Earlier this year, a small pub opened in my neighborhood. Not that I am much of a bar connoisseur, but I thought that it could maybe turn into something like the show ‘Cheers’ — where everybody knows your naaammeee.
I walked by this place almost every day, and never saw more than a table or two of customers; oftentimes it was completely empty. I went there once myself. The food was horrifically burnt and the server dropped a full pint glass on the ground a few feet away from my table. Perhaps this explained the lack of customers.
About a month ago, the place came under new ownership and the management of a new General Manager. They decided to show the Floyd Mayweather v. Conor McGregor pay-per-view boxing match last weekend.
I went. Every table was full and people were standing in every open space, shoulder to shoulder. The bar had opened its front windows, sort of a ‘garage door’ type situation, and people were filling the street, craning for a view of the television. The biggest crowd the place ever had, and it wasn’t close.
It was the same thing at the bar a few blocks north, and the one a few blocks south. I was 2500 miles from Las Vegas, where the fight was taking place. I thought about all the activity across North America, the world really. I thought about all the hours of overtime being put in by workers in Vegas due to the influx of people for the event.
Much of the intrigue was built from the fact that it was a competition between the best mixed martial artist and the best boxer, in the sport of boxing. The analogies came fast and furious during the buildup – It was like the best sprinter entering the Olympic marathon; It was like the best NFL quarterback trying to pitch game 7 of the World Series; It was like a bear fighting a shark…in the middle of the ocean.
Many analysts, from the vocation of boxing, in particular, insisted that the mixed martial artist had no chance in a boxing match. This seemed, logically, to make sense.
Interestingly, the fight turned out to be much more competitive than most expected. Those who contended McGregor wouldn’t “land a glove” on Mayweather were surprised when he landed 111 “gloves” (as in, punches) in a hard-fought battle in which both men acquitted themselves well. The people in the pub cheered and yelled and laughed and slapped each other on the back throughout. Near universally, where I was and amongst fans around the world, the consensus was people had gotten their money’s worth – something of a rarity in a sport as corrupt as boxing.
This is not a piece about a boxing match.
The point I am getting to is something which can be applied to the fields of politics and activism, to life in general.
Namely; how did a non-boxer, even a high-level athlete from another sport, remain competitive with a boxer in the sport of boxing. Usain Bolt would not be competitive if he suddenly entered a marathon, just because his sport involves running. Tom Brady would not succeed pitching game 7 of the World Series, just because his sport involves throwing.
When asked, McGregor and his coach often say that what they are doing is “Bruce Lee sh*t.”
Most people take this to mean that, like Bruce Lee, McGregor is a martial artist who became a globally recognized pop-culture icon.
The reality is somewhat deeper than that.
Bruce Lee was unique in part because he applied science and philosophy to his interpretation of martial arts. One such way was through the disruption of complex systems.
The idea is that complex systems tend to self-organize, and thus self-simplify, leaving holes to be exploited. It is easiest to explain using the example of Conor McGregor.
The official rules of the sport of boxing, known as the Marquess of Queensberry rules, were created 150 years ago. They represent a complex system.
These rules were and are constantly being interpreted by teachers and practitioners of the martial art. Over time, these interpretations become dogma; in effect, they become the “rules.”
What McGregor was trying to do was operate within the official rules, which are relatively broad, but outside of the dogmatic, and much narrower, “rules.” He was trying to use the complex system’s dogmas against it – to disrupt it.
Use sports as a lens/mirror on society, and apply this type of thinking to the world around us.
How many times during the presidential campaign did people say about Donald Trump — “He can’t do that!” The “rules” of the American political structure would say that Trump was not allowed to claim Jeb Bush was going to pull down his pants and moon the audience during a debate. But he did, and he won by disrupting a complex system which had become simplified and stagnated.
For activists and people who want to enact change, the idea of using a system’s dogmas against it, of recognizing which rules are unofficial and only relevant when both sides are complicit, is crucial; especially when faced with the all-encompassing strength of the establishment.
Here is a simpler experiment.
When you go to get your morning coffee, and the barista asks you how your day is going, answer with something like, “Well, I woke up a bit sore but that sun felt great on my face and I feel like I am one coffee away from a real good start to the day. How are you doing?” and take a look at their face.
That’s “Bruce Lee sh*t”.