• Question: Hello! I’m Zehra, I was just on the live chat and I asked about martial arts and philosophy. I have always loved martial arts and what it truly stands for, and generally I am intrigued by the link between science, spirituality and philosophy. I hope to be a psychiatrist when I'm older and I think exploring this topic, as you said helps with things like communication. I was hoping to ask a bit more about why you are interested in these topics, what you have learnt and how you apply it. Thank you!!

    Asked by Zehrak to Kim on 17 Jun 2020.
    • Photo: Kim Liu

      Kim Liu answered on 17 Jun 2020:

      Hi Zehra – thanks so much for asking this question; I’m delighted to answer it. It’s very exciting for me to read that you are also making links between your science and other interests – it will generate for you highly useful and unique perspectives. Psychiatry is indeed an interesting application of these ideas, and absolutely a very worthy profession to aspire towards. Do you know if you will study medicine first, or science, or even philosophy (though sadly I suspect it will be much harder to convert from philosophy to medicine later .. )? This is worth some thought; do discuss it further in the comments, if you are inclined. I’ll write first about my own ideas about philosophy, and then martial arts. Thanks in advance for reading ~
      For myself – my interest in martial arts and philosophy stem from one of my best friends. He has almost finished a PhD in literature, and trained in aikido for I think over 10 years. Over these years, whilst we discussed our time at university, he slowly taught me many of his favourite philosophies on how humans derive value and meaning. In particular, I am especially fond of ideas regarding the deconstruction of how language works. The logic goes something like this: Words do not have a fixed meaning, and indeed often change their meaning. Deconstruction posits that this subjective meaning goes hand in hand with the culture surrounding the language’s usage, and therefore it is intrinsically linked to identity, belief and thought patterns. For me – this provides a means to examine my own fundamental beliefs (like “Science is great!”) and try and work out their origins. In doing so, you realise that everyone has very fundamental beliefs that they never spent time thinking about. My favourite example is: “What is the opposite of a dog?” My brain says: “Obviously, it’s a cat.” But why should this be so? There is no scientific or logical reason that a dog is opposed to a cat, and I have never thought about why a dog and a cat should be opposite, yet that ideas sits in comfortably in our brains 🙂

      As you make ideas bigger and more expansive, they eventually turn into relationships, morals, politics, economics and, of course, science. So, for me, it’s a way of trying to understand more about our crazy world, especially when the science I’m used to doesn’t work so efficiently haha. I’ll focus on science – scientists, despite being generally very logical and keen on evidence-based thinking, are unfortunately not immune to having unexamined beliefs. It’s part of being human; your brain uses shortcuts to make life more efficient. This is most important, in my opinion, when communicating science. Arguably, this is the most important job of a scientist; scientists have often said to me “If you don’t publish/present this, it’s as if you never did it.” So, when communicating science, I try to think about what kind of evidence the receiver wants to see. Different types of scientist have different preferences for evidence; the same evidence may convince some and not others. This is worth knowing when you present, in order to maximise effective communication.
      I’ve trained Wing Chun around 5 years; I actually wanted to start a new hobby with my PhD, and I’d been hoping to do a martial art for a long time but it was always sidelined for other things before. There are great philosophical questions regarding martial arts, e.g. what is the purpose of a martial art; how does it differ from self-defence? What does it mean to train with someone, or spar, or compete? Why are there different styles of martial art? For me, I think I like martial arts a lot because I find the biomechanics fascinating. I love seeing how exactly the human body generates power; it’s just super cool seeing small changes to your structure/arm position change the effectiveness of a technique. I relation to this, learning martial arts allowed me to learn more about how my body moves, so it improved my other sports and helped me a lot when I learnt climbing. A couple more interesting ideas martial arts gave me: first, learning a martial art to become effective at self-defence is a very very slow process, and I think it encourages you to think carefully how to develop progress over a long time, and acknowledges that it is ok to be a slow learner 🙂 This is a lot like doing experimental science, so simple ideas of resilience, flexibility and repetition were somewhat useful for me when my PhD got tough. Second, it also highlights very clearly that different human bodies give advantages and disadvantages for various techniques. I believe this is the case with problem solving also – there is massive variety in the way people think, and thus some people will find some things easier or harder than others.


      I think I should try and write shorter answers haha; as I say, do comment below to continue the discussion if you so choose, and thanks again for indulging my interest in this stuff ^_^