Does it cause more problems than it is worth? Is offering criticism a valuable method for improving everyone's skill through the heat of debate? Does the sting of criticism cause us to reflect and correct or is it more likely to drive us back into our shells? Under what circumstances does criticism simply shut down the debate, leaving us all poorer and less informed?
I don't know the answer. I also don't know where the 'do not cross' lines should be. I mean talking about somebody's mama is probably over the line, surely civility is of prime importance, but it's pretty easy for honesty to come into direct conflict with being nice.
So what do you think? Just how far can we go in criticizing other martial artists in public?
I'm guessing most readers already know my default stance. I was raised by wolves who believed that nobody ever changes their behavior unless they are forced to confront moral outrage. My wolf family trained me to argue from absolute truth. If a table full of people covered in beards and books are all arguing their various positions, each as if he or she had sole access to absolute truth, then a whole lot of heat and light is created. Everyone has a chance to view everyone else's ideas in the sharpest possible contrast. Everyone is equal. Everyone is free to add or subtract from everyone else's idea.
If a person doesn't have this training, however, it can be a bit overwhelming. But for me it's the best way to learn. That's probably why I've bonded with George Xu over the years. He loves criticism. He likes being blindsided by a challenging critique. A lot of people tell me that's a rare trait in the martial arts world. Too bad. Sharp criticisms have the power to cause people to think, change and adapt. Even if it turns out I'm totally off base in my criticism, the person being criticized may be inspired to come up with a new way of explaining themselves, or demonstrating their skill, in order to convince me to drop my objections. George Xu has always done this with me, even when I've roamed into areas I really have no place being, like the definition of a Chinese word. And no doubt, sometimes there is more heat than light, but in the long run, I think, the art itself is better for it.