By Mahipal Lunia • January 1st, 2009 •
I did not see that roundhouse kick coming in, and the next second I was bleeding on the floor, and the shape of my face was to be changed forever. This was the late ‘80s, and, once again, when doing my kumite (free sparring) against someone from another style, a very senior member of a different school had managed to get me flat on the ground. In spite of being a brown belt in Shotokan Karate, I was unable to defend myself. I trained three nights a week, for three hours each session, and yet my results were a broken nose and bruised ego. I started to ask the questions “Why is my specialty of Shotokan Karate not working?” and “Why do I seem to do so well against members of my own style, but when faced with another stylist, I am at a loss for what to do.
In my teens, I quickly arrived at the conclusion that I need to train more, and train in more diverse disciplines. I went out to a bookstore, and ran into a copy of Tao Of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee. I was hooked. He helped me understand that I could not let my style be my limitation, I had to learn to fight at all ranges and with all styles. I worked hard, training with a hard Kenpo sensei, a soft Wushu sifu, a crazy sports karate coach, and with friends who dabbled in mixed arts and boxing. A few things began to click, and yet, I was not as effective as I wanted to be. My sparring improved—I was more fluid and able to move in and out of different ranges with ease. However, I was unable to weave/tie the various systems together. This all started to change when I ran into—quite by accident—my present sensei, Sensei Sastri. When I met him, he was not only able to negate all my styles and throw me around like a rag doll, but he also had a sense of calm and peace about it—the kind of calm and peaceful confidence that is both very appealing and scary.
Well, the next few years I apprenticed under my sensei in Kaze Arashi Ryu, working out six days a week, for two to three hours a day, and was able to fluidly fight in all ranges. Yet, there was a symmetry and some core principles at work. One of the core principles here was to focus on “generalized principles” and the focus was not so much on techniques but on embodying the principles.
The big epiphany was most styles were specialists—either punching or kicking systems, or infighting and outfighting systems, hard and soft, etc. But in order to be a complete fighter, one had to be a generalist, a comprehensivist. This is also true in just about every other aspect of life. Overspecialization kills in the long run, and it is the generalist who ultimately emerges the winner. This process of learning the principles and embodying them took us deep into various other fields, such as philosophy, zen, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and business strategy. Suddenly, the realization hit—they were all deeply connected, and one could not just learn about one thing without it deeply impacting the other systems.
One night, I sat down and watched the PBS special with Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell. During their conversation, Joe Campbell says, “Specialization tends to limit the field of problems that the specialist is concerned with. Now, the person who isn’t a specialist, but a generalist like myself, sees something over here that he has learned from one specialist, something over there that he has learned from another specialist—and neither of them has considered the problem of why this occurs both here and there. So the generalist—and that’s a derogatory term, by the way, for academics—gets into a range of other problems that are more genuinely human, you might say, than specifically cultural.” And bingo, I was nodding. Campbell could have been speaking about martial arts instead of mythology, and he would have still made perfect sense. Hooked as I was now to studying the patterns of human development (the monomyth and NLP), I embarked to study the dots that connect.
Many years later, as I sat down reading Frank Herbert’s Dune Series (yes again, for probably the nth time), I saw the piece of the conversation where Herbert has in his ever poetic and magical language captures the heart of the same principle of generalization vs. specialization. He states, “It is wise to have decisions of great moment monitored by generalists. Experts and specialists lead you quickly into chaos. They are the source of useless nit-picking, the ferocious quibble over a comma. The generalist, on the other hand, should bring to decision-making a healthy common sense. The generalist must understand that anything which we can identify as our universe is merely part of larger phenomena. But the expert looks backward; he looks into the narrow standards of his own specialty. The generalist looks outward; he looks for living principles, knowing full well that such principles change and develop. It is to the characteristics of change itself that the generalist must look. There can be no permanent catalog of such change. You must look at it with as few preconceptions as possible. Languages build up to reflect specializations in a way of life. Each specialization may be recognized by its words, assumptions, and sentence structures. Look for stoppages. Specializations represent places where life is being stopped, where movement is dammed up and frozen. ” Again he could have said the same about martial arts, I remembered with a smile and nod as I checked for the validity of his insight with my body and impulses. Yes, it is so. These patterns connect, and the generalist wins again.
In the past year, my friends and I have been deeply studying the work of Buckminster Fuller, and this has lead to yet another reinvention of the work we do. Bucky has produced a series of “everything I know sessions,” which runs anywhere from 20-40 hours. During these deep talks, he repeatedly emphasizes the same idea—go with generalization, and become comprehensivists. During one of the early EIK he eloquently states, “Of course, our failures are a consequence of many factors, but possibly one of the most important is the fact that society operates on the theory that specialization is the key to success, not realizing that specialization precludes comprehensive thinking.” He continues, “We have learned in biology and anthropology that extinction has been the consequence of overspecialization, and our specialization is leading to extinction of the species. The only thing humans need is the ability to think. Unfortunately, they think mostly about how to make a living and get along in the system rather than about what the universe is trying to tell us.”
Finally, a few days ago, I was watching some videos of Osho, and there was the same thread again—this time from spirituality. He states, “All experts are blind. Expertise means you become blind to everything else. You know more and more about less and less, and then one day you arrive at the ultimate goal of knowing all about nothing,”
I sat back and took notice, that yes, in fact, I have spent many years becoming a generalist, and this has been the underlying principle in many things I do. The jobs I have taken, my approach to martial arts, my approach to change work, how RCG has evolved and is continuing to evolve, and the diverse seemingly unconnected disciplines we seem to learn—they are deeply connected. Not spending time to learn the principles that unite leads one to overspecialization, and that leads to stagnation and extinction.
I would like to leave this stream of consciousness with a few questions 1. Are you a specialist or a generalist? 2. How can you move towards a more comprehensive way of being and thinking? 3. Are you just studying success (mind technologies like NLP), the evolution of man and societies ( anthropology and spiral dynamics/gravesian model), or just working on the body (martial arts, dance) for example, or have you found ways to weave them together ? 4. How can you unleash your intuition towards higher and higher orders of being, and find patterns that connect and ride them?
With that, signing off, and wishing you all a very, very happy and comprehensive new year.
This is to wishing you that you don’t get caught in the trap of specialization of NLP or any one style of work.
May you be beyond categorizations and definitions.
May many passions find you and may you find interests that enrich each other.
And may you give back those learnings back to humanity to enrich those who come after you.