On Tradition

Joseph Bartz:
I have learned a lot about Chinese Martial Arts by Raphael Scullion, who is my teacher in many things, like eastern philosophy, how to behave and many things about meditation. But first of all, he is a great friend of mine. The push-hands game is something we play for many years and it is one of my favorite games personally. We play a lot of different non-traditional variations if this game, because I do not care about tradition, I like the game because it is so simple and innate. Raphael's people from Wudang Martial Arts have won many Push-Hand competitions because they didn't bother so much about tradition as well.
The best thing I can come up with about tradition is the song "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof. That's about it...

You shouldn’t be too quick in rejecting tradition. it Is often useful to safe the content. I think also you are/were in certain traditions whether you like it or not .

Joseph Bartz:
It is very typical of traditions to tell what I should do and what not. And exactly this is the problem. Why do you tell me what I should do? Why do you think you have authority about what I "shouldn't do"? Exactly this way of speaking is what I find so problematic.

Transmitting of knowledge and wisdom through generations is so wonderful, but a tradition means to do things because they are tradition, not asking, not reflecting. There can be many good tradition, there can be many bad tradition, same as there can be a good king, but still monarchy is a very problematic system. Keeping knowledge and wisdom and ideas alive through generations, is something different from tradition. Tradition includes the former, but there is another layer added.

And of course I am part of traditions because I am part of society and society is made up of so many traditions. This is not an argument though not to reject it, same as I can reject a monarchy although I live in a monarchistic country.

Thank you for your comment, because I gladly go into a discussion about this topic.

Tradition means that I do something because it is "done like this" or the German "das macht man so". This is what I reject.

Thanks for the well written, thoughtful answer. Some terms are soaked with emotions. Sure your right there are negative aspects like restrictions.On the subject of martial arts i see the positive aspect, like chatting with the ancients. Also in a lesser way maybe a kind of connection.

Hey Joseph,
Thanks for the post and I love the game as well. However why be so extreme in saying you don’t care about tradition?
Traditions are beliefs that were collected over generations and their validity was tested over a long period of time. I think the „should shouldn’t“ problem isn’t that big of a deal as you still have a choice to play according to these rules. These rules are not there to oppress you but to help you live a more fulfilled life. Of course we shouldn‘t follow blindly as the world today is different then yesterday and we have to check what works today and what doesn’t through testing the theories by falsification. What I want to say is that a tradition is still often a good starting point as compared to trying to learn everything by yourself and reinventing the wheel.

I think that is also what you wrote in the comment above more or less. However I would like to point out that if you eliminate the words should and shouldn’t you are left with suggestions. Suggestions might be better then rules even though there is no difference for me since again rules are not compulsory.
What do you think?

Joseph Bartz:
Ha, every time I say something more „extreme” (which is not very often anymore) I get comments that I cannot be so extreme.

Is it really extreme if I say that I do not care about tradition? I genuinely do not care about tradition. I do care about ancient knowledge, wisdom and experiences. As I have said in the comment above. As I have mentioned „Fiddler on the Roof” above, your argumentation could be actually from this musical. One of the main subjects of this musical is the connection of judaism with tradition and the conflicts it creates in the family of the protagonist Tevje (mainly with his daughters, who want to marry who they love, instead of someone chosen by a matchmaker). Irvin D. Yalom is writing about a similar topic in his book „The Spinoza Problem”, where he tells about Spinoza’s trouble of running into conflict with his jewish community and getting a herem (being excommunicated from the jewish community) because of his questioning of the jewish traditions.

There is a problem in your argumentation that I need to point out:
„I think the „should shouldn’t“ problem isn’t that big of a deal as you still have a choice to play according to these rules.”
„Suggestions might be better then rules even though there is no difference for me since again rules are not compulsory”
If something is really a rule, then my choice to play according to it or not, will be very limited. There is a huge difference between a rule and a suggestion. It is a rule to not kill someone in Germany, but it is just a suggestion to be polite. If I kill someone, I will be punished hard, whereas I can get through life with being impolite possibly without any punishment. A rule means, that if you do not follow it, there will be a consequence. If you do not want to follow a rule, you either have to leave „the game” or face the consequences. If I am a citizen of a country where there is compulsory military service but I reject following this rule, I can try to leave the game through hiding or going to another country (while the other players will try to get me back into the game), or I take the consequence and go to prison. If things are only a suggestion there will be no consequence in the same way that a rule has a consequence (of course there are consequences from being impolite). Lets take the example of not eating pork in Judaism and Islam. This is a traditional rule. Most likely this rule had a practical use when it came into place, most likely it was to stay away from diseases. Nowadays it is very safe to farm pigs and to eat them, so there is no rational reason to not eat pork. There is also no rational explanation why a muslim or jew should not eat pork. A jew should not eat pork, because a jew should not eat pork, or because God said so. This is not an argument. So, if I a Jew eats pork he needs to face the consequence that the live the he lives is less kosher and therefore he must probably face some punishment at some point for it (from the point of view of a non-jew of course there is no punishment because this rule is not „for real”).

Religious traditions are very clear examples of rules that have no reasons and are not questioned. In the bible you will find rules, but also suggestions, like in any other book. There are parts in the bible that suggest to hit your children, when they behave not well, but it is clear that it is not a rule (which makes it tiny bit less problematic).

„These rules are not there to oppress you but to help you live a more fulfilled life.”
Unfortunately these two are very connected. See „The Grand-inquisitor” by Dostoyevski.
And how do you know what these rules are here for? Since how long do we live in an open and democratic society? For over a thousand years western society was living in a strictly hierarchically despotically society.

„What I want to say that a tradition is still often a good starting point as compared to trying to learn everything by yourself and reinventing the wheel.”
Here it is very important for me again to make the difference between a tradition and „doing something because it works” (which I see as very positive)I claim: For a sane enlightened person it is unacceptable to have a circle argumentation of „I do X because I do X” (Jews do not eat pork, because Jews do not eat pork). But since this is the basic argumentation of tradition, for a reasonable person there can be no tradition. I try to make it clear again: This is N O T by any means against ancient knowledge, wisdom, or even customs. Take for example the tradition of shaking hands when saying hello in Germany. This is done, because it is done like this. But we can also clearly argue why we do it: we do it to show each other our respect, that we come in peace and that we are meeting each other on one level. We are using this way, we could do a different thing, but it works very well, so let’s do it this way. But now if I meet a muslim woman that is following strictly the rules of the Koran, her rule will be to not shake hands with me. So now we have a conflict, because my tradition is to shake hands, her tradition is not to shake hands. If we are both sane, we will try to solve this issue in a way that is okay for both of us, in most situations it will be simple solved by the man recognising this rule for the muslim woman and accepting it, so there is a reevaluation of „how things are done” in this situation and at least one party will need to reject the tradition they are accustomed to for that moment. In this situation a suggestions is meeting a rule, it is a suggestion for a German to shake hands, it is a rule for a Muslim woman not to (I think, I do not exactly know the rules of the Koran about woman and shaking hands).

The claim that the validity of beliefs have been tested over a long period of time does not say a n y t h i n g about the validity of this tradition at this present moment. As we see in the pork example. It was also a tradition to hit your children and wife for a long time.

To sum it up: A rule and a suggestion are two completely different things.

I am of course playing the game of customs like shaking hands etc. because all of this is very useful and I see why we do it and what it does and what it is for and I see it is positive to shake the hand of another person. Indeed we do not need to reinvent the wheel, but taking customs from the generations before is providing us with a base and trying to reinvent everything completely has often seen disastrous results like the killing of millions of people by communists. So both, trying to reject everything from the past or acting according to traditions without reflection is lethal. And with this reasonable statement I end this reply.

See my example of walking barefoot into the oral examination from my video „Philosophy of the Animal Layer”
See my article „How to cut the cake”.

Thank you very much for giving me an extensive answer.
The difference between a rule and a suggestion can be bigger or smaller depending on the context. As you said I will often also be punished for not following a suggestion. With rule I didn’t mean laws. These are rules that are enforced by the government and the consequences of not playing by the rules are more obvious and (maybe harder) then not following a suggestion or a rule of other games.

I think one can argue about whether the validity of a rule that existed over a long time says nothing about its validity for today. The examples you chose confirm this but others would disconfirm this.

However I can see that it can be very naive of me to trust ancient rules if these rules were installed to enforce oppression on people since there really wasn’t a democratic society.

We completely agree on the fact that you shouldn’t make a circulatory argument like you presented it and if tradition means to do something because it is done like this I wouldn’t say anything good about it.
But often it’s more then this and it would be foolish to throw away the baby with the bath water in these cases.
I think we agree and I also can understand why you wrote what you wrote in the post because it isn’t supposed to be an essay but just a post and I didn’t mean to offend you with the word ‚extreme‘.

What also makes me think a lot about this is the connection between the word should and an oppressive rule.
If I say: „If you want to learn a Handstand, you should do X, because X has been proven in many cases to work.“ then I don’t see a problem in using should. In this context it is really a suggestion to solve a problem. Do you think it’s problematic to use ‚should‘ as a teacher if someone comes to get advice?

Joseph Bartz:
„With rule I didn’t mean laws. These are rules that are enforced by the government and the consequences of not playing by the rules are more obvious and (maybe harder) then not following a suggestion.”
I took examples from law, but the same is true with the rules of a soccer-match.

„and I didn’t mean to offend you with the word ‚extreme‘.”
I am actually not offended at all, I just wanted to point out that I was actually not extreme.

„What also makes me think a lot about this is the connection between the word should and an oppressive rule.
If I say: „If you want to learn a Handstand, you should do X, because X has been proven in many cases to work.“ then I don’t see a problem in using should. In this context it is really a suggestion to solve a problem. Do you think it’s problematic to use ‚should‘ as a teacher if someone comes to get advice?”

Good, this is an ongoing contemplation of mine. A problem that will take me many more years to come close to any point of solving it. There are so many layers here that I will just write down my stream of thoughts.

One big layer here is the layer of language, of communication, another big layer is about authority.

What is the goal of the learning? What do we want to create? Want are we actually working on?

Take different school systems:
In China the main style of teaching in school is about learning as a synonym for memorising things. Chinese students will score very well in all the topics that are about memorising and where you can have standardised answers. The Chinese government wants conformity and a school system that is mainly about memorising is inhibiting independed thinking. So these students will excel in some „what they know” but will not be good in creative problem solving. Generally speaking of course, I don’t know so much about the Chinese school system, but I have taken some time to investigate into different systems. So, do we want to have a society of people that have learned a thing and now they can repeat it or a society where people acquire knowledge through their own doing? Difficult to answer, because it depends on what we want. What is more important to us, the goal, or the way there? And what goal do we have.

Let’s take a mountain. If I go up a mountain, do I just care to get on top of the mountain? Or is the way how I get there important for me? Imagine this: There is a cable car up the mountain, there is a local guide up the mountain, there is a map to get up the mountain. So now I have four possibilities. I can use the cable car, if I only care about being on top of the mountain and I do not care about getting there through my own strength. I can book the local guide that goes with me up the mountain, if I want to get there through the strength of my own legs, but want to stay safe and not make any mistakes. I can use the map if I am a bit more adventurous, as now I could get lost and I need to use my skills of orientation and reading the map, or I can go up the mountain without all of this, just by myself, using my skills of orientation, reading the environment and my gut feeling. Certainly the last is a lot about appreciating the way how to get to the top.

It seems to me we live in a cable car society. The important thing is to reach the goal, not how it is reached. This is important to note because they way we „are” in society is also reflected in specific learning scenarios like learning the handstand. We measure the „wealth” of a country by GDP, not by happiness. We measure a concrete fact, a goal.

Almost in contrary to this stands the way of „Coyote Teaching” I have learned from Uwe Belz. In this way of teaching, actually teaching is not the proper word, mentoring is better, the student is not taught, but rather supported or nudged. I would like to call this leading from the back instead of leading from the front. But leading is not necessarily the right word. A coyote teacher is not providing answers, but questions, a coyote teacher is opening up situations for the students to learn, but I mean to learn not by the cable car method, but by really putting some own effort in in solving the problem. Learning about edible plants is a good example. I have noticed that the best way to learn about edible plants (or plants in general) is not to walk with someone through nature and tell that person „this is x, you can it that, this is y, you can make tea of the leaves”, but to create situations where people have to figure out things by themselves, in this situation often with the help of books. I would tell the student: „look at this plant, can you tell me what it is?”, student would answer „no”, okay take the books and look through them, and tell me what it is, but tell me with certainty, without asking me further questions. This will create a process of learning. Or a quest could be to „find plant x” but this plant is actually very hard to find, or not even in this area. I myself have learned to be able to distinct all the common trees in Germany, because Uwe gave me task to find a tree that is actually very rare where I live (which was a coincidence). But more importantly the Coyote Teacher would use the spark that a person has to learn something and help ignite it. Tom Brown Jr. tell the story of how his teacher made fire with a bow drill and he saw it and was fascinated, when he asked „what would do I need to use to do this?” his teacher answered „green oak”. This is the w o r s t wood to try to make a bow drill fire! So Tom Brown tried and tried, because he was so excited he put a lot of energy into it, and when his mentor saw that, he was giving him some soft would, which now was very easy for Tom to make a fire from, because he tried so hard with the green oak. Tom Brown says that Coyote Teaching is weeding out the people that do not really care about the learning.

So here we have an example of a teaching methods that is not about reaching a goal quickly, but it is about gaining a deep connection and understanding about what you do. If I struggle to tell what plant this is, but I really want to find out and I use the book and I have to make sure, because if I am wrong I might eat something poisonous, then I will remember all the different details and I will be able to always recognize this plant. But if someones just tell me: „this is thyme”. And I look at it and that’s it and there is no struggle, there is nothing happening, I will forget it again immediately. This is the problem of getting answers. Getting answers is of course what we are striving for in the end, but if there is no struggle in getting the answer, it will not sink into us in the same way as when we would have struggled.

My friend Philipp Raasch has a thing, that I also started to do after he told me: When he is climbing, he does not want to see other people doing the route. He wants to figure it out by himself. He doesn’t want tips. He wants to get through the process. It is not about just reaching the top for him. If you go up the mountain with the cable car, you will always need the cable car, if you go up the mountains without help, you will have an easier time to do the same at the next mountain.

So what is learning the handstand about? Is it about reaching the goal of being in the handstand for x seconds? The person that has taught me handstands has claimed to put people into 60s handstand in the middle of the room in 8-12 months maximum. Here we have a goal orientated approach, where „If you want to learn a Handstand, you should do X, because X has been proven in many cases to work.“ would be an effective method. If I have a time constrain, I will stick to what is effective and try to reduce making mistakes. If I try to reduce making mistakes I will narrow my broadness of experiences. Let’s take a metaphorical walk: If I need to go to point X in a short time, I will use a path that I have heard or know that works. But if I have unlimited time, I can go explore and see if I end up at point X.

From my observation, many people want quick answers about what they should do and reduce the likelihood of making mistakes. Mistakes and problems are seen as something bad in our society. Although both of them are the biggest learning opportunities and carry with them so much knowledge and wisdoms. Always when I tell someone clearly what to do, I reduce his own need of thinking. This is why the GPS is making people slaves of the GPS. The GPS user is never learning to go anywhere without the GPS. The more authority the teacher has the more the student will be dependent on him. If the teacher thinks for the student, the student becomes a machine. The interesting thing about the Handstand example is, that in contrary to the plant example it is very difficult to learn the handstand by yourself without a good teacher. Probably I would have never learned the handstand myself if I wouldn’t have had my former teacher providing my with a path. The path that I got was very clear, so I do not know how my learning would have went with a less clear path. The movement of the handstand press had me do a lot of my own thinking work though and through the mix of outside guidance and my own excitement and will to solve that problem I acquired the Handstand Press. I have learned a lot about training and learning, every time I had struggled and had to put my own thinking and problem solving into the work. I have learned a lot also just following clear paths, but there is a clear difference in how I feel about the skills where I did a lot of work myself, in comparison to the skills where the path was clearly laid out for me.

Is it problematic to use „should” as a teacher?
But it doesn’t necessarily mean it is bad. If the immediate goal is more important than the process or general or specific problem solving ability, I will use more should. Suggesting would be formulated differently. I can say „when I learned this skill, I did this and that”, this would be a suggestion, not a should. In topics like the handstand I will actually often use should and lay out a very clear path. My idea here is, to show a clear path, a clear process, to show how numbers work, how practice works (in this case actually deliberate practice as coined by Anders Ericsson) etc. so that students can use these principles in later problem solving situations and I can through time reduce the should more and more. I do communicate very different with my advanced students from my beginner students. I will stop more and more to provide answers through time. As said before: the goal of the teacher is to make himself obsolete. Everyone else shall (<- notice the joke here) be called a charlatan.

From should we evolve. But with should we might start. In some cases.

This is a very very helpful answer (haha). Thanks for taking the time to elaborate on this more, since this is really something very crucial at least for me. This discussion gave me a lot to think. I will try to see how I can act accordingly to this to become a better student and teacher. I guess it is really about the balance about answering and not answering. And maybe for the process of teaching itself there is no perfect one way but each will decide how much efficiency and clarity vs. providing uncertainty one should give. Also what I can see is that this way will maybe lead to less students studying with a teacher who provides a lot of uncertainties when there is someone else providing one with more answers to the questions one has and I don’t know whether this purification of motivated and interested students will lead eventually to more people being aware about the subject or less. This question I will ponder about for a bit, thanks for making it appear in my mind.

Joseph Bartz