the gravest crisis this country
       has known since the Roman invasion.
All: Hear hear!
        (an officer enters, carrying a helmet)
Harry: Therefore, I propose--
Officer: Your Highness, the King has stirred and calls for you.
Harry: Ah. (swallows nervously) Very well. (removes his hat; stands) Gentlemen,
       I must leave you. (takes the helmet from Officer and draws his sword,
       preparing to meet the deranged King) Prince Edmund is in charge!
        (Percy begins to bang on the table in approval, but all the lords
         mutter "Oh shame..." so he stops. Harry and Officer leave. Baldrick
         brings Harry's notes to Edmund.)
Edmund: Er, yes, right. Gentlemen, right... (reads from Harry's notes) As you
        know, today we face the gravest crisis this country has known since
        the Roman invasion.
        (They all make sounds of protest: "Nonsense!"; "Rubbish!"; etc.)
Lord 1: What about the Viking invasion?
Lord 2: ...and the Norman invasion?
Angus: ...and the Swiss invasion?
Edmund: Er, well, the greatest crisis for some time.
Lord 2: And we all know why!
Edmund: Why?
Angus: Because the King is possessed!
Edmund: What?!
Lord 2: True! True! The land is full of omens of bewitchment. Only last week
        in Cornwall, a man with four heads was seen taking tea on the beach;
        and two women in Windsor claimed to have been raped by a fish!
Lord 1: I, too, have heard such tales. In (Harrigate?),
it rained phlegm; and
        they do say that, in Edinburgh, the graves did open and the ghosts of
        our ancestors rose up and competed in athletic sports!
Percy: ...and a friend of mine had this awful pimple on the inside of his
Edmund: Percy, shut up, for God's sake.
        (There are mutters of "Witchcraft!")
Angus: ...and a farmer in (Rye?) heard a cow reciting Geoffrey Chaucer; and
       a young woman in Shropshire saw Geoffrey Chaucer in a field, mooing
       and suckling a young heifer!
Edmund: Gentlemen, gentlemen, surely we aren't the sort of people who believe
        in this sort of thing. I mean, next you'll be telling me is
        that washing your hair in bat's droppings stops you going bald.
Lord 2: But it's true! I couldn't find enough bats, and look what happened!
        (removes his hat to show his baldness)

I put this script in here (which can be seen on youtube, if you search about), as it shows the issue of authority really well.

Authority is where you can get people to behave in a certain way – even if they like it or not – and you don’t have to resort to force to get them to do that, as your right to do so is recognized and not contested.

In this example Edmund Blackadder has no authority – or rather it is not recognised, but his elder Brother's authority was. See how the group of Lords start to question the very same statement made, once Edmund takes over.

In martial art teaching the search for authoritative knowledge is a big battle. Who can we belive, what knowledge counts as ‘true’ or not is a big source of anguish for many. Some use tradition and brand names of teachers to derive the legitimacy of knowledge claims.

I remember when I did JKD. The teacher put me in charge of a newcomer to do hook-kicks. They the kicking shield and started the demonstration. When it was their turn to go, I started to ‘correct’ them, in the style of what our school did. The newcomer said ‘oh, no – this way is much better’ – and proceeded to do what they wanted to do.

I wondered what to do. They weren’t really listening to what I had said – or been shown myself as 'correct'. So I called over a trainee instructor, and thought if the newcomer does not believe me, then they will believe him. But then what happens is yet another way to ‘hook-kick’ is shown. And the newcomer adopts that way, as they recognised the authority of that insight over mine. THEN, the teacher comes over and says ‘ why are you not doing this kick the way I showed it, and was I [me] not doing as we were told’.

I was really annoyed at this, as this was in fornt of everyone. I tried to explain, but the teacher said I am in charge and it is down to me. I looked a the newcomer and wanted to slap him ! And I wanted to slap the trainee instructor for just hiding away there – as we had reverted to his method.

My point is, authority as a basis for learning and basing belief upon needs questioning all the time. Sometimes the boundaries of authority are like a parental figure an they need to be there to like a walled garden to stop people believing what they want to believe and do what they like. Sometimes authority does have to be questioned, (bats dropping for baldness ?). The grappling movement has been good at this, for provoking a rethink to approaches in traditional martial arts that do not question their premises and training methods.

My example was from a more micro-social example. If ‘I’ said I had seen a cow reciting Geoffrey Chaucer, no one would believe me. If the Bruce Lee had said that – I bet some would believe, due to his authority !