There is a more popular article on Scientific American, an interview with the author of a new book – Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero– about whether a human being could actually become Batman with sufficient money, talent, and training (The answer is yes). That one is covered on about a kajillion blog sites by now but surfing over to Scientific American after reading a few, I also found this article on the expert mind and research into chessmasters minds. They are able to study this field via memory tests with games in progress vs. random piece locations that make no sense, among other techniques. I am interested in this topic after reading about Josh Waitzkin, a champion in chess, push hands, and now aiming for a championship in bjj. Waitzkin talks about reducing moves to simpler patterns and thereby speeding up perception of what is happening. Bjj especially is often compared to chess but how is it that experienced players seem to see so many moves, combinations, and possibilities? I think this is partly what is happening with the Fedors, Anderson Silvas and BJ Penns – they are not just well trained and great athletes but have a faster perception. A quote from the article explains some of the psychology of the expert mind:

“I see only one move ahead,” Capablanca is said to have answered, “but it is always the correct one.”

He thus put in a nutshell what a century of psychological research has subsequently established: much of the chess master’s advantage over the novice derives from the first few seconds of thought. This rapid, knowledge-guided perception, sometimes called apperception, can be seen in experts in other fields as well. Just as a master can recall all the moves in a game he has played, so can an accomplished musician often reconstruct the score to a sonata heard just once.

I can’t claim much success yet but cross-training seems to be a key to making some more pedestrian progress. Where Waitzkin probably sees many links between chess, push hands, and bjj, I see a few links between ph and bjj but these are at level 0 at the moment. Taijiquan in general seems so abstract – almost more of a reduction of arts to underlying math – that its principles seem to be found easily in specific arts. That is as it should be in my opinion but there are always folks who want to harden something that purports to be Taoist into something more well defined that paradoxically can no longer really be called Taoist (the Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao).

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