“I’ve dunked my gi in lemon juice, yet I got no superpowers”

In 1965, two guys robbed two banks in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Filmed by videocameras, they were promptly identified and arrested.

These two smart guys were surprised to have been recognized because they were convinced that they had made their faces invisible to the cameras, after having sprinkled it with lemon juice.

It was precisely this news that led a professor at Cornell University, David Dunning and his brilliant student, Justin Kruger to better address the phenomenon of cognitive biases.

A phenomenon that turned out to be much more ramified and extensive than the bizarre tales seasoned with lemon juice.

The results of the research were published in 1999 in the paper “Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments” and gave birth to what is known as the “Dunning-Kruger Effect”.

An interesting reflection on the practice of Aikido and the cognitive biases was conducted by Toronto Aikikai Eric Lavigne sensei (at this link).

Our reflection wants to go a little further. Starting from two assumptions:

First: every individual who decides to enroll in a Martial Arts course is driven by some expectation. Or need.

Second: we live immersed in a world where there is much talk of self-determination but it is not possible to fully understand what it is.

It therefore happens that the perception of one’s own expectations and needs pushes the individual to undertake a path of a discipline.

In purely theoretical terms, a psychodynamic path, such as Aikido, develops motor and technical skills and, through them, shapes the character and modifies aptitude skills. This is the purpose of a practice which from a physical point of view is carried out in exercises in pairs with a continuous exchange of polarities among the couple.

In practice, however, we are witnesses of paths that are anything but linear.

It is true that human beings are something extremely complex and that to get from A to B they often prefer tortuous routes or dangerous shortcuts rather than the more direct and safest route.

In addition to this, if we add that we often intend as self-determination what basically is doing and saying what we want, then dangerous distortions and biases are created.

On a physical level, for instance, if you change the practice scenario for a while and go to another style, you are able to see that our self-evaluation is not so solid. Our partner does not fall as he “should” or as “we would”; we don’t fall as we “should” or as “we think we might”; we get out of breath after half an hour when everyone around us is fresh and lively…

Usually these experiences end in hasty judgments. Since it’s too hard to admit that our physical and technical condition isn’t as excellent as we thought, so we build up a big wall and start the list of “Yes, but…”.

Of course, sometimes it also happens to go to places where our physical and technical condition is above average: in such situations we can see the very same mechanism triggering among the group we’re visiting.

On an attitudinal level, the inability to put oneself in a condition of objective self-evaluation leads to real disasters.

Indeed, it is possible – and it happens more often than one thinks – that what is a path taken together actually becomes a cocoon of solitude, in which the ego envelops itself and feeds on habits, fossilized roles, interactions which could be described in advance with absolute precision (“X falls like this if I do this to him, Y is a good guy with weapons, so I practice with him only when I do weapons exercises, Z… I really don’t consider him”).

Usually these are the people most inclined to define the martial path as a way to self-determination. Of course: what’s easier than being deceived? To convince yourself that doing what you want is right because you have the justification to dedicate a few hours a week in a group that, by remaining silent, indirectly legitimizes this trajectory?

Fortunately, as we know, “body never lies”. And it is with the body that our technical and attitudinal expression can appear outwards. Maybe we get used to not taking into consideration the references of our body. Maybe we underestimate them. We often overestimate them.

But they are there. What to do with them?

It is important to be able to question the technical expression of our movement. With a good instructor and with the courage to face the evaluation of other good instructors.

Being able to see, touching the limit, is a gift, because it gives meaning to the trajectory we want to follow. Knowing what we can or cannot afford.

A path therefore where the reality of the physical condition can give a frame of realism to development of non-physical skills and to that work on behaviour and inner formation that a discipline brings with it.

Conversely, a road where the comparison with another culture strips our cognitive, emotional, cultural and value capabilities. Showing its strengths and weaknesses; what we repeat like parrots and what we have really internalized.

Practicing really becomes a “polishing the mirror” task, a path of knowledge and acceptance, study and attempts to explore what lies beyond the boundaries of our limits.

Without having to dunk keikogi in lemon juice thinking of becoming Morihei Ueshiba’s adopted children.

Loving what we are and then cultivating it with care.

Disclaimer: Picture from Pixabay

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