Monday, April 30, 2012

Movement of Budo (martial arts) and Luhmann's systems theory

1 Introduction

I participated in the 3 day seminar (April 20-22, 2012) by Akira HINO, a master of Budo (=Japanese martial arts), who has been collaborating with William Forsythe, the choreographer of The Forsythe Company.

Below is part of what I thought I learned in the seminar, which I hope is not so mistaken. Or it is rather an attempt to interpret one Budo movement that was taught through the framework of Niklas Luhmann's systems theory. I don't pretend that I have mastered the movement to the level that Hino sensei requires, nor do I claim that my view below represents Hino sensei's Budo sufficiently.

Yet, I contend that a Budo movement can be understood as communication between two persons mediated by the body, that is usually considered two separate and independent bodies but rather should be considered integrated as one body communication system. I further argue that this communication between two persons mediated by one integrated body system is rather like linguistic communication, that is usually regarded as information transmission between two persons but rather should be regarded as one integrated communication system mediated by language.

The point where two bodies (in Budo) or two persons (in linguistic communication) becomes one body communication system or one linguistic communication system depends upon the condition of the interface between the two bodies or persons. As long as the interface is free of surface resistance (in Budo) or sense of irrelevance (in linguistic communication), two bodies or persons that are usually regarded as separate and independent becomes one communication system, which cannot be fully accountable by the sum of the two entities. I believe that the operation of communications systems are well explained among others by Luhmann's systems theory

2 How is Budo movement different from the standard movement?

What is Budo movement? In this section, I give a general account of Budo movement from the viewpoints of the antagonist and the protagonist, before I introduce a specific Budo movement that I analyze in the following section.

2.1 From the antagonist

Unlike standard movements performed by ordinary people, Budo movements are irresistible or unpredictable for the antagonist (=attacker). A big antagonist who overpowers a standard movement of the protagonist (=your Non-Budo movement) cannot even resist the power produced by a Budo movement; the power is different in quality and overwhelming for the antagonist. A quick antagonist who can move faster than the protagonist cannot predict a Budo movement; the protagonist moves earlier, if not faster, before the antagonist notices it, or even when a Budo movement is slow and clearly visible (as in the case of the Budo movement I'll introduce later), the antagonist loses the sense of control and cannot counteract, for the movement is different in quality and the antagonist cannot conceptualize how it will develop.

2.2 From the protagonist

Budo movements are also felt differently in quality for the protagonist (=you as a Budo practitioner). Although you have a master plan of conquring the attack of the antagonist to protect yourself, you don't yourself plan or know the specific moves of a Budo movement. A Budo movement is not conscious use of muscle powers (as is the case in a standard movement) but an autopoietic movement of the whole body, with or without your reflective awareness. Although a Budo movement is achieved, at least partially, by your body that is integrated as one body communication system with the body of the antagonist through the interface, a Budo movement is not your action in the usual sense that you have used your free will to consciously move the parts of your body. A Budo movement is not produced by your planned action, but by the internal logic of the whole integrated body. The body (of the two persons) moves in integration on its own with or without your clear awareness (the antagonist can only have confused awareness of being moved against his will).

3. How do you embody the Budo movement of an untwisting arm?

Now that I have described Budo movements in general, I'll introduce one Budo movement that was taught in the seminar (and which I can somehow manage to perform myself). The Budo movement is for a situation where you have your right arm, for example, twisted to the limit by the antagonist (attacker). In the seminar, you are supposed to keep other parts of the body unmoved for the sake of the exercise (i.e., your right arm is twisted and your right shoulder is put upward and forward, but otherwise you keep your stature unmoved and do not bend your knees or other parts).

If you try to untwist your right arm to escape from the holding in a standard way of conscious use of your muscle power, you cannot escape usually. Even if you're much bigger than the antagonist, you feel a lot of tension and friction, as does the antagonist.

However, if you do the Budo movement, you just untwist the arm effortlessly (you don't feel any tension and friction, and you're very calm in mind and body), and the attacker cannot resist, loses the sense of control and had to be turned around as long as he holds your arm firmly.

But how is it possible? Here are five points that I believe I learned.

3.1 Feel the line

As the Budo movement involves no conscious, intentional use of the muscles, you must not use your consciousness to plan or intend anything. Use your consciousness only to feel (Yes, Bruce Lee was right when he said "Don't think. Feel"). First, feel the line of the sensation of being twisted, between the gripped point of your right arm (or wrist) and the left shoulder (or near it) where the sensation ends. If you're tense, you can't feel the line; you only feel the friction at the gripped point and tension in various parts of your body. You need to be relaxed to accept the twist to feel the line.

3.2 Leave (or keep) the interface as it is

As you feel the line, you also have to feel the arm (or wrist) as is gripped and twisted. Feel just as it is. Feel the pressures, tensions, heat, moisture and all sorts of information from the antagonist and do nothing against them. Just feel.

Do not resist or try to change the situation. If you do, you change the state of the interface (the gripped part), and the change is immediately detected by the antagonist who will adjust the grip and hold you all the more firmly. Keep the interface as it is. As the Budo movement develops later, leave it as it is -- for me "To keep the interface as it is" is a better instruction when I first feel the sensation, and "To leave the interface as it is" is better when I let the Budo development develop.

The change of the interface is a sign that you've used your consciousness to resist intentionally. As the Budo movement is never achieved if you use consciousness in a conventionally, keeping the interface as it is is a very important indicator of the Budo movement. You may use your consciousness to feel, but never use it to think or plan.

Here I should probably introduce two different types of consciousness according to neuroscientists. Antonio Damasio, for example, distinguishes the core consciousness and the extended consciousness (See my articles on Self comes to mind and The feeling of what happens). These two types of consciousness roughly(*) correspond with the primary consciousness and the higher-order consciousness (See my articles Wider than the sky and 'Consciousness as a process that is entailed by molecular interactions').

(*)In this article, I disregard the minor difference between Damasion's terms and Edelman's for the sake of the argument.

Core consciousness (or primary consciousness) is conscious awareness of the change of the body state. Extended consciousness (or higher-order consciousness) is extended from core consciousness in that it goes beyond 'here and now' of core consciousness and recalls backwards or plan heads, and it is higher than primary consciousness of simple awareness in that it describes its status by symbols (usually language).

 In ordinary expressions, 'feeling the sensation of the body' is probably for core consciousness (primary consciousness) and 'thinking with words on the basis of the sensation of the body' is for extended consciousness (or higher-order consciousness). So, when Bruce Lee says "Don't think. Feel," for example, he means that you should not use extended consciousness/higher-order consciousness, but just use core consciousness/primary consciousness. In other words, you should not neglect, but focus on your 'here and now' with the antagonist. Thinking about what to do with words is too slow and limited in information (words can only capture an extremely tiny part of the phenomenon). If you feel and are are true to the changes of the body, your movement is immediate and you respond to all sorts of changes your body (not your extended/higher-order consciousness) detects.


Figure 1: Damasio's theory of consciousness and self

Back to the Budo movement in Hino sensei's seminar, when you keep (or leave) the interface as it is, you only use core consciousness/primary consciousness just to feel. You should not, however, use extended consciousness/higher-order consciousness to think what you should to resist and how. If you do, your movement departs from Budo and becomes just conventional, which can be outpowered by the antagonist.

3.3 Let the line untwist itself from the furthest end

Now that you feel the line and the interface, you begin to let the line you feel untwist itself gradually from the furthest end (your left shoulder) and keep the interface unchanged. Again, you have to focus on the sensation of the point of the line as it gradually untwist itself.

The line is the image of your twisted body. As your body is twisted by the antagonist and transformed into a very unnatural state, the body tries to restore itself to regain the natural position. Because what constitutes your body is complex connections of multitudes of units (muscles, fascia, bones, cells and all sorts of things), untwisting movements are very diverse. Each movement may be not very powerful, but the combination of all movements are. In addition, because the power is not uni-directional (think of a robot-like movement of your body with your conscious plan), but ever-changing, multi-directional beyond the recognition of you and the antagonist, you don't know how your body will move as it untwist itself, nor does the antagonist consciously think how he can resist.

So, you just let your body do its job. You use your core consciousness/primary consciousness to feel the line and the interface so as not to let your extended consciousness/higher-order consciousness do other counter-effective things (for example, recalling your past conventional movement and thinking to apply it to this situation). You just observe the body (the integrated body communication system of your body and the antagonist's) and keep the interface as it is, for it is the sign that your extended consciousness/higher-order consciousness is not doing a wrong thing.

3.4 No intentional moves

As the twisted body untwist itself, your elbow drops and bends, and your palm turns upwards. You may think it is advantageous to drop your elbow or turn rotate your arm deliberately, but don't, as it is a conventional, conscious use of muscles. If you've been training Aikido, you may think that it is advantageous , which it is, to step forward and turn to the antagonist to use the weight of your body for resistance, but you're advised not to do so, because this is an exercise to learn a Budo movement, a non-conscious move of the body with your conscious monitor, not just to untwist the arm. If you haven't learnt Budo at all, do not ever try to move intentionally, for it will be outpowered by the antagonist who are in a better position (i.e. he's twisted your arm already).

3.5 No intentional power

This point is the other side of the previous point, which is a confirmation of the first three points of this Budo movement. Do not try to use your intentional power (which you want to turn to your intentional move). "Keep the interface as it is" is important here as well, for as soon as you try to use your intentional power, the state of the interface changes and the antagonist will notice it immediately.

One further exercise of this Budo movement, is you have your right arm twisted by a first antagonist and have your left arm held by a second antagonist. The job of the first antagonist is to stop the untwisting (the same as the original exercise), but the job of the second antagonist is to detect the change of the interface. If he notices any change in the interface of your left arm and his hand, he slaps your left arm with the other hand. The change of the interface is a sign that you're beginning to use your intentional power, and he let you know that by the slap.

If you keep these five points, you may probably be able to do this Budo movement in some way or other within 10 minutes or so. (But remember: this is only one elementary movements. You cannot of course be a master of Budo in 10 minutes!)

As you learn to do this Budo movement yourself, you may wonder: Who's the agent of this Budo movement? In this Budo movement, you don't have the usual sense of your agency, for you don't (and can't) use your conscious, free will to move your body. Rather, your body moves. But it's not that your body moves alone; your body moves only in relation to the body of the antagonist, and you have to keep (not disconnect) the relation by observing the interface. So, it's not that your body moves against the body of the antagonist, either. Rather your body moves with the body of the antagonist.

So if there's anything like the center of this movement , it's not your free will or your body. It is not the free will or the body of the antagonist, either. It is rather the integration of the two bodies (to constitute one body communication system). It is the maintenance of the body communication system (as is known by the same interface state) that makes further communication of the Budo movement. Bodies per se do not communicate in a Budo movement (nor does two conscious minds). It is communication of the bodies that makes communication of the Budo movements: communication between two persons mediated by one integrated body system.

 Here, we're reminded of Luhmann's provocative words: people do not communicate; communication communicates. I'll briefly introduce Luhmann's systems theory below in the belief that the theory is a good framework to understand Budo movements as body communication (and also to understand linguistic communication, as well)(**).

 (**) With the limit of my academic competency, I cannot claim with absolute confidence that I'm offering here the 'correct' understanding of Luhmann's systems theory, although Luhmann himself might probably laugh at the suggestion of the 'correct' understanding. Those who are interested in Luhmann's theory are advised to read his own works. (Original German worksand English translations).

4 Luhmann's systems theory

4.1 The standard ideas of linguistic communication and the individual

In order to explain Luhmann's systems theory as a framework to understand communication, let's confirm our conventional view of linguistic communication, a proto-type of communication.

Our conventional view is influenced much by the code model of communication by Shannon and Weaver. Communication is regarded as the transmission of information from the sender (encoder) to the receiver (decoder). The sender and the receiver are two separate individuals that are only connected through the channel of transmission. The information is a neutral code, used in all sorts of context in the same way. In linguistic communication, the sender and the receiver are two separate and independent persons as the individual. The information is encoded by the sender into a language and is decoded by the receiver. Communication is deemed successful when the identical information is transmitted, unaffected by encoding,  channel, or decoding. Communicative competence is mostly attributed to individual psychological ability, and communication is considered the result of the simple sum of individual psychological abilities of the two individuals. A study of communication, it is further assumed, is to be a study of the mind of an independent person.

4.2 The three systems that are involved in linguistic communication

Luhmann's systems theory does not regard an individual person as the basic unit of linguistic communication. Linguistic communication is dependent upon individual persons, but it is not the simple sum of performance or psychological ability of each person, and therefore, an individual person is not considered the basic unit of linguistic communication.

An individual person is to be further analyzed, according to Luhmann. What we usually regard as a 'person' has two aspects: biological and psychological.

Natural scientists are mostly concerned with the biological aspect of a person. They regard a person as a biological or physiological system, and now even psychiatrist may prefer pharmacological treatments to existential therapy. (Personally I'm interested in Harry Stack Sullivan whose theory of psychiatry is based on interpersonal relationship. But I'm not sure whether his theory is cherished by the majority of psychiatrists now when The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) seems to rule psychiatry.

The other aspect of a person, the psychological aspect, is kept mostly for non-scientific scholars of humanities, or simply ordinary people. Although naturalism is quite strong, complete reduction of consciousness to physical phenomena is not shared by all researchers, and the nature of consciousness remains as a hard problem.

In his systems theory, Luhmann distinguishes three types of system: Life systems (organisms), psychic systems, and social systems. For the sake of argument, I'll paraphrase the three systems as biological systems, consciousness systems, and communication systems respectively, without, I hope, distorting Luhmann's theory. I'll take the issue of linguistic communication by humans, and use a human body as an example of biological systems, a conscious mind (both core/primary consciousness and extended/higher-order consciousness) as that of psychic systems, and linguistic communication as that of social systems.

One reason why Luhmann distinguishes these systems is that the three systems are autopoietic (self-organizing; only a self can create itself) respectively. For example, although linguistic communication depends upon human bodies and human consciousnesses, communication cannot be reduced, as I'll explain later, to the sum of the individual conscious states or the states of the individual human bodies. It is only communication that creates further communication; human consciousnesses or human bodies alone cannot create communication -- only communication can create communication, and in this sense, communication is autopoietic.

Likewise, only your consciousness can create your new consciousness; your biological states must be translated into your conscious state to form new consciousness; development in linguistic communication must also be translated into your conscious state. Consciousness depends upon and gets affected by a human body, and it also gets affected by and may even need linguistic communication (at least as far as the development of extended/higher-order consciousness is concerned). But consciousness is not neither the state of the body nor the state of linguistic communication. In order to form consciousness, you simply need a state of consciousness. A state of consciousness may be a translation from the body state or the communication state, but it needs to be a conscious state itself. A consciousness system is autopoietic in itself.

Also, only your body can make your body. You cannot obtain the strong muscles of a lion by eating its meat. You must digest it (i.e., transform the meat into the units that can interact within your body system. You have to make the meat of the lion part of yourself if you want to obtain strong muscles like a lion's (of course, you need to exercise as well). So our human body as a biological system is also autopoietic in its own way.

4.2.1 Biological system (life system or organism)

Our biological system is our human body. It is a physiological system that the mainstream Western medical science deals with. It is a basis of a consciousness system, which is a basis of a linguistic communication system. It may be affected by a consciousness system or a linguistic communication system, but it is only a biological system itself that makes itself.

4.2.2 Consciousness system (psychic system)

Our consciousness system is our human consciousness (some non-human animals have core/primary consciouseness and even (non-linguistic) extended/higher-order consciousness, but we don't deal with them here). Consciousness requires our body, as Damasio, for example, explains, but consciousness is not just an expression of the current body state. When you find and read a writing and changes your mind, your consciousness was affected not just by the body state but also by the paper outside your body. As media ecology (Wikipedia and my blog articles) explains, media influence our being, and we are beings with the extended mind and the world now contains so many technologies that enables advance use of extended/higher-order consciousness.

So I believe it is quite reasonable to assume that humans are not just biological systems; humans are consciousness systems as well that self-organize new consciousness from the past consciousness. In order to understand humans, you need at least both biological and psychological aspects (you also need communication aspect, as I hope will be clear later). Humans are not just a consciousness system, either; consciousness needs the functions of the biological system where it is embodied. You need to understand the functions of our body to understand consciousness.

4.2.3 Communication system (social system)

A linguistic communication, as an example of a communication system, requires (at least) two conscious minds, which further require two human bodies. Figure 2 below summarizes the interaction of the three autopoietic systems.

Figure 2: The interaction between biological, consciousness, and communication systems.

I'll explain more about the communication system in the next section by introducing theories of pragmatics.

5 Linguistic communication explained by pragmatics and Relevance Theory

Let's review theories of pragmatics and see how Luhmann's theory is compatible with them.

5.1 Speaker's meaning may not be known to the speaker herself

The theory of pragmatics tells that 'meaning' contains literal meaning (conventional dictionary meaning) and speaker's meaning (the meaning that the speaker intended besides what the literal meaning is assumed to convey). One of the examples most often used is an utterance "It's hot", with its literal meaning 'THE TEMPERATURE IS HIGH' and its speaker's meaning 'PLEASE OPEN THE WINDOW', and we assume that the literal meaning and the speaker's meaning are shared between the speaker and the listener.

But situations are more complicated in the real world communication. The speaker's meaning is often interpreted in a way that the speaker did not intend. Even the literal meaning is often not shared completely, and the listener may focus on different aspects of the denotation and connotation of the word that the speaker did not exactly mean.

Communication does not always work as you intend. You may have your own logic that you believe should be applied in linguistic communication, but your logic is not necessarily the logic of the communication. Neither you nor your interlocutor controls communication completely. Communication may work and develop beyond the anticipation of the participants (This is a reason why humans should not be regarded as the basic unit of linguistic communication). Linguistic communication, as it were, has its own life and logic and it creates itself in its own way, beyond the control of the participants; it is an autopoietic system. (As I write this essay with my conscious mind and my biological body, both extended by Information Communication Technology, I never know what communication this essay will bring).

To take a simpler example of interactive communication between the two persons in the same time-space, neither participants knows or controls the development of linguistic communication, although, in a sense, the linguistic communication is constituted by the utterances of the two as the results of their biological and conscious systems. Like your interlocutor, you are quite aware of what you're saying, but consciousness is not sufficient, either yours or your interlocutor's, or even both of them, to make linguistic communication. The words and phrases you use may have denotations, connotations or associations that you're not currently aware of, and they may influence the development of communication.

The linguistic communication is now a new autopoietic system. You are not the agent of the linguistic communication system in the way you are the agent of your consciousness system (even in the consciousness system, you may not be a complete agent in the sense the term "free will" suggests, but let's not talk about this here). 'You', either as a consciousness system, a biological system or whatever it may mean, are involved in linguistic communication, but you're never the master of it. In fact, no human beings, either alone or combined, are the master of linguistic communication. If there's a master of linguistic communication -- a debatable proposition --, it is linguistic communication itself that is the master of linguistic communication.

5.2 The sense of relevance as the interface condition of linguistic communication

But if linguistic communication is an autopoietic system on its own, beyond its participants (human beings), when does the utterances from two separate persons becomes a linguistic communication system as an autopoieteic system? How do we know when some sentences are not just a random collection of linguistic productions but an instance of linguistic communication? In other words, what makes communication communication?

My answer now is that the sense of relevance is the interface condition of linguistic communication. That is, as long as either side of participants (preferably, both sides) believes that relevance is kept in their linguistic interaction, the linguistic interaction makes communication.

The term 'relevance' is of course from the Relevance Theory. All participants expect (often unknowingly) that utterances that they process must be worthy of processing (must be 'relevant'), and that other participants must be behaving according to this principle. When you listen to an ambiguous utterance, you're motivated to choose the meaning that seems the most relevant to you. When your interlocutor looks you in the eye and says something that is not very clear in meaning, you're motivated to seek for whatever relevance it may have. (For further information on Relevance Theory, see Dan Sperber's online resource (

6 Communication mediated by language and communication mediated by the body

So keeping the sense of relevance unbroken and ceasing to believe that you're the agent of linguistic communication are the conditions to make and keep linguistic communication. But doesn't this sound like the Budo movement as a communication system?

I certainly believe it does. More than that, I believe both linguistic communication and body communication of Budo can be generalized and categorized as instances of the communication system in general.

If you want to work on other person through the body (as in the case of a self-defense in Budo), you should not just move your body as you wish. Rather, you should make your body integrated with the body of the other person. You can do so if you focus on the interface of the two bodies, and keep it unaffected by your plan or thought (the use of extended/higher-order consciousness); you just let your body respond, not your free will (another use of extended/higher-order consciousness). Then it works. (Really, it is "it", not you, that works and I claim this "it" is a communication system of two persons mediated by the body).

Likewise, if you want to work on other person through language, you should not just say what you want to say. Rather you should integrate your utterances with the utterances of the other person. You can do so if you focus on the sense of relevance and keep that interface undestroyed by not imposing your own logic or not refusing to find relevance in the utterances of the other. Let the words, both the other's and yours, be the master of linguistic communication, not your own wishes. Let the words mean what they mean both in the senses of literal meaning and speaker's meaning.  Don't resist with words by imposing your own wishes.  Do nothing against the words, do everything with the words.

 When you listen, don't impose and stick to your version of the literal meaning and your own interpretation of the speaker's meaning. Hear the words as they develop in communication. When you speak, don't just assume that your utterances will always understood as you intended, not just in the speaker's meaning but also in the literal meaning. As you speak, take a good look at the facial expression and other body expressions of your interlocutor to see the sense of relevance is kept between him and you. Always make your best efforts to keep the sense of relevance, and just use words only as long as the sense of relevance is not destroyed. And then, I'd argue, it works; a communication system mediated by the body, 'linguistic communciation' as we call it, works.

Luhmann's systems theory explains both body communication (Budo movements) and linguistic communication by distinguishing the consciousness system and the communication system. Budo movements and linguistic communication work best when the participants use their consciousness only to observe the interface of their communication and avoid much use of their own free will. The point is let the body or the words do their own job, not your wishes, for sometimes their job is beyond the imagination of your wishes. The body and the words have more capacity than you think.

As I'm about to finish this essay, I now begin to wonder whether I've imposed my own wishes too much as I wrote. Did I respond to the words I wrote as I kept writing? Or rather, did I just humbly observe how my words responded to each other to develop writing while keeping relevance? Did I try sufficiently to suppress my ego so that it didn't distort communication?

Pat Metheny says that you have to be a good listener of your own music as you play. You may have to be a good reader of your words when you write. I now wonder if I was a good reader of my words in this essay.

Related post:
Comparing Foreign Language Communication to Budo (Martial Arts)

No comments: