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Transduction and the Art of Muay Thai - How The Body Re-Expresses and Transforms Potentialities | Simondon, Deleuze, Spinoza


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Unfolding Spinoza's "We do not even know all the things a body can do"

This won't be a long exposition, just a leaping off point for those who want to think about the philosophical textures of the traditional forms of Muay Thai. The philosopher Simondon who would greatly influence Gilles Deleuze wrote powerfully about the concept of transduction. He was preoccupied with just how things become individuated, they become concretely what-the-are. One of the most convincing analogies from the physical sciences were from how highly ordered crystals grow from what appear to be quite disordered, saturated solutions. The introduction of a "structural germ" produces something incredibly distinct. This process provides an insight into how things become what they are. They arise out of pre-individual states, and are triggered into ordered becoming.

This alone is a productive and vast picturing of the world, something Deleuze made much with in his philosophy, but what I'm writing about is the 5th chapter in pianist and theorist Paulo de Assis, where he writes about this concept of becoming, the transduction of the structural germ, in terms of musical performance, how the artist just before he plays is swimming in a cloud of intensities and possibilities, facing the score of his music, the nature of his instrument, his history of practice and performance, the history of the piece, and any number of things, which he details in the chapter's introductory ideas:

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The musician is the transducer of all of that, in a performance, the structured germ, which makes the entire crystallization of the music appear. There is much to say about traditional Muay Thai and it's scoring, its practice and training, its aesthetic, under this analogy and revelation, but perhaps the place to start is that first and foremost Muay Thai's traditional form is about appearance, about clarity, about the crystallization of the moment. It is for this reason that priorities of balance, rhythm, posture, command over tempo, and individuated style feature prominently in traditional Muay Thai, and much, much less so in other fighting sports and arts. This is not the artifice of scoring, an arcane and detached aesthetic, far from efficacy. Rather, it is the way that the fighting art taps into deeper, metaphysically deeper, but also physiologically deeper, command-over-space deeper aspects of superiority over space, involving the way in which style is not an ornament, added upon a foundation, but rather a grown out empowerment, an authority over space and opponent. The Muay Thai fighter, traditionally, is judged on how much he/she transduces the cloud of techniques, histories, styles, event-space, rites, gamblers, narrative shapes into a clarity of moment, tipping the fight. And the reason why narrative is so important to the traditional form of Muay Thai scoring (unlike 3 round "damage" clashes) is that in fights time is taken to build up a metastable state, in the sollution, over-saturating it, so that a structured germ can suddenly turn it.

At the end of the 5th chapter de Assis brings forward the metaphysical argument that this is not just the nature of the pianist, but of what is actually human (of which we can perhaps assume so too with animals, by degrees). Living things are transducers. The Art of Muay Thai, and Art in general, is simply hyperstating the nature of the human and Life. In this series of thoughts he draws out Spinoza's famed claim "We do not even know what a body can do", which ostensibly means "We do not even know what a body can transduce." 

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For those that follow Spinoza as I do, we see in this emphasis on decision something Spinoza argues about the life of a human being. We are all balanced on an edge (a metastable state) wherein each moment we teeter between gaining power (which is experienced as Joy) or being diminished (which is experienced as sadness), and these edge points are found in the micro-seconds of our everyday experience and perception. Our joys and diminishments tick passed us in fleeting degrees, forming patterns. There are theories of the brain that argue that the brain itself is composed to teeter in the same way, along a critical edge, between chaos (confusion) and too much order. It rides like a heartbeat between these two. What an Art does, what the practice of an art does, and indeed the higher degrees of sport, is to bring forward this natural every-day-ness of oscillation, and present it in its exaggerated and honed aspect. It manifests and makes bold the very nature of our existence, of consciousness. And this may very well be the root of the value of sport and art, beyond all else.

The 5th chapter referenced is hyperlinked above. I believe you can read it online with a simple Google sign-in to JSTOR.

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I should note, as I have argued elsewhere when thinking about traditional training practices, and Bourdieu's concept of the Habitus, this is why techniques or specific patterns of Thailand's Muay Thai cannot really be taken out of Thailand contexts without radically losing much of their potency and meaning. The isolated patterns are being extracted from the cultural process of preparing, if you will, a highly saturated solution, which involves numerous charges and intensities, a solution which will react when it comes in contact with the structural germ. You can imitate the crystal that you see, copy its patterns in part, and try to build it on your own, of differing materials, or in part, but the process of crystallization, the way that something so ordered and beautiful comes out of what looks like a nothingness of water, is quite different from such exportation creates. It's a very different regime, something very, very different is expressed.

 

This saturation of the solution (by analogy) can be thought about in terms of Bourdieu's Habitus and Doxa, which I've written about loosely in this post. If you go back to de Assis's description of the cloud of possibilities, the real of the virtual that faces the pianist, just before performance, in the light of Bourdieu's Habitus, and realize that traditional Muay Thai performance expresses the Habitus of its creation, we come closer to just what strikes mean in their milieu. Strikes, maybe be like notes, but the score is written elsewhere:

 

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If it's not clear, from the array of materials above, if indeed the high art of traditional Muay Thai is a process of transduction, and the making of a fighter into a transducer (an artist), then the purposes of training, the sum of its experiences, is to create something analogous to the saturated solution which receives the "structural germ". This is in the sense in which the acquisition of skills, the experiences of training are in some real sense much more a process of saturation such that this germ can when it is introduced, will produce a cascading change in the qualities of the fighter, but as well, a training of a fighter such that in a fight, the fight itself works as a saturated solution, and the fighter the one who both saturates it (having developed a sense of narrative) and also he/she who then can introduce the structural germ to that solution, to produce the cascade which results in satisfying victory. Training often is just thought of in a structural building of skills, on top of skills. It is seen as a mechanical assemblage of parts (which ideally compliment and fit with each other). This assemblage analogy gets it wrong, and will just leave a relatively lifeless machination of parts, with few or rather short or contextless cascades, if any. The working upon "parts" (skills) is better understood as a saturation process, the experiences of saturation and growing sensitivity to a field. Readied for transduction. This likely gives insight into the traditions, customs and practices of traditional kaimuay Muay Thai training in Thailand, and why there is so little focus on technique, and the correction of technique (quite in contrast with the Western approximations and appropriations of Muay Thai).

This also brings important perspective to training developments which are experienced as plateau'd, or stuck within a stage. As a general rule, if you are stuck the analogical solution is not saturated enough for transductive experiences. The practical wisdom in fighter development lies withing how to saturate a solution, and also also which structural germ to introduce and when.

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