Martial Arts: A Continuum of Understanding

Martial Arts: A Continuum of Understanding

As our environment changes due to COVID and political pressures, many people make decisions in great haste (dare I say in a knee jerk manner).  If there is one thing the martial arts teaches us is to use patience and wisdom to guide us.  The Continuum of Understanding developed in 1982 by Harlan Cleveland serves as a template in helping us make better decisions. 

Early in the 1980’s Harlan Cleveland, developed a framework for treating information as a resource. His paper, “Information as a Resource” addresses basic definitions, including the very definition of information. He goes on to dictate an order of complexity and hierarchy with which a person progresses through level of understanding. 

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Cleveland posed that a society based on information will look very different than one based on raw materials and heavy manufacturing.  Talk about foreshadowing and predicting the future!  Having passed in 2008, I wonder his response if he could see social media today…would he be delighted or terrified?!

It’s been over 35 years since Cleveland’s grounding breaking approach to information.  Since, the internet and social media has permitted information to be shared faster and more wide spread than ever in history.  For many this is a good thing as information shared is information expanded.  Unfortunately, the unchecked nature with which this happens has reared a dark side.  We struggle with permutations, misinformation, information that is stifled, skewed, bought, warped, subverted, choked and even used in completely false manners.  We are witness to an explosion of data and information, yet it begs the question if real knowledge and wisdom continue to elude us?

We gain knowledge through our experiences and hearing others’ experiences.  The more experiences we are able to weave together the richer the context we have to serve as a platform from which to gain understanding.  With greater understanding comes the ability to weave even more past experiences and develop new knowledge.  Our ability to then share this new level of understanding with others and then parlay theirs into our to we begin to benefit from wisdom.

Confusing?  Yes.  The distinctions between data, information, knowledge, and wisdom continuum can be very gray.  An easier way to view is that data and information deal with the past; they are based on facts and adding context.  Knowledge deals with the present. It allows us to make decisions.  Wisdom looks into the future; our ability to envision what lies ahead and what will be.  Very Confucian!

I appreciate the Continuum of Understand because I feel the martial arts journey mimics it very closely.  As a new student we initially take what our instructors say at face value because we have no context.  It is what it is; simply data.  Do this punch like this.  Do this kick like that.  It means nothing at that moment, even confusing.   As we progress, our interactions with other students and instructors, experiences of highs and lows, frustrating plateaus and joyful breakthroughs, we are able to put those initial techniques into proper context; we begin to understand the “why” behind them.  Over time, a lot of trial and error, we are able to develop a deeper understanding of the arts.  Sharing information with fellow students, learning from their experiences, further deepens the comprehension and awareness of the arts and, more importantly, how to pass them on to others.  Wisdom forms through all of these interactions and after all ego is released, humility accepted, and joy is found in others.  The lifelong practitioner becomes another’s guide, helping navigate their own martial arts journey.

Everyday Is Training Day – Reap What You Sow