On the merits of arguing Poi frameworks

We all know this story...you're at a festival, spin jam, or on an online forum and somebody mentions a trick or concept you've played a lot with. So much so that you have a framework worked out in your head for how to understand that move and how many other moves interlock with it. You speak up and say, "x move is a type of y and here's why!" And so begins a lengthy debate over the nature of the move that can at times get heated. Each person clings to their understanding and points out the logical fallacies in the other approach. Sometimes it ends in agreement, sometimes it goes on for hours and you part still arguing with each other in your heads.

This past weekend I went through this cycle with my friend Charlie--a guy I have a lot of respect for and with whom I frequently debate about poi movement. A lot of the time I feel like these discussions help each of us clarify our understanding of how we are approaching the tool and these discussions can occasionally last for hours at a time. We are lucky in that we have a long history of mutual respect and friendship to draw upon such that these debates never really become personal and more often than not are productive discussions. This particular time, however, Charlie did something that baffled me and walked away from the debate soon after we sat down when it began to become heated. Left hanging, I felt frustrated in a way that I could barely describe at the time even as I recognized that I couldn't really elaborate on what I felt the productive end of the debate would be. I wanted, I was ashamed to admit, to be "right."

In this context, being "right" meant having an understanding of a type of movement that other people would share in and recognize for its insight. And yes, I wanted it to be seen as more "right" than the approach Charlie had outlined to the same problem. This is a land where egos dwell and where we feel a certain level of ownership for the ideas we espouse--at least I do. The outcome bothered me for hours and it took me even longer to figure out why: because Charlie had a point. What was the beneficial outcome of a conversation whose intention was to make one approach more "right" than another?

Thinking about it over the past few days, I've come to realize why I was in the wrong in this particular case. It wasn't my framework (I'm still totally right on that shit ;), but because I'd wanted one relevant approach abandoned in favor of another.

I think on some level all of us who work on poi theory are searching for a "theory of everything", a way of uniting all the principles of movement together into a cohesive whole that makes sense with no exceptions. No one's completely nailed it, but those of us working on the problem always insist on the superiority of an approach due to things like the number of exceptions, ease of understanding, or how few rules there are to decode in order to make the theory work. There are a lot of theories out there for poi motion: from 9-square to unit circle, soft and hard transitions to QFT...which one is right? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but they all are.

Let's take this into the world of mathematics for a moment. If I asked someone to describe for me what a circle is, they might say anything from an ellipse with zero eccentricity, the collection of points equidistant in 2D space from a single center point, or the cross-section of a cone sliced at an orthagonal angle from its center axis. None of these answers to what a circle is can be said to be wrong--they're all different approaches to creating the same shape. Even if we were to graph a circle on a Cartesian graph, we can find multiple approaches. We can describe a circle with the equation x^2 + y^2 = 1, the formula for the unit circle. We can also describe a circle in cartesian space using parametrics: x = sin(t), y = cos(t). Different equations, yet they yield the exact same result because they're approaching building a circle in two very different ways. Mathematically, neither can be said to be wrong and both can be said to be right.

Longtime followers of my blog know that I've a long-standing grudge against the concept of driving styles. This stems from having attempted to contextualize them within the world of polyrhythm hybrids, in which their definition becomes recursive and nearly useless. But in the world of the unit circle, the movement of the poi and hand is simplified to the point that driving styles become the easiest way to separate the elements of hybrids from each other in an ease-to-understand fashion. Again, it's not that either approach is wrong--they're just looking at the problem from different angles.

Thus far I've described the issue of competing theories in a purely conceptual manner--I'm sure there's little debate out there that within the context of each framework, they all make sense and frequently cease to make sense when applied to situations outside the framework. Soft, hard, and mixed transition theory wasn't built to describe tangles, so why do so? In many cases, theories of poi motion aren't merely abstract categorizations of movement, but are active sources of inspiration for new movements. I'd venture to say that this is indeed the primary goal of developing any framework: to find those tantalyzing moves we haven't yet worked on but come as a result of subtle tweaks to moves we're already familiar with but yield new and cool-looking results. Thus, when challenging someone else's framework, we aren't simply messing with an abstract system of taxonomy, but a source of inspiration for their spinning...and that can make it personal.

This isn't to say that being exposed to new frameworks is always a bad thing. When a spinner you respect comes up with a move that wows you, it's frequently because they've worked it out in a framework that covers ground the frameworks you're familiar with don't. A couple years ago at Firedrums, Ronan taught a class on what he referred to as "constructs," which really was just a class on moves he was digging on. A couple of these were moves I'd learned from his videos and had began to work into my flow, but found the task very difficult. The reason as it turned out was that Ronan had worked out these moves based upon a desire to have hand and poi maintain a relationship as frequently and as closely as possible. Hearing this, the lights when on in my head and I instantly saw how they all fit together and why, not to mention several other possibilities he hadn't covered that worked on the same principle. By expanding on this idea and incorporating it into other work I'd been doing on hybrids I found a whole new body of interlocking moves that I found not only challenging and aesthetically pleasing, but I'd also argue were among the first movement families I'd worked on that felt distinctively and uniquely "me."

I think it would also be a mistake to stop working on frameworks that incorporate ever greater swaths of movement types into their folds. Part of the fun and challenge of poi--especially tech poi--is that there really are so few ways that a poi can be moved in its most basic form, but they generate such wonderful complexity that seeing the threads between previously disparate moves is not just fun but also hugely useful for developing flow between them.

There's also no reason for people not to keep on developing their own localized frameworks. If a CAP makes more sense to you as half a flower than as a parametric equation that incorporates three levels of oscillation, there's no reason not to go with what makes sense to you--especially if it exposes you to new moves that make you excited about spinning and discovery.

There's a rather bizarre habit in the poi community of assimilating language and instantly coopting it to fit one's own needs. One of my favorite examples because I was actually able to watch it happen was the advent of CAPs, a name coined by Damien Boisbovier to describe a move he'd seen Yuta perform in a video. He subsequently wrote out a detailed explanation of what he thought the term meant and its uses. Nonetheless, folks have taken the term and applied it to movements it was never intended to describe, an erosion of the term I myself am guilty of as well. It's perhaps due to this malleability of the terms we invent that we're forever searching for ways to fit new moves into old identities. What are all the hybrids? Is this a type of CAP? When a body starts playing with a new move that has similarities to an old move, it may be more helpful if instead of asking whether it can qualify as a move someone else invented whether it's helpful to oneself to think of the move that way and what else can be gleaned from creating such a framework. 

What, then, am I advocating? Honestly, I'm beginning to think that two of the most destructive words in our vocabulary are "right" and "is." We all want to be right. We want to be smart, respected, and accomplished. All things that require the collusion of people around us. But there comes to be an issue when we want a monopoly on these things. When we want to be the only one who is right, smart, respected, or accomplished. When we want to be the king of the mountain, so to speak. No one ever has a monopoly on good ideas and by walling ourselves off into a place where the ideas of others threaten the hegemony of that space, we're in fact walling ourselves off from learning anything new or outside the box we've confined our own thoughts to.

So I guess what I'm advocating is a desire to share theories and frameworks without a need to be "right" or a need to define what a move ultimately "is." Any and all moves are ultimately a lot of things depending on how you look at them, just as a circle ultimately is both the cross-section of a cone and all the points equidistant from a center point on a 2D plane, but these two approaches are helpful for solving very different problems having to do with circles. Let's let these conversations be inspiring rather than divisive and more about learning than restricting.

Now hold me to this, my friends ;)

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