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The Two Key Axes Motivating PJMA Development

Thursday September 17, 2020

I wanted to talk a little bit about the philosophy of my Personal Justice Martial Art (PJMA) without making the original article even longer, so in this article I’ll touch on some specifics which motivated the formation and design of a new art.

These are philosophical specifics, focused on two key axes which are relevant to all martial arts philosophy.

Axis 1: Big picture vs. little picture thinking

“The localization of the mind means its freezing. When it ceases to flow freely as it is needed, it is no more the mind in its suchness.” —Bruce Lee

There currently exists a tragic deficiency in the gap between big-picture and little-picture thinking in the martial arts.

When one does come across metaphorical-philosophical constructs (like the quote above) or big-picture thinking, it is rarely connected, organized, or even explicitly explained. Instead it’s offered as more of an open-ended thinking exercise. This is fine in some ways, yet it also wastes a lot of leverage. Big-picture thinking is a powerful tool in real life situations, whether any particular person will acknowledge that or not. PJMA treats these thought processes as integral design features, as opposed to little intellectual scraps found here and there on the dojo walls.

Further, if a formal mental construct is to exist within the martial arts as a useful tool, individuals are encouraged to either develop these mental constructs on their own, OR to adopt an existing construct on their instructor’s word. However, how many of these instructors are really interested in philosophy and big-picture thinking? How many of them can fluently deal with contradictions, exceptions, and design-oriented thinking in a big-picture context?

In my experience, people who can engage in this this activity at a fluent level are not generally found among martial arts instructors. That’s fine in some ways—nobody can be good at everything—but it’s not fair to students when the activity could be developed and taught, given the problems that martial arts are advertised to solve.

Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time reading and researching martial arts philosophy. While I hoped to find a well-developed world of thought-connected action that connects martial arts concepts from big-picture thought directly down to appropriate forms of little-picture thinking, instead I found a polarized continuum. Vague, metaphorical, and loosely-organized big-picture thinking which exists on one extreme end of that continuum, and over-specific, prescriptive technique-focused practice on the other end.

This creates a huge blind spot for a martial artist. Instead of designing the best solution to a conflict, a martial artist is taught to choose, arrange, and deploy specific physical techniques.

Indeed, most martial arts do not communicate that it is possible to fight and win decisively by starting from a guiding philosophy and developing a fluid and responsive mental construct which informs the selection and deployment of little-picture techniques.

This is, to put it lightly, crazy sauce. It is an arrangement that is unfortunate, risky and likely to undermine the core value of a martial art in the face of most of life’s difficult challenges, fights, conflicts, battles, wars, and so on.

Nowadays, if a choke-hold or a kick, or a possible combination of both, is the answer to a real conflict that’s on your hands, you are likely either dealing with an extreme edge case or forcing your model to fit the problem in front of you. I shouldn’t need to explain why that’s a troubling position.

At the same time, we exist in a litigious, hyper-justice-focused society where physical violence is concerned. Without a justice concept and related mental models to provide a practitioner with a creative fighting capacity, the likelihood of physical technique really solving a conflict is extremely low and getting lower. This may even be more true, the more you win your physical conflicts.

Axis 2: Broad thinking vs. narrow thinking

8. When it is impossible to use cannon I can supply in their stead catapults, mangonels, trabocchi, and other instruments of admirable efficiency not in general use—I short, as the occasion requires I can supply infinite means of attack and defense.

— Leonardo da Vinci, writing to the Duke of Milan

I also learned that there is very little fluency between broad and narrow thinking in the martial arts. This has also become a critical blind spot.

To give an example, broad thinking anticipates a wide variety of questions, or problems, and looks at the set of possible solutions as virtually never-ending. Not only are there an infinite number of physical approaches to the solution of a conflict, but these infinities can overlap and integrate with other approaches: This includes psychological, social, intellectual, legal, and a variety of other approaches.

A broad thinker keeps an open mind. Broad-minded thinkers face the future with anticipation. They want to learn new things that can help them out.

A good broad-minded thinker knows that learning something new doesn’t have to crowd out the old, reliable things they already know. To the contrary, they can develop a more resilient system or framework with fresh new ideas and insights.

Narrow-minded thinking is typically more focused on things that worked in the past. This approach is valuable in some ways, but it is completely dominant in the martial arts. History, tradition, stories, legends, and memory are revered and vaunted.

Predictably, this can result in technique which is undermined by a lack of development in light of current, developing contexts. Do you want to defeat a narrow-minded martial artist? Start by deploying changing contexts as a weapon, and derive specific techniques and tools from that position. Redefine the conflict, scope of conflict, and perceivable solution set. Did you not read that surprise was a useful weapon? This philosophical approach is thousands of years old, but most lack the tools to conceptualize methods which bring it into reality.

This, in my opinion, is where PJMA shines: Sure, we can integrate known techniques when it makes sense. But we can also learn to confidently design and deploy new techniques, starting from practical, solutions-oriented mental models.

I may not be able to tell you what your specific, conflict-resolving technique is right now, but this fact points at a strength, not a weakness. Since real-life, contextual variations are what provide motivational energy to PJMA design thinking, we’re also able to point out that it’s preposterous for someone to think that they can reliably tell you the specific, little-picture techniques on which you need to place your focus.

The martial arts world beckons a wide variety of people and their motivating problem sets to come and drink at its fountain of experience, but the way individual arts approach these problem sets has become critically narrow-minded. Below I’ve listed some examples of the problems people bring to the martial arts community.

People who show interest in the martial arts may…

  • Feel physically threatened
  • Want some more structure in their life
  • Want to feel more confident
  • Want to act more assertively
  • Perceive a weakness in their physicality
  • Want to have fun and break things
  • Want to learn something new
  • Want to respect their family tradition in the martial arts
  • Want to achieve a rank

I never once saw these varying and even contradicting areas of focus addressed specifically and fluently over time within their own sensible frameworks. This is very unfortunate—and not exactly what you’d call student-focused learning. Students are rather expected to discover aspects of their interests within a broader set of teachings brought forward from the past.

And this fact further raises the possibility that the solution to students’ conflicts and problems may need to be so broad-minded that a practical approach to designing those solutions is either completely unknown or too far outside of the experience level of the average martial arts instructor.

That may be the state of things, but it’s also a completely unnecessary blind spot. It’s also probably harming the martial art that you currently love and enjoy.


These two axes point at a lot of “middle ground” which can be recovered to benefit the martial arts. It’s awkward middle ground to talk about, because people without much experience in transiting that middle ground are going to under-emphasize it, or groan about it, or simply ignore it like it doesn’t exist. And this system of “no thanks” is what creates a new, opportunistic strength for PJMA. Where others flail between polarities, PJMA offers a fluent, structured way to approach conflict and achieve meaningfully superior ends. And it does this while also allowing your favorite martial art to keep its strengths and integrate them into creative solutions.

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