(This post was written offline a few days ago, so date references do not apply)
Yesterday, I was at a trial advocacy competition. This sort of thing is pretty much as the name entails– you’re pretending to be an advocate at trial. I’ve never done anything like this before, so I was secretly excited, despite that fact that the timing couldn’t have been worse– with only a week of school to go, every hour of free time is quite precious.
It’s a daunting process– you have 5 minuets to perform a cross examination of a witness. I don’t watch Law&Order anymore, but whenever I think of this, I think of McCoy grilling the defendant in the box, driving the party to /tears/. Or Matlock, tricking the party into saying “Okay! I did it!! And I’d do it again!”
The thing is, it’s not something that we ever learn to prepare for in class. We’re never actually trained to get up there in front of the room and start roasting someone– all we have to go on, really, are our evening television heroes.
About a week ago, contestants such as myself had a trial advocacy workshop. A solicitor (not a barrister) show up and basically walked us through the 40 page handbook of trial advocacy tips… it was frightening, and inspirational.
You might say it was sublime– that there was some “terrifying symmetry,” as the poets would say… it’s one thing to have it all acted out on television in the way you’d expect it. It is another thing to have someone come to you and explain exactly how their weapons’ locker is arranged, and how you switch tools for the job.
Ever since I got back from South Korea, I’ve loved public speaking. I don’t get many opportunities for it. It’s not something I like just because I’m the centre of attention– I like the fear involved, and the adrenaline, and the necessity to stick to your training. In many ways, it’s like putting in a mouthguard and hearing the gong, except that you only have a few minutes to knock them down, and you’re against an entire room.
Law has not been an area where I’ve ever really felt confident about public speaking though– this is because I’m not someone who is good at quoting. I don’t have a good recall ability to say that Justice so-and-so said this, or that section xyz states that. I’ll know it if I have the chance to look it up, but as CM will tell you, I have the memory of a goldfish. The only thing that saves me during exams is well organised notes.
But I have never really had the confidence to use a backbone of law in a law related public speaking thing because of this.
Trial Advocacy was interesting in this respect– just like how you can watch an episode of Law&Order without really understanding the law, in Trial Advocacy you can really just build your argument around the story of the facts. You’re delivering a narrative, more than you are a technical explanation.
I was surprised, but when my five minutes were up, I had done much better than I expected.
The mock judge, who was a solicitor, gave me some feedback, and there were only really two gripes about what I had done– one, I had deviated too much during my cross examination from the elements of the offence I was trying to proove, and two, I started too many sentences with “would you say that…”
His suggestion was, instead of saying “Would you say that you’re a violent person, Mr. Maffioso?” that I should instead stare the witness down and say “Are you a violent person, Mr. Maffioso?” or, perhaps, to get away with “I think you ARE a violent person, Mr. Maffioso.” He told me that with my comfort of reading the witness on the go, I should be able to get away with using a very aggressive flow of cross examination if I wanted.
So really, the first criticism is something I could definately improve on– I got carried away with discrediting the witness because I’d broken open some opportunities, but didn’t keep track of my time so I didn’t manage to tie it back to the elements of the offence. Beginner’s mistake! But I’ll rememebr to focus on this next time.
As to aggression? Oh yeah. I think I can do that.
I know the solicitor was probably being nice, but when he said “You’ve done a lot of interesting things, and you caught the witness many times– just remember to tie it back to the crime, and not just the credibility,” all I heard on my head was the part that was fluffing my ego.
I think learning a new skill is always the greatest feeling– the amount that you can pick up with a few hours, or even, a few minutes of experience? The closer you get to knowing something well, the harder it is to learn. That ratio starts getting worse by the law of diminishing returns, and it becomes harder to stay interested in something for the sake of learning new things– at that point, you’re more likely staying in it because you’re pretty good at it, but not because you’re growing. In a sense, what we enjoy about the things we’re good at is the laziness we’ve earned, and the vantage point from which we can watch the inexperienced struggle. Proficiency, really, is a gradual progression from masochism to sadism.
Which reminds me…. while I was at Trial Advocacy yesterday, [CM] went to play badminton. It marks a milestone– because she went to play in hostile territory all on her own.
It’s one thing for her to plan to play with Med School friends– it’s another thing entirely to go “dojo destroying” and just throw yourself into the hellish world of competitive badminton. It’s signficant, because most people never make that first step out of “casual badminton” into “competitive badminton.”
The difference is, mainly, qualified by “killing intent.” I can’t really come up with a word for this in English, and I don’t speak Chinese well enough to know a word for it. It’s probably sat-hay, (pronounced as two distinct syllables, not quickly like satay sauce…) But I think that reading enough manga gives you approximates in Japanese, like satsujinken (killing fist) and sakki (殺気). I prefer sakki because it sounds better than sat-hay.
The simple way of explaining it is that when you play with friends, you will normally not as quickly develop bloodlust… (unless you’re only pretending they’re your friend: but that’s a different story.)
Sakki is the kind of focus you can only develop if you go against people that you don’t care to hurt. People often mistake it for anger or jealousy directed at someone– but although these things can contribute to sakki, the kind of sakki I’m talking about is “useful” in nature. In a sense, it’s a state of mind that enhances performance by removing self-doubt and care for the consequences of your actions. In most contexts, this means short-term obsesssion with a particular goal (usually dominance) without regard for externalisation of the costs of your selfishness– if you really looked at it medically, it would be a burst of induced, voluntary psychopathy. It is not emotional baggage slowing you down– it is conviction that is the complete opposite of baggage. It is going forward without being afraid of hurting your opponent either physically or mentally.
Now before you start thinking that this sounds like some scary shit, the truth is, you probably use sakki more often than you think, although in varying degrees on intensity.
In the context of badminton, of course, things are a bit different from martial arts– you’re not going to just go to the other side of the court and break your racket over the opponent’s head, after all. But the same mentality can apply– sakki doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re reduced to a beast, it means simply that you’re single minded about victory in a way that doesn’t care about your opponent. This means, for example, you don’t care how demoralising it might be to completely destroy your opponent. It means that when your opponent makes a mistake and attempts to laugh it off, you keep a straight face that isn’t in the mood for jokes– because all you want is them on their knees, defeated.
Meeting people who have real control over sakki is a frightening experience. I talk a lot about “substance,” and those who have truly frightening sakki are usually that frightening because they can mobilise their substance into something that truly feels like an oppressive weight.
The problem with playing with friends is that oftentimes, there’s a lot of emotional baggage involved in a group activity. You want to make things fun for everyone, and you want to make sure everyone is having a good time. In part, this is because we’ve learned eachothers’ vulnerabilities and you don’t want to do things that would damage the relationship in any way– friendships are about building on strengths and covering eachothers’ weaknesses normally, not exploiting weaknesses.
Friendship is a good thing. But constantly surrounding oneself with friends makes one lazy. One loses the ability to fight. Not literally, although that is sometimes the case. The willingness to fight begins with a willingness to be selfish.
I guess I’m going on a tangent from what I originally intended to write about… but I saw some sakki in CM the last time we played badminton together. We played against a mixed (girl and boy) couple of opponents, and the girl was clearly weaker than CM. Normally, if this were the casual type of badminton we usually play, CM would go easy on her when given the opportunities to score big. But this time? CM was being aggressive an actively trying to dismantle that girl! I was surprised, and when I pointed it out to her later, she was surprised too.
But this is the nature of competition– you can’t worry about the opponent, because only side gets to win.
In every day life, our social interactions are normally give and take– we be a bit assertive, we be a bit submissive, and things happen between people through a passive but constant series of offers, counter-offers, and acceptance. Sakki is about breaking those rules of engagement, and saying that you want everything– that this is not a negotiation.
Which renders sakki an extremely important tool in the competitive real world. This doesn’t mean that you should have this state of mind on at all times– and indeed, there are actually limited situations where it is the apporpriate response– but you should be capable of it when you need it, otherwise people will walk all over you.
And personally, I think that if you’re really going to get good at something, you have to be willing to be bad to be good. I’m not necessarily saying you need to be willing to backstab or cheat your way to the top– but really, the ability to do what it takes is something very important, and what rules you chose to live by should be the ones that you set for yourself.
The natural restraing on sakki is peer pressure, or social pressure. It’s a herd mentality that gets you used to the idea that your safety comes from looking and acting the same as everyone else, because if you get noticed, that’s usually a bad thing.
But just try and remember how often people get ahead in the world– more than a few times, you thought that person was a total asshole who may not have deserved it. But they got ahead of you because they were willing to do something or be someone that you weren’t willing to be. And they’ll continue to get ahead until they get caught for breaking some rules.
There is actually a huge gap between the model of behaviour proposed by peer pressure and what is actually possible within the rules. The example of this is badminton– friendly badminton would say that it’s not very nice to smash on someone who is right in front of you. That’s the model proposed by peer pressure. But the rules themselves don’t care if you smash or don’t– if you knock someone’s teeth out with a smash, it’s still legal as long as you did it by hitting the bird first. That gap is the grey zone that separates the sheep from the wolves.