Building the Cathedral Within

Mixed mental artists show an admirable ambition to educate others. Hashtags like #teachthecontroversy pepper our conversations. Yet despite the original inspiration of mixed martial arts, many have missed some of the most important aspects of martial arts that should be applied to the mental arena.
One of the major lessons of the mixed martial arts movement was that training should have “Aliveness,” which means that sparring opponents should actively resist each other and seek to win. Many traditional martial arts did not practice “Aliveness.” Instead, sparring was often strictly choreographed or only practiced against the air, dummies, or punching bags. Over time, those whose training didn’t imitate real-world encounters were outcompeted by athletes who used “Aliveness” in their training.
Mixed mental artists also need to practice “Aliveness” in their mental sparring. A student must obtain a basic skillset and train much like a martial artist must learn to punch and kick. Focusing on reading, writing, maths, logic, and rhetoric is fundamental to success in the mental arena. Yet learning and refining those skills requires conflict with a living opponent for synthesis within. Passive practice is inadequate. Excellence requires us to actively engage in debate and argument. This is how we detect and delete the defects in our decisions.
In the model of classical education that established western civilization, this method of developing the mind was recognized. The final stage of mastering any idea was to actively defend it against the intellectual assault of peers and teachers. Much like a martial arts competition, there were “few holds barred” in these debates. A strong education in logic protected the students from making (and succumbing to) fallacious arguments, and respect for each other and the mental arts policed against personal attacks. We would do well to imitate the strengths of the classical education model in forming our own training and sparring methodologies.
It is critically important that we learn to respect our sparring partners. Our society has moved in a direction where debate is a blood sport with no rules and no mutual respect. To train in such a sloppy, undisciplined, and vicious way imperils the health and life of a civil society. Do mixed martial artists train with flameflowers? They are more deadly than fists, sure, but training like that will kill us rather than strengthen us to fight the real battle. Respecting the intellect and the emotions of our sparring partners above our ambition to prevail is an essential value we need to hold dear before we enter the dojo.
Indeed, caring for our sparring partners will train us to do the same for our opponents in the mental arena of the outside world. Most of our opponents will be people we love, and we should not inadvertently train ourselves in ways that could lead to “friendly fire” incidents in our personal lives. Emotional skills are as essential to the mixed mental arts student as first aid training is to a martial arts student. (The creation or discovery of an emotional first aid curriculum should probably be part of our long-term goals.)
A famous teaching of the originator of the Christian faith, Jesus, was that a person should not seek to help a friend with a speck in her eye while a log stuck out of their own eye. Those of us in the mixed mental arts community should internalize and live by that wisdom. Our eagerness to help others, though understandable, may be preventing us from reaching our goals when we do not first tame our destructive habits of engagement. We need to devote ourselves to our own cultivation and preparation in order to properly grow and defend great ideas in today’s world. If we do not devote ourselves to these tasks, we risk harming both our minds and the ideas we so eagerly attempt to spread.
Pre-Christian Rome was a blood-stained society. In their coliseums, people and animals fought to the death, many against their will. When Christians first tried to spread their faith, many of them became fodder for the violent delights of the coliseum. Their strangeness and arrogance made them targets of the bloodlust of Rome. However, as they honed their faith and evangelism, they began to change the culture around them. It took time, but today the coliseums stand in ruins. Their blood-drenched dirt lies fallow while the gardens of innumerable cathedrals serve as playgrounds for children.
If we seek to dismantle the coliseum of ideas we find so reprehensible, we will find ourselves sacrificed to the violent lusts of our own society. We must cultivate and prune ourselves in order to grow a better idea within our society. If you want to pull down the Coliseum, you must first build the Cathedral.

Further reading:

“Critical Thinking, Pedagogy, and Jiu Jitsu: Wedding Physical Resistance to Critical Thinking” by Peter Boghossian, et al. Radical Pedagogy (2017) Volume 14, Number 1 Http://

“The I Method” by Cane Prevost

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