Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Paths Up The Same Mountain

There are countless discussions on various internet forums about which martial art is the best for defence against armed or unarmed attack.  I often read these exchanges, not to discover which art is considered best for the situation being envisaged, but to keep a watchful eye on an attitude that I find rather worrying.

I have often been tempted to join these discussions, and reiterate an old saying: the martial arts are all paths up the same mountain.  The problem with that particular idiom being used in the context of the discussion is that it is missing the point.  At the top of that mountain, you have reached the pinnacle of martial arts training, and the ability to fight is only one aspect of that.

I have known people who've trained in martial arts for decades, and their level of technical excellence is clear to see; some of them have clearly reached the peak of understanding.  Unfortunately, I have seen others who will never reach that level regardless of how long they train, or their technique is exemplary and yet they come across as a macho psychopath who only wants to fight.  The difference is that they have not been exposed to, or have taken little interest in, the philosophical aspects of their training.  To be honest, that is not always the fault of the practitioner: it may be that they were trained under the wrong teacher.

On the flip side, there are people whose fighting ability is not the best, and maybe their time in martial arts is limited compared to others, but they have the right attitude, or spirit, if you like.  So, why do some people reach the top of their game and only learn physical techniques?  Why do we have instructors of many years' experience who only see martial arts as a commodity or a way to develop fighting ability?  Remember that martial arts are paths up the same mountain, but each of those paths will be different.  The journey to the top has equal importance to the destination itself.  If you do not take note of what you see on your way to the peak, or you forget what you have seen, the view from the top loses some of its meaning.  Some will never understand the things they have seen on their journey, because they don't realise that the journey was the important part: without that experience, the view from the top loses much of its meaning.

There are instructors who neglect to teach the moral code or philosophy of their art; this is akin to leading their students up the mountain wearing a blindfold.  Worse still, there are a growing number of modern arts which have completely discarded the moral philosophy of the ancient arts.  I must give credit here to Krav Maga, in the form I have had contact with, for daring to have a moral code and philosophy in times when such things have become unfashionable.

I think that MMA/UFC/Cage Fighting is something other than martial arts.  If we take the analogy of the martial arts being paths up the same mountain, and there being something special at the top, I would regard MMA as the process of building a new mountain and stealing some of the foliage from the original.  Will you see the same thing when you reach the peak?  I'll leave that for the MMA fighters to debate. What I know is that, since the UFC and similar contests have been televised, the attitude towards violence, particularly amongst the younger generation, is particularly disturbing.

As evidence, I offer exhibit 1...

I'm pretty sure the video shows a situation that was set up for the sake of entertainment.  At the very least, the guy presenting the video has some part in creating this unfortunate spectacle.  When I consider that this "entertainment" is being watched by large numbers of young men, I worry for the future.  I also question the nature of the contest itself, which consists of two fighters brawling and beating each other to a pulp as a bloodthirsty crowd cheers them on.

I would be foolish to say that MMA, or any branch of combat arts, is technically inferior to another art: I am not qualified to do so.  What I will say is that it has lost something important.  Those involved may have studied classical arts, though I'm pretty sure they did not reach the top of their mountain, to return to the metaphor.  Maybe some never will.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Is Linus Torvalds a danger to free software?

I saw an article today about Linus Torvalds' opinion of GNOME 3.4, given upon upgrading his computer to the latest version of Fedora.  I've seen many people saying negative things about GNOME 3, and he's entitled to his opinion, but I would say that he should consider the possible effects of his opinion.

There are many precedents for this.  The lead developer, or maintainer, of the KDE DVD copying program, K9Copy, abandoned the project with a message which was very damaging.  He was abandoning the project, his message said, because he no longer had faith in Linux and Open Source.  Again, he is entitled to his opinion, but should have thought about how his comments could affect the faith of others in Linux and Open Source.

To be honest, Linus' comments are not a shock to me.  I remember that, shortly after the launch of GNOME 2, he made similar comments about problems he perceived with the desktop environment.  Actually, he attacked the user friendliness of GNOME, saying that the developers were treating users like idiots.  It's a provocative statement, given more weight by his position as the original author of the Linux kernel and the respect this has bestowed upon him from the wider open source community.  He followed his attack on GNOME with the revelation that he was switching to KDE: GNOME's rival for user interface presence.  It carried a heavy whiff of bias, and a possible hidden agenda to shape the future of the desktop experience on Linux.

Now, we are faced with another attack on GNOME.  I would question the wisdom of attacking the user interface that is used as a default in so many Linux distributions.  Bear in mind that GNOME 3 is something of a departure from the GNOME 2, and is also fairly new; as open source software, it will improve with the passage of time, as did GNOME 2, not to mention the previously heavily criticised KDE 4.  The problem is that Linus attacks subjects like this with heavily charged, emotive statements.  If they are attempts to drive users away from what is now something of a standard (to Debian and Fedora users, at any rate), then he should remember that telling users how they must interact with their computer and their data is a criticism levelled at the likes of Apple and Microsoft; free and open source software is all about choice.  If it is meant with the intention of provoking the GNOME developers, so that they improve their game, then it is also misguided.

The nature of open source means that software goes through a process of gradual improvement.  If you want to criticise GNOME 3, it should be for changing so suddenly, requiring users to adjust suddenly to a new desktop layout which was incomplete - criticisms which could also be aimed at the launch of KDE 4.  My own take on this is that such massive and rapid changes to the user interface ignore the requirements of users, and that is the same problem I have with the change from Mac OS 9 to OS X and the upcoming change from Windows 7 to Windows 8.  As a reaction to this issue, I use XFCE on Debian, but I would never suggest that this is the environment everyone should use.