I just saw an article and video in the New York Times about German Longsword Fighting. It started off when a group of people found a some ancient manuscripts, books, and teaching documentation on these old "Historical European Martial Arts." So, naturally, they started to teach themselves.
I love it. I posted a link to it to Facebook and with the comment "This addresses every problem I have with Olympic Fencing." Someone asked me what problems I have with Olympic Fencing, and I replied:
I fenced for about two years. I ended up dropping out because, like many activities when they become (especially Olympic) sports, everything optimizes for the rules. It start loses the spirit of what it is.
Fencing is sword fighting. But the rules dictate you have to stay on the line, making the combat very 1 dimensional. Forward or backward, your only options. Boring. Why not side step? Why not have tables around you can use to gain height (or to retreat behind) to make combat 3 dimensional?
Regardless of the style of fencing (foil, epee, saber), points are awarded to first touch. Which means I only have to stab you before you stab me. Electronic scoring has exacerbated this. Now, as long as I can avoid getting counter-stabbed for a few milliseconds after I stab you, I win the point. This means almost every attack is a suicide attack, you just die a little bit after your opponent.
And then (at least in Foil) there are Right-of-Way rules about when you can attack, and when you can't attack. What? I'm not allowed to stab you in the heart if you leave your chest open because... you're currently attacking me? How does that make sense? Or more importantly - how is that interesting? And doesn't that lose the spirit of fencing?
When a sport becomes competitive, people want to win. That's natural, I'm totally fine with that. But the more rules you create, the more people will optimize for the best way to win under those rules. And if these rules stay constant and never change, given enough time people will tend to optimize in similar ways. This results in stagnation of the evolution of the sport, and honestly makes for more boring matches to watch.
Gymnastics is similar. There are very strict rules in gymnastics, especially around optimizing for "what looks good." You cannot hold a handstand for more than 3 seconds. You get docked points if you don't land with legs straight. etc etc. If it's not an official technique, you can't do it in competition without getting docked points. So, of course, it doesn't happen.
Then you have parkour, where the only rule is basically "explore your capacity for creative movement." Interesting, exciting to watch, and always different. I love watching gymnastics, but even I get bored after watching a few passes that are technically impressive, but all look similar and start to get boring after a while.
Apparently one of my Facebook friends hosted the NYT journalist, and she told me their club has two rules: "Don't die, kill the guy (preferably in his face)."
This is a great way to run a sport. In German Longsword: Don't die, kill the other guy. In parkour: get over there faster than the other guy, don't touch the ground.
Have extremely few, and extremely simple rules that create the macro-level behavior you want to exist.
I feel like this guideline of "few, simple rules that create the macro-level behavior you want" probably applies to a lot more than sports. It feels like it has roots in biology. The environment dictates the evolution of the organisms within it.
So whether that environment is the rules of a sport, the desert, the culture of a startup, or your daily routines - what few and simple rules will create the behavior you want in the long term? Leave a comment with some examples you can think of.
Picture is a backflip on Lopez Island, in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. I went camping up there with some friends last weekend to see the Aurora Borealis. It was pretty faint, but we saw it. Very cool, will definitely have to plan a trip to Canada or Alaska to see a stronger version.
Random last minute trip to Portland this weekend. Taking the train down today. Trying to squeeze as much as I can out of summer!