Reflections on my 2013 China trip, Part I

This is the first of three considerations that crossed my mind when [travelling through China]. The others will follow shortly…

(I/III) Paralysis by Analysis – or: How to use a map

Obviously, most of the time Sabine and I had no idea how to get from point A to point B – especially when we were travelling on foot. Luckily, we had maps for most cities, so eventually, we reached every destination we wanted to see… still, I realized that exploring a foreign country (or city, for that matter) by help of a map is a very useful analogy for how he approach many things in our everyday lives.

Consider the following scenario: you’re in a foreign city and try to find a certain street or alley. All street signs are descript in a foreign language, i.e. pretty much useless for your needs. Houses are not numbered. After some time, you reach a crossroads with a street sign you can actually identify (either because it’s a main road an hence labelled in western characters or because the map gives the Chinese name for that street). In essence, you’re left with a very basic decision: do you turn left or right?

Now Sabine was keen on avoiding every unnecessary step – even if that meant standing at that said crossroad for ten minutes, trying to figure out the map and making guesses regarding the proper direction. In other words, she took a very analytical and cautious approach. Me, for my part, I can’t stand the idea of standing around (no pun intended) and making wild assumptions based on too little data. I always advocated a trial-and-error approach: if we can’t be sure, let’s just make an initial guess and try that direction. After some time, we’ll either reach our goal or find proof that our initial guess was wrong. No big deal – just admit the mistake, turn around and go the other way. After all, we now know that is has to be the right one.

Don’t get me wrong here – I’m all for frontloading and stuff. After all, I’m from an academic background, holding a degree in computer science… still, borrowing from that field, let me introduce the slogan [„paralysis by analysis“]. It’s when you over-anaylise data to the point where you lose the ability to act. It is very important to realize, at some point, that perfection can’t be achieved, no matter how hard you try. Nobody’s impressed by good ideas alone – you have to implement them to be successful. Take , for example: I’m pretty sure every decent IT guy could give you a plethora of weak points in the system and come up with a huge list of possible improvements. Instead of just publishing the system, Zuckerberg could have fixed a whole lot of security issues, optimized advertisement, implemented a truckload of apps… but he didn’t. Still, facebook was a success and made Zuckerberg more than rich. Once the social network was up and running, there was plenty of time to tweak it and implement a lot of additional stuff. I believe it’s the same with every other endeavour – you just have to start at some point, even if the circumstances are less than perfect.

Since this is a martial arts blog, let me extend that perspective upon stuff that is more important to us than some nerdy web page…

Consider for example the scenario where you decide you’re lacking knockout power. Of course, you immediately decide to fix that weak spot. So now you’re left with the decision which direction you want to take your training to: speed, strength, power – or just spend some more time on the pads and perfect technique? First, you have to identify your weakest link. Obviously, this isn’t easy – you really have to be brutally honest with yourself. A coach/trainer can help you with that one, as can a good training partner. In the end, the decision is yours, though. Let’s assume that your weak link is strength (not uncommon for combat athletes, who tend to be obsessive about strength-endurance). In the next step, you could analyize and compare [5/3/1] with [starting strength], for example. Of course, neither is perfectly suited for a combat athlete. Hence, you could start reading up on Zatsiorsky et al and research advanced plyometrics techniques. Of course, since you don’t want to loose all your hard-earned endurance, you also devour [Martin Rooney’s Training for Warriors] and look for exotic, highly sophisticated conditioning routines there. Over the course of the next weeks and months, you lay out your training routine, paying detail to every minutiae. Of course, you won’t have trained up to this point – after all, following a routine that is anything less than perfect is useless, right?

On the other hand, you could just have chosen either routine and give it a try. Suppose you chose to go after a [5/3/1] routine. After some time, you might find that you’re getting stronger on the routine, but your rate of force production decreases due to the involved grinding (now this is purely hypothetical for the sake of argument). To fix that issue, you just swap the squats with power cleans for some time and et vóila, you’re getting faster and more explosive again. By the time the perfect template (as described in the scenario above) is complete, you’ll already have customized and improved your starting routine so much that it’s pretty much perfectly tailored to your needs. Chances are, you’ll even have fixed that knockout power issue by that time…

Take away message:
do your research, plan in advance, but accept that things won’t be perfect from the beginning. Dare start something imperfect and give it time to evolve and improve over time. In the end, you have to actually get things done in order to get things done.

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