The Medium and the Message

The Medium and the Message

Posted by Matt Little on 11th Mar 2022

“The truth is outside of all fixed patterns.” - Bruce Lee

The medium and the message. I see these get confused all the time. I’ve seen it in the martial arts world almost my entire life. It’s the primary failing of traditional martial artists. There is much of value in arts like karate, judo, and aikido. But almost universally the proponents of these arts confuse the training drills with the fight. Instead of internalizing the message being transmitted they adopt the medium being used to transmit that message as literal truth.

Thanks to my decades as an active cop on the streets of Chicago, I’ve been in countless physical altercations, and the lessons I learned from those traditional arts stood me in good stead in all of them, but not one of them looked exactly like the formal and stylized drills I had trained.

The same is true in the tactical world. I’ve been in gunfights overseas and at home, and the skills I gained on the flat range and in the shoot house served me well. But they served me well because I adapted those skills to the situation at hand, not because the drills that built the skills looked like the gunfights.

When people lack real world experience, this issue compounds. Over time the training gets more and more contrived and artificial. Eventually the medium becomes so corrupted that the message is lost, and the training loses its value. Even with real-world experience, without intense and objective analysis, affectation can still creep in to training and impair its effectiveness.

Even the best training is still to some degree artificial. It’s designed to create skill, and will do so. But it’s not the same as the actual fight, and cannot be. No fight looks like a kata. Conflict is chaotic, and the opponent gets a vote about how it unfolds. If you confuse the medium of the drills with the message they contain, you will be rigid and dogmatic instead of fluid and adaptable. Your techniques and tactics flow from your training and experience, they aren’t constrained by them.