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Thursday, August 04, 2011

Theory - what is it good for?

Here are two videos of two disparate activities: chess and martial arts. You do often get comparisons between the two but these are not always that detailed.

Here is one similarity - reverence for 'the center'.

In chess, if you can occupy or control the center, then, you take space away from your opponent. Also, you can swing your pieces left or right, or crash through more economically - i.e. take less moves to make more threats.


In Wing Chun, the center too, is important to defend and attack down, at the same time. If your hands occupy the center you can deflect on-coming attacks from the left, right and center economically, as your arms do not have to move as far, as if they were parked on the edge of your body. Also, if you occupy the opponents center then, you can enter more easily to create threats on them.

So what? The point is the role of theory is to simplify and explain things. In chess you have a forest of possible moves and things to do. The role of theory and, here - 'the center' for instance - is to simplify your task and make meaning of the game and where you should put your pieces. Same for Wing Chun. The theory gives you something to think with and about. I.e. where should I defend and where should I attack? What should I be doing with my arms. This simplifies the choices to be made when interpreting a scuffle.

Theory is not actually to complicate. It is to simplify, that is why in academic courses such as social sciences effort is made in introducing learners to theory, to actually show how it is a tool to make meaning of a messy world by focusing on just a few prioritized ideas. You do not have to come up with novel ideas why things operate, or how they operate. You take the theory off-the-shelf, as someone else has done the spade-work.

The last theory we looked at was Beck's theory of 'the risk society'. I am not going into detail about that - but will say it gives us a focus on a few ideas to make meaning of why modern life offers anxiety and paradoxically decreased trust in experts, but yet also a reliance on experts in the modern age, as the threats we face are invisible and we need their help.

A theory I was learning about was 'existentialist counseling'. There  the theory focuses us to realize what it is like to live life and understand it is not pre-determined, but we have freedom - i.e. choices to make. The weight of these choices is crushing upon us - and causes anxiety. Anxiety is part of life, which we need to embrace and according to Nietzsche we need to love our fate. If we can do that we live life authentically and not in bad faith. The issue of freedom and the problems it gives us is the core of this type of counseling. It has its principles in its theory to make meaning out of troubled lives in the counseling setting.

The theory is 'the center' then to be focusing on here, and also showing us what to ignore in doing your thinking. It is a simplification, but it speeds up analysis time in any of these activities when you think with these precepts, and take them as a given.