Originally published in the March 2014 of Intercom, STC’s monthly magazine (http://intercom.stc.org/).
I am always reticent to share my off-hours activities with my colleagues and professional acquaintances. It is nothing illegal or shameful, mind you; but, simply the memory of the look of confusion and misunderstanding I have gotten at times is deterrent enough.
What do I do once I shed my technical writer’s suit? I get punched, I get kicked, I get chocked, I get threatened by a wide range of weapons, and I fight back.
I am a level 5 Krav Maga practitioner. Krav Maga is a violent and dirty-fighting, hand-combat self-defense system—if you have never heard of Krav Maga, think Liam Neeson in Taken. Its violent efficiency has made it the combat system of choice for a multitude of law enforcement agencies and Special Forces units worldwide (Israeli Defense Forces, FBI, LAPD…). In the US, civilians can learn to defend against a variety of real-life, unarmed and armed attacks through a 5-level curriculum starting at level 1.
So what does it have to do with technical writing, you might ask? That was also the question I was pondering when thinking about this very same column. And then, I had my Eureka moment: Krav Maga is to martial arts what minimalism is to writing!
Both minimalism and Krav Maga are driven by principles. Pr. Hans van der Meij defines the minimalism principles as follow (http://users.edte.utwente.nl/meij/minimalism.htm):
- Choose an action-oriented approach
- Anchor the tool in the task domain
- Support error recognition and recovery
- Support readers to do, study, and locate
Let’s see how Krav Maga fares against these governing principles.
Choose an action-oriented approach. Minimalism principles dictate addressing real tasks that users want to perform and providing an immediate opportunity to act, whereas Krav Maga advocates counter-attacking immediately after the initial threat has been addressed, or simultaneously, if possible. These two principles sound rather similar in empowering users/practitioners to act immediately with no delay — all in the name of efficiency.
Anchor the tool in the task domain. One of the tenets of minimalism is to focus on achieving real goals and completing real work rather than describing the features. In other words, we need to provide users with the instructions that are necessary to perform a task, nothing less, nothing more, in words to which users can relate in their work environment. In Krav Maga, there are no somersaults or beautifully elaborate techniques practical only in the confines of a dojo, only simple techniques that works in the streets, where they’re supposed to be the most useful. Our most reliable, most used, and most loved weapon is a kick to the groin, beautiful in its simplicity and efficacy. Krav Maga and minimalism strip down hand-to-hand combat and writing, respectively, to the bare minimum to ensure maximum efficiency.
Support error recognition and recovery. Minimalistic writing must provide error information that supports detection, diagnosis, and recovery. When dealing with self-defense situations, errors might have dramatic, if not fatal, effects. Krav Maga preaches to always train from a situation of disadvantage and encourages committing errors in the safety of the training room where they can be corrected. This method of training ensures that if a mistake or an unexpected event happens in the heat of the moment, the practitioner is not flustered and confused but can successfully recover from it.
Support readers to do, study, and locate. Minimalism is about providing the right information at the right time. For Krav Maga, providing the right information at the right time means delivering techniques that address actual and current threats. Krav Maga is an open system; techniques that are not relevant anymore are made obsolete to leave room for techniques that address threats that are becoming more common.
Now I have my answer when a colleague asks me what I do after work: “Same think as I do at work, I apply minimalism.”