The Ego – Part 1

January 29, 2007

When it comes to martial arts discussions, the ego will rear its ugly head 75% of the time. That’s why this particular entry is subtitled as a first part. How many parts to this ego entry are there in total? If not countably infinite, then near close to it. So long as there’s a a metric, there’ll be two idiots trying to see who’s superior. The way I see it, there two outcomes to having an ego. Either it impedes our progress by walling off that which hurts our ego, or it is what ultimately drives us martial artists to continuously be better. I think the former is self-explanatory, but for the exceptionally dense, I will say that perfection is just a pretty way of saying stagnation. The latter requires a slightly more verbose explanation. Our egos tend to overestimate ourselves, resulting in our having to dig our way out of the shithole we’d thought we were able to transverse. This digging, in turn, propels us to heights greater than we probably would have otherwise been unable to achieve. Usually, this happens with a partner, who’s standing on the firm ground at the opposite end, watching, pointing, and most likely laughing. We can be either the one watching or acting, but either way, we’d both be dripping with dung from yet another hole.

I’ve been rather surprised that there has not really been much of an ego problem among us regulars at the three schools I attend. It isn’t so much that there are no egos, but that we firmly keep it in check, and we know that if we don’t, there’ll be someone else to check it for us. I think we’re all smart, in that rather than pick the hard way, we’ve chosen the easy way to learn our lesson.

That isn’t to say that egos don’t rear their ugly heads sometimes.

I’ll say it bluntly: I don’t like being pushed. I’m not talking about the physical act of being propelled across a space by the force emitted by another person, though that applies in this particular case too. I’m talking about being compelled to act in a way that I do not want to. This is rarely a problem, as I’m usually easily convinced. That’s probably because I have no opinion on the matter for most things, and the act of attempting to convince me is merely a small token of consideration. But that’s an academic matter; I’m quite influential with myself to say the least, and if no one else can bother with convincing me, I’d be more than happy to take such a responsibility into my own hands. However, there are things that I feel strongly for or against. I have very good reasons for such sentiments, though my ability to articular such reasons on the spot varies with the phase of the moon, the time of the day, atmospheric conditions, or whatnot. That is to say, when I don’t care, I really don’t care. When I do care, I really do care.

Now, I tend to touch with Hung a lot. I also tend to lose to him a lot. This isn’t because I’m an inferior martial artist, but because the purpose of the game I play is slightly different from the purpose of the game he plays. He plays to experience a real fight, to win. I play to improve my listening ging. Which is to say, I’m moving my listening ging from the realm of automation and experience, to the conscious mind. My goal is to be able to control myself, regardless of what gets thrown at me. Or, to put it another way, it is to never lose control of the situation and have to rely on automated processes of instinct and training to stay alive. Quite recently, Hung seems to have taken exception to the way I play. His attitude has been impatient and curt. And worse yet, he’s become quite aggressive, taking advantage of my more stately pace of experimentation and discovery and overwhelming my designs of reaching higher levels of listening ging with his experience. Essentially, the simple act of winning matches became insufficient. He attempted to put me down by going above and beyond what was necessary to secure victory. And then he gloated about it by insisting that I was weak for not playing his game, by pointing out the so-called errors when these I have continued to state were intentional.

Needless to say, I refused to take such an insult. It is worse that I considered him a friend, even if I also thought of him as something of a rival. He was a confidant, though the word “confidant” applies largely to matters of kung fu. I shared with him the many things I thought of, as he did with me, because I want him to be better. So he might propel me to greater heights. But this act of forcing me to play his game when I had previously made clear that my intentions were otherwise I simply could not take. He wanted to see me play his game, so I did. And so with my training and experience, I proceeded to beat him at it. Time and again. And again. And again. He made the same mistakes he had just moments before accused me of making. It shut him up good. And he’s been even more of an ass ever since. Not unexpectedly though, as I’ve always played the part of the lesser, the inferior. And I was satisfied with that. After all, I’ve always believed that everyone at least one thing with which I might be able to better myself after learning, and that even attempting to assert my superiority would be an indication of otherwise.

I’ve paid my own price for this streak of arrogance and pride. My body isn’t as it once was when I was young. While I’m able to capable of making full use of the floor-to-finger connection, I’m well aware that using too much of my power at any time would damage several weaker parts of my body. If I pushed myself too hard, the damage could be irreversible. It would be as if I was walking across an abyss on a tightrope. The rope holds for the whole time while I’m on it. However, the moment I get to the other side and step off, it snaps in two. While I am able to cross that maw at any time, I’d rather not snap the rope until there is a need. I’ve explained this to Hung before. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t play his game even just to humor him. The pleasure I get from defeating someone as good as him in this game isn’t worth the pain afterwards. I guess that point is moot now, as I have done what I did not really want to do, and I sit paying the price of the small victory.

Regardless, he seems to be rather spiteful of me now, and his actions have not yet showed me otherwise. He’s been working harder than ever trying to glean ways to surpass me. He appears to be using all of his resources, all of his contacts and connections, in trying to find ways to win. I’m not worried, not because I don’t think he’ll surpass me, but because it doesn’t concern me anymore. I will grow at my own pace. I just hope he doesn’t push himself too hard trying to catch up, as that was how I received my current debilitation in the first place.

Ah well. Could I have walked away the moment I felt things were getting out of hand? Sure. Could I have just taken the insults and the physical attacks and called it a bad day? Sure. But I had felt his impatience growing for some time already. I had felt the growing agitation from his inability to get me to play his game, regardless of how I explained myself. Sometimes, it is better to answer the outstanding questions unambiguously. At the very least, I won’t be jealously accused of holding him back.

Now, if only Pug was motivated by the same things… But as I said in the beginning, the ego can hinder as well as it can advance.

The Nature of Impartiality

January 24, 2007

It has recently come to my attention that a blogger was paid to edit some Wikipedia entries to more accurately reflect reality. I’m not going to say who was paid, or who did the paying, but every since the news hit Slashdot, obviously this whole thing has riled some feathers within the geek community. In particular, this entry at boingboing.net speaks volumes about what the fuss is all about. Essentially, Jimmy Wales, the guy who’s credited with the creation of the wiki concept, says making this kind of edit is unethical, and has had previously resulted in banning of other such infringers.

I must say that I am rather distressed by this response. But for those who don’t understand how Wikipedia works, Wikipedia is essentially an encyclopedia written and edited by its readers. The interesting thing is that for all intents and purposes, anyone can edit anything, no strings attached. The problems that arise from such a system are obvious, but most of these have been mitigated with a well thought-out system of checks and balances. Pages that are prone to vandalism are locked. Pages that are controversial are typically locked, with a talk page available for the community to reach a concensus before making changes. There are thousands of moderators from around the globe, most of whom are knowledgeable in one or more fields, constantly monitoring edits, constantly reversing the bad ones, banning users, fighting over small details, etc. The system is far from perfect. But it works, most of the time.

The key to Wikipedia is trust. We, as readers, trust in the knowledge and expertise of whomever wrote the particular article we’re reading. We trust that the people who’ve written it do indeed know what they’re talking about, and that they are not trying to trick us or play pranks on us by including bits of insinuating, misleading, or plain incorrect information. So when somebody is being paid to make edits to particular entries, red flags go up. After all, the involvement of money unconditionally implies bias for the payer. Well, not exactly. This is certainly the case often enough. But there are many who would not sacrifice their integrity for a few extra dollars. The problem is, we–the community of Wikipedia users at large–don’t know who they are.

Let me talk about bias first though. Everyone who makes an edit (that’s not sheer vandalism) in a Wikipedia entry is, in some way, interested in the topical contents of that entry. It doesn’t matter whence the interest originates. It doesn’t matter the intent of the person making the edit. That some particular person bothers to put time and energy into changing a part of the entry in a meaningful way has to indicate partiality to that topic. Otherwise, if a person was impartial to the contents, that person wouldn’t even be looking at the page, much less editing it. Thus any form of interest naturally contains bias. Interest is bias. And as human beings, we cannot necessarily see our bias, or the other perspectives. Nor should we be expected to do so. It is a reasonable expectation to not delete other perspectives, but it is unreasonable to expect anyone to represent all sides. We can only hope that there are enough editors to represent all perspectives.

The complaint Mr. Wales and other Wikipedia adminstrators charge those who are being paid to edit Wikipedia entries is essentially that the monetary exchange of goods for services causes a conflict of interest. The intent of these rules is to discourage those with artificial biases from making edits. To put it in easier terms to understand, conflict of interest is mainly targetted at PR or marketing shills to discourage them from making something seem like it is not or more than it really is. But what Mr. Wales is saying is more. He implies that they are trying to find and remove the people who make edits for unethical reasons, rather than necessarily the people who make unethical edits. The difference is that not all those who edit for seemingly unethical reasons will make unethical edits. PR spin is just that–spin. While it will take time and effort to determine what is spin and what is not, the truth, rather than the spin, will eventually prevail.

I think it foolish that Mr. Wales should be so critical of this blogger and other people that might be being paid to edit Wikipedia articles. This blogger, in particular, should be commended. If he had not spoken out and admitted to having received money, no one would’ve known, and his edits would not have amounted to anything particularly special. In fact, I say that his admission actually makes him more ethical than most people. Without this kind of full disclosure, no one would know an editor’s biases, and readers would take for granted an entry as factual when its editors might have omitted facts and opinions unsupportive of that editor’s perspective. Full disclosure should be encouraged, not only for those receiving monetary compensation for making edits, but for everyone making changes (granted, some things are trivial–like hobbies–and thus full disclosure would be unnecessary, but some things only seem trivial–like having done a Ph.D. dissertation related to the particular point in question). This kind of openness should not be shunned, it should be applauded. It should be exemplified as the ethical thing to do, for both the company and the blogger.

And at the very least, give the company credit for not having some PR person to do the edit from a home connection.

Links:
Blogger’s Blog
Slashdot
BoingBoing

Who Am I?

January 21, 2007

As I had mentioned in my previous entry, I’ve chosen to remain anonymous. I choose to do so for a number of reasons, any of which by itself would be sufficient reason to disjoin this blog from the me in real life.

Whenever explaining why I make such great pains to remain anonymous, I always start chronologically. The internet–in particular usenet and parts of the world wide web–in its heyday, was indeed a medium for anonymous communication. In those days of 14.4k dialup, our identities online were generally considered separate from our identities in real life. Of course, if we chose to, we could merge these two separate entities into one identity, perhaps to grain credibility, or to prevent forgery and the precursor to what we now call identity theft. Anonymity was a given. It was expected. If we wanted to go online, we had to dial into a server. And every time we dialed in, the server would then assign our machines with an IP address randomly selected from a range that our ISP owned. Obviously, there was no absolute guarantee of being anonymous. With the proper warrant, it would have been possible to obtain the account number that corresponded to a particular IP address at a particular time, assuming that such logs were kept. What made anonymity even easier during the dot.com bubble was the presence of free internet services, like NetZero or Juno, whose reliance on PPP meant that it was possible to create an account and use it without having to go through their software, thus resulting in the only form of record connecting you to the server being your phone record. The truly paranoid changed their MAC addresses and dialed from a pay phone.

Things are a little different today. With broadband, not only are our IP addresses less likely to change, but there are logs of everything. Logging exists not only at the ISP level on the server, but also in our own computers in the form of our history, and on third party computers, in the form of cookies and spyware. Not only that, but due to the internet’s popularity, we also are constantly asked to give away our information. We do so willingly for many reasons, sometimes in the form of an online financial transaction, sometimes in order to grain credibility. If we refuse to match our online persona to our real life person, we are shunned, ignored, as if the content of our words would be suddenly reverse tautologies without a name attached to it. Anonymity is extremely difficult to come by these days, thus I jump at the chance to encourage it whenever possible.

The second reason has more to do with the current state of our society than it has to do with me. It has to do with the First Amendment rights–in particular the freedom of speech and expression. For those hiding under a rock, our First Amendment rights have been slowly whittled away over the past 6 years. In some instances, it is deliberate. Other times, it is an unintentional consequence of the explosion in popularity of certain technologies, and the relative youth of the technological culture. Anonymity allows me to say what I want to say, without reservation, without the need to consider the consequences. I do not need to worry about the FBI (or a mob of protesters) knocking on my door because I spoke in defense of the rights of a pedophile or a sex offender. I do not need to worry about my current or future employers and customers seeing what I’m writing. Should I choose to run for public office or otherwise become a public figure at some point, my words will not be taken out of context as a means of discrediting me. To be anonymous means to no longer need to constantly check behind my shoulders for the presence of political correctness. Obviously, this is a particular perk of anonymity that I make great pains to avoid abusing. Being anonymous allows me to say things I might otherwise reserve, and it certainly allows me to openly express what would normally be privvy only to a select audience. However, not unlike shouting “fire” in a crowded movie theater, it would be wrong of me to divulge words spoken to me in secrecy, simply because I can without fear of retribution. It isn’t about crossing lines; it is about respecting and honoring the powers granted unto me by anonymity.

And that brings me to my last reason, which also explains why I’ve chosen to hide real names behind nicknames and real dates and times behind fake ones. Those who know me and are characters in the tales I dramatize will know exactly who I am, and exactly to whom I am referring. I mean for them to know. It is my intention for them to know my thoughts on the matter. And at the same time, I also mean for those who are not involved and don’t already know to remain not knowing. The substance is in the fact that an event of a certain nature occurred, and in the response from me said event elicited. Everything else, including who’s involved in those events are superfluous. Indeed, the only reason why those who were neither involved nor directly affected by the event would want to know the real names would be to have yet another gossip topic. And I refuse to fuel that.

As such, I not only have chosen to write anonymously, this online identity will also remain separate from my identity in real life. Thus, those who ask me will receive a response appropriate to the situation indicating that I am not involved in this in any way, shape, or form. Those who are meant to know the face behind these words will know. Those who do not know are not meant to know.

On a completely different note, it always annoys me when I am doing a training drill, and my partner is more interested in testing himself against me than he is in actually training. In particular, Tramp has a tendency to do this whenever he pairs up with me. He has been getting very bold lately though, nearly to the point of openly challenging me. Unfortunately for him, the maximum power he can put forth using his whole body is about equal to the maximum power one of my arms can put forth. I not only have an experience advantage, a height advantage, a speed advantage, and a power advantage, I also have an age advantage. It is a difference between Heaven and Earth. The only reason why I hesitate to completely put him in his place is because of Sigung, and because he’s far over the hill. Even though he’s been training since the mid-seventies, any passerby who touches hands with him would think he’d just started. He is more an object worthy of my pity than worthy of being considered an adversary. Actually attacking him would be like picking on a child, albeit one that should not be underestimated. Tramp is potentially deadly, as he has moves and a small amount of power, and extremely cunning to boot. If it ever came down to an exchange, I wouldn’t want to hurt him, but I know if I let my guard down, he won’t hold back. It would be a delicate situation, especially if Sigung was watching.

First Post!

January 20, 2007

At long last, after watching and waiting for the past several years, I’ve finally decided to join the ranks of the blogging community. This first entry is intended to serve as an introduction to–obviously–me. I am Yiu Qua Bauk. This pseudonym should, in and of itself, contribute to the credibility of my knowledge of Chinese martial arts. 腰跨膊 is the very basic principle upon which all Chinese martial arts are built. From one perspective, this is an appropriate moniker because all kung fu eventually returns to this principle. At the highest levels, this is all that matters; everything else is merely icing, delicious be that it may, but insubstantial. From another perspective, my choice in assuming this pseudonym means one cannot determine the style I follow, since all true Chinese martial art styles contain this concept. Or, perhaps I am of no style.

As to what my name is in real life, that shall remain safely and firmly tucked away within my cranium. This is an anonymous blog. Exactly why anonymity is so important and what this artificial imposition entails will be explained in a subsequent entry, but suffice to say, I have every intention of remaining anonymous. It should be rather obvious that I know what I’m doing with this computer. I’ve been using the internet since the days of the 2400 baud modem and making long-distance calls to certain universities, and I’ve been working with computers from both hardware and software perspectives since about that time. Needless to say, I am unquestionably a computer geek.

And when I am annoyed, I will apply several layers of thick, chunky whoop-ass–and in less time than it would take for Linus to write hello-world in bash.