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Observation Changes the Results

Borrowing a principle from quantum physics, the mere act of observation changes the results (this is generally known as the uncertainty principle). So how does this affect a student who is demonstrating a kata in front of an audience? Does the observation by the audience change the performance of the kata?

OK, I realize that this situation is not one of quantum physics. But I think that most Karate students and instructors will agree that the audience does have an effect.

The audience will probably make new students nervous. Thus, they make mistakes and speed up their performance.

Advanced students will probably not get nervous as they will have had experience performing for an audience. But will they change the way they do things in order to get the audience's approval? Will the advanced students change their timing, the focus of their strikes, jump higher and yell louder than normal, etc.? And even if they do not do so consciously, will they do so subconsciously.

Even the dojo can be affected. After years of performances, the Sensei will know what the audience likes and what it does not like. He will know what other dojo have done. And he will probably want to do things that will get the audience's approval -- at least so that the dojo will be invited back the next time. There are also ways to perform that get more media attention.

So the observation effect is more than just a hypothetical. It is a real concern. It is something I think about a lot.

I also think this: if the crowd likes the way I perform a kata or demonstrate a technique, what does that mean? The crowd does not understand Karate. If I am seeking the approval of people who do not understand what I am doing, then what am I doing?

Performing for my Sensei or seniors is one thing, performing for people who cannot possibly understand what I am doing, how I am doing it, and why I am doing it, is quite another.

When someone says, "That was great!", I remind myself that: (1) they might not understand what I was doing; and (2) they might just be being polite. How often have you performed a kata and had a spectator say, "that was terrible, the worst ever?" Spectators are almost always polite and complimentary.

As you can probably tell, I do not like giving demonstrations. I would much rather practice and teach privately. That is just me. I realize the need for demonstrations, and I have had to coordinate some and ask my Karate friends to participate (these were for cultural/educations events). But I generally do not like to give or participate in demonstrations.

Going back the the effect of observation, there is another form of observation that can result in changes -- self-observation. When you do something and are aware of yourself doing it, and are also aware of yourself observing yourself doing it, that can change things too. In contrast to the changes caused by an audience observing you, which are generally negative, the changes resulting from your observation of yourself are generally positive. While practicing Karate, we should not only be aware of our movements, we should also be aware of our thoughts and feelings, and of ourselves observing these. That is not a bad idea for daily life either.

Be aware of yourself.


Charles C. Goodin