Daily Speculations

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Department of Connections

Martial Arts and Markets

Bonnie Lo: Thoughts When Drinking Tea in the Morning...

I think I think too much when I drink tea. This comes after much contact with just listening to conversations, just drinking tea. Lots of tea in October.

Tea 1: Sitting in a coffee shop
One interesting debate that became a shouting match occurred beside me in a coffee shop as I was trying to concentrate on some work. Starting as a discussion about foreign aid between two friends, it became a full-blown, winner-take-all fight of capitalism versus socialism, the value or an individuals' contributions versus the value of societal care. I had to sit on my hands and clamp my teeth together even while I was bouncing around inside at each point. Near the end, it seemed that each person was viewing from different points of risk. The one I called the tall one saw that each person should be responsible for their own destiny - the chance or risk they took to improve themselves, and all the rewards and penalties. Everything from health care and education all the way to foreign aid (in his words, 'We need to invest! Invest in making things and making money! You invest in something, you make things, everyone has more.' - please add Jamaican accent yourself.

His counterpart, the short one, seemed to have the attitude that no one should have to worry, that compassion was equal to reducing the risk of living for everyone - 'What would those who cannot, do? Not everyone can make the same'

'But that's the point - a doctor should make more money than that guy there writing tickets, a person with education should be able to make more if they work, someone who works hard should be rewarded.'

'But some people cannot live that way.' I try to concentrate harder on some particularly complicated concept. Doesn't work. I cannot block the yelling and fist pounding beside me. Ironic I had my economics book with me. Nah, they're having too much fun on their own. I leave. Couldn't change the short guy's mind anyway - couldn't understand the concept of lowering risk and rewards for people and why that was not beneficial.

Tea 2: Trampolines and Risk
There was some news report on the risks of trampolines and I got to thinking - are 'they' now going to recommend people stop bouncing on trampolines? I had so much fun bouncing on the spare old mattress in my parents' basement or being on the trampoline in gym. Sure, there's risk - you bounce up and down, up and down, flop, flip - whatever - and risk the fact you may bounce off, hit your head and seriously injure yourself. But that's part of the fun. I guess if/when I have children I could put helmets on them? Yet, won't the helmet make it more dangerous if the bounce went wrong? But now I'm worrying about head and shoulders...

Tea 3: Subway, the stop start and positioning
I hate the subway lately, they don't seem to have any good operators. Or the signals are always broken. Or, for some reason, the emergency alarm is always being pulled. It could also be I really dislike touching the poles cause after picking up some coffee and breakfast samples (or whatever that goo is), I'd rather position my feet to balance against the stops and starts. The subway jerks forward, I lean back a little in third ballet position*. The subway suddenly stops and everyone is thrown as I lean the other way. Stop, lean. Start, lean. But sometimes, I over-anticipate and lean too much to the opposite of what is going to happen. So I stumble and injure my pride as I apologize to the recipient of my fall.

Tea 4: The Path I Walk
It was a foggy, grey and cool morning, to be expected after the cool still-wind night. The dark unseen lady had swept through the square, shaking the trees to test their strength. She had been bringing in cold, warm, wet and dry the last few weeks as the trees withstood the rise and fall in the October climate. The weather had opened down this morning and I expected more of the golden leaves to fall off the trees. I prepared for a cold shock down. It was miserable as the news came out and I knew the lady was doing her specialty - concealed revealment.

For she was up and alert in the afternoon, up as the sun came out and the sky turned from grey to blue...and looking out the window, I regretted I had already made my assumptions. It'd been a downer, a gloomy morning and I decided to do nothing, ignoring things up until the point where I was surprised by the sunlight. No golden leaves for me to collect today.

*one foot with toe pointed to the side, perpendicular to the other foot facing directly forward, pointing in front of me, feet shoulder width apart. Toe pointed forward in the direction of movement gives me the most leverage against sudden stops, the other front pointing foot allowing me to take the sudden forward movements.

Kevin Ho Responds:

Re: [*one foot with toe pointed to the side, perpendicular to the other foot facing directly forward, pointing in front of me, feet shoulder width apart. Toe pointed forward in the direction of movement gives me the most leverage against sudden stops, the other front pointing foot allowing me to take the sudden forward movements.]

Sounds like a few Asian martial arts fighting stances! (But then some would say that a squeezy train ride is like war...)

What's really revealing about combat stances in the fighting arts, is that nobody has yet determined which is the most efficient fighting stance. One could even argue that stances are largely dependent on the culture by which the art came from.

Case in hand: virtually all of the malay archipelago 'Silat' emphasises large, low, wide stances, whereas the Japanese karate/jujitsu et al almost exclusively favour narrow, more upright positions. I wonder why?

Grandmaster Nigel Davies Responds:

Could it be genetic, with the Japanese being smaller and having a high foot size to height ratio. A question of balance!?

Kevin Ho Responds:

Hang on, but the folks on the Malay peninsula who do Silat are quite similarly sized. If you could put it down to statistics, the stance width to height ratio for silat or Indian kalaripayit practioner would be larger then those of the Japanese and Korean systems.

I would hazard a guess in that cultures favouring wider, lower stances, tend to favour more fluid & dynamic fighting strategies, whereas the more upright, stand-up fighters from Japan, Korea and western boxing prefer the go-straight-in kind of engagements. Amazingly, in the all-styles martial arts tournaments in Singapore, the Malay Silat fighters do very well with their knockouts delivered from wide fluid stances.

James Sogi Responds:

In Muy Thai, kicks to the legs and below the waist are allowed, encouraging a lower stance. In Karate and Tae Kwan Do kicks are only allowed above the belt encouraging a higher stance. In trading a low stance is definitely required due to many kicks below the belt. However if overly defensive posture guarding sensitive area, face is exposed and trader gets slap in face as market takes off without scoring points.

Essan Soobratty Responds:

Re: Any spec with experience in other martial arts not mentioned here?
Traditional Aikido stance is not quite straight and upright but neither is it low and shallow.

Right stance (migi hanmi) is right foot forward, toes facing forward. Left foot, back, is almost perpendicular to the front. Feet are approx shoulder width apart. Knees are slightly bent and weight distribution is about 60% front, 40% rear. Posture should be relaxed so that your 'center' is lowered slightly. By Relaxed I mean that muscles should not being tensed so that you can react in any direction with fluidity.

This 'centering' is important because it gives the feeling of draining all the stress and muscle tension from your upper body into your hara. Many indirect benefits including heightened awareness and readiness -useful not only on the mat but at the desk too.

Phil McDonnell Adds:

I've coached more than 30 youth teams in various non-martial arts sports. In each sport the basic athletic stance is critical. However from sport to sport you will find that the essential stance differs slightly depending on what is being optimized.

In basketball a basic defensive stance is one foot slightly in front of the other at something like a 45 degree angle. The two feet themselves are angled outward at roughly a 45 degree angle to each other. This stance allows the defender to quickly turn in either direction so as to react to any sudden moves by the offense.

On basketball offense the feet are typically kept more forward and more together. The feet forward allows more breakaway speed. The attacking and defending stances for soccer are similar to basketball for the same reasons.

In my old college sport, baseball, the infielders usually play in a balanced stance with the feet fairly wide apart and angled slightly outward to allow quick sideways movement left to right. Outfielders need to cover a two dimensional area and thus need to keep one foot back and one forward angled out slightly. The foot back allows the outfielder to go back for deep fly balls as well as charge in for short flies. The feet angled out allows for relatively rapid side to side movement.

Pitching from a stretch the pitcher stands sideways to home plate with feet pointing to third base for a right handed pitcher. Even with a full wind up the pitcher quickly gets into this sideways position. Most people don't realize that pitching or throwing in general is really a sideways twisting movement. With the leg lift the pitcher twists back even farther like a coiled spring and then steps toward home plate, while twisting back around until he is facing home plate. The goal of the pitcher is to have that twist turn him around so that he winds up in an infielder's stance facing home plate and is ready to field any batted balls in his direction. The twisting motion adds a great deal to the velocity of the pitch because it substantially increases the distance through which the ball is accelerated.

The actual distance through which a pitcher can accelerate the ball is more than 10 feet. To understand this consider that the pitcher reaches back about 3 feet with the ball when starting his motion. He steps forward about 3 feet while twisting and then reaches forward another 3 feet for the release. That's a total of 9 feet. The last foot or so is added when the pitcher bends over during the final release. It all begins with the footwork and the stance.

The analogy to the markets is especially appropriate. First we have to identify what it is we are trying to optimize. If it's a runaway bull market perhaps the strategy is to go feet forward, leverage up and go for it. If we identify market conditions as a back and forth see saw market perhaps a more flexible stance with feet ready to go in either direction is in order. Success begins with good footwork.