Training Our Brains to a False Reality


Ever had a conversation on a cell phone and wonder if the person on the other end is still there?

You can't decide if the call has been interrupted or they are formulating their thoughts so you wait and wonder.

That is a recent phenomenon that the phone companies have intentionally staved off for a few decades. Early telephones had white noise. A constant static caused by electrical interference. By the time technology had sufficiently advanced to rid the devices of the nuisance the brains of the users had become accustomed to it and associated it with an active connection. When it was removed they became confused and endlessly asked, "Are you still there?". So the phone companies brought it back. They artificially produced the nuisance.

But in my observation they have stopped the practice and left us with dead air, confounding our brains and sense of politeness. That is unless you are young and your brain never grew to expect the white noise.

This is not the only instance in which digital technology has matured at a faster rate than our brains can accept the change. It has happened in video as well.

Early cameras could only focus on a short depth of field. So our eyes came to expect to see only what the producer intended clearly, the rest was a blur. And because film had a slower exposure time each frame was left with a little motion blur. And as the adaptive creatures that we are our brains came to accept these things as normal. They expected them. So when both problems were fixed with digital technology movies suddenly didn't look right. Endless arguments ensued about how film looked better than video. But what was "better" was the flaws that old brains had become accustomed to. These flaws became "art". A lesser rendition of reality.

We do not see blurred backgrounds or motion blurs in real life but many older brains expect them in video. If they don't get it the video doesn't look "real".

Of course, this is not a problem with younger brains. They didn't grow up with phone static or blurred video being so predominant. So they actually hear and see it differently.

Unfortunately, and to my extreme dismay, when seeing martial arts on video a similar phenomenon has occurred.

I just finished up doing the fight scene choreography for a movie. The actress did not have any martial skills to start with but over the course of a few months, we built some basics into her. Enough to pull off a few techniques at a reasonable enough skill level that enough takes and camera angles and we could pull off a pretty impressive fight scene.

We filmed for two nights. On the first night, things were looking pretty good. She had some nice fluid motions that hit hard. The bad guy wasn't liking it but that was his problem. Not a concern for me. Overall I was liking what I saw. 

On the second night, things went downhill.

The producer reshot most of the scenes and systematically removed the skills we had taught her. Inserting mistake after mistake and completely changing the dynamics of the fight. Even now, as I write this, it produces a sinking feeling in my gut. Like watching a beautiful piece of art destroyed.

The motion was too fluid. The weapons were too efficient. The actor's faces couldn't be seen. There was no emotion. All of this had to be "corrected". 

There is no place for emotion in a skillful fighter. True martial skill comes only from deep within the primal brain, never.

Fluidity enables a fighter to skillfully use energy (chi). They do not regenerate the power for each strike, they use the energy that is already in motion. We call this flowing focussed chi.

Speed comes mainly through efficiency of motion. More skill means more results for a given amount of effort.

All of this had to be removed. The producer asked for things that simply defied physics. In one instance he was actually asking that the actress "slow down but speed up". My interpretation of this was "remove efficiency and add effort and struggle".  

When a woman moves with extreme martial skill I find this to be one of the most beautiful things I can experience. Grace, fluidity, power, and the amazing workings of the subconscious mind transform the chaos and danger of an attack into order and safety. There can be nothing more awe-inspiring. This was the original scene.  At this point I do not know what will happen in editing but I suspect that this beauty will be transformed into a weak, unskilled woman fighting for her life against a stronger man who easily overpowers her and she simply gets off lucky. Not at all what I designed in the choreography.

This is not what a skilled female fighter is. It is not what any skilled fighter is.

Yet, I think, just like the digital technology trained our brains to expect distortion of reality, the movies, MMA, and other martial sports have completely distorted what we expect to see when watching martial arts. Reality is far from perception. So far that they no longer bear much relationship at all. This is a sad state for the fighting arts. These arts have such a gift for humanity yet most humans would not recognize them if they saw them.

Despite the fact that martial arts has been a daily part of my life for 30 years I have never been a fan of martial arts movies. I've never even been able to bring myself to watch the classic Bruce Lee movies. I now have a much better understanding of why.


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