A recent question from a brand-spanking-new member got closed for being 'not constructive'. At the time of closing, it was because he violated a specific edict in the FAQ: that one must not ask which art would be better to study. This part of the FAQ should be changed to allow for quality questions of that sort.

While his original question was very rough and needed some work to keep it on-topic, the idea that it should be closed simply because he wanted to compare the schools available to him is without merit. Closing such questions immediately requires rejecting one of the most basic and productive forms of question:

  • "these are my preferences"
  • "these are my options"
  • "these are the restrictions I face"
  • "what's a good choice for me?"

Such a question is constructive and on-topic, yet technically banned because of a too-broad ban on all questions that compare styles. It is also stunningly similar to Jeff Atwood's description of a good-subjective, good-"localized", good-"shopping" question:

[Shopping questions are explicitly off-topic.] However, there is a way to ask these questions that avoids the inherent problems with shopping recommendations. For example, let’s say you wanted...to buy a point-and-shoot camera that takes good low light photos. [Dave here: notice how easily that translates to "to train in a martial art that's available to me, is good for self-defense and keeping fit, and minimizes the risk of concussion"?]

...

It’s about “how can I make a better decision” vs “what did you decide”.

Paraphrased more generally — to broaden it to all kinds of [recommendation] questions — what I want to see is this:

Don’t just recommend X. Explain why you recommend X. That is:

  • share your personal experiences using X
  • what characteristics of X make it better than the alternatives?
  • what other things like X have you tried?
  • what is X best at? What is X worst at?

We definitely got a solid crop of answers that meet most of these criteria. People wrote about their experiences, mentioned characteristics of the options that would make one better or worse than the others, suggested things to look for while trying out class, and discussed things that some styles are often good or bad at. In short, the answers NAILED the localized-but-still-valid-Stack-Exchange question contest.

Good versions of these questions are detailed, in order to meet the first guidelines of good-subjective/bad-subjective:

  1. Great subjective questions inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”.

  2. Great subjective questions tend to have long, not short, answers.

If the OP (in this question or in the future) hadn't provided copious detail, it would probably fail these tests. But here and elsewhere we see people providing that kind of necessary detail, and the Close hammer being dropped anyway.

Style comparison should be totally kosher if done in accordance with the preceding principles and caveats. It's not "too localized", because many people are going to have similar situations and will benefit from seeing the reasoning behind various answers. It's not "not constructive", because it is specific and immediately helpful to that person as well as future visitors.

To crib from slugster: The rules and guidelines of this site don't mean that a question like "What's the best martial art for xyz reason?" shouldn't be asked, they simply mean that question shouldn't be asked here unless it is very tightly constrained to avoid 20 different answers all equally correct in their own way. Therefore, we should modify the FAQ as follows:

Currently:

  1. "Recommendations for schools or teachers in area X (too localized)"
  2. "What martial arts system is "best" or if you should practice art A instead of art B (not constructive)"

Recommended (and please recommend your own):

  1. "Blanket recommendations for schools or teachers in area X (too localized)"
  2. "What martial arts system is "best" or if art A is better than art B (not constructive)"

This revised language would maintain a ban on the low-quality, unproductive questions it was aimed at. It would also allow for the very reasonable questions that require comparing styles in specific and productive ways.

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@slugster thanks for the edit too –  Dave Liepmann Aug 25 '12 at 2:19
    
@Dave no probs, you were just missing the double space at the end of the line to force the line break. –  slugster Aug 25 '12 at 3:55
    
The faq has been updated for the #2's wording. –  Matt Chan Sep 2 '12 at 22:20
    
@MattChan That's awesome, thanks! –  Dave Liepmann Sep 3 '12 at 0:46

4 Answers 4

Personally I am in favour of #2 but not #1.

With #2 there will be some initial discussion as we prompt the OP for more details. These questions can also be easier to provide a definitive answer in the negative sense:

Q: I'm a one-armed dwarf with no legs. What art should I practice?

A: Don't bother with TKD, you won't progress very quickly.

With #1 - even with the change of phrasing - it still fits the too localized close reason. Especially because it is only relevant or accurate at that point in time.

I would like to see concrete examples in the FAQ about how we would like to see #2 styled questions structured. By removing the word practice from #2 you would need a lawyer to tell you that removal means a certain class of questions are now allowed - I think we should be more explicit about it.

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Excellent points both. I'd like to allow #1 but with more pointed phrasing--something that says that we're willing to help someone choose a school, but that keeps "I'm in area 12345 tell me where to train". –  Dave Liepmann Aug 25 '12 at 2:17
    
Could you propose some phrasing for #2? I agree that it could do better with a word massage. –  Dave Liepmann Aug 25 '12 at 2:18
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I agree with #2's rephrasing. It goes more along the lines of my original meaning and intention when I first proposed pushing out the faq. –  Matt Chan Aug 25 '12 at 3:53
    
There isn't any justification for closing questions based on being too localized anyway. It's arbitrary, but not internally consistent with other questions that are allowed. –  Robin Ashe Aug 25 '12 at 6:34
    
@RobinAshe There absolutely is justification for closing questions based on being too localized. It's a well-recognized SE-wide policy. The issue is where we draw the line of too localized: right now it's too far towards good non-localized questions. –  Dave Liepmann Aug 26 '12 at 12:51
    
@DaveLiepmann it's completely inconsistent. The only reason to justify closing questions based on being too localised is because it wouldn't apply to most people, but the nature of martial arts as a topic is such that if you're talking about a particular style it ends up being constrained to an even smaller population. Questions are allowed to stay open despite there not being a single other member on the site for whom it would be relevant, and there are likely less than 1000 people worldwide for whom it would be relevant. –  Robin Ashe Aug 26 '12 at 13:01
    
A question for a town with a population of 10000 is already relevant to more people than some of the questions that are open. Policies that apply to other sites on SE aren't necessarily appropriate for MA. –  Robin Ashe Aug 26 '12 at 13:01
    
@RobinAshe I am not remotely prepared to toss out the SE policy against localized questions. My position is that style comparison questions, as you have amply pointed out, are simply not too localized. –  Dave Liepmann Aug 27 '12 at 20:49
    
@DaveLiepmann on what justification do you draw the line between geographically localized questions and stylistically localized questions? –  Robin Ashe Aug 27 '12 at 22:40
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@RobinAshe Have you read the SE literature on why localization is a policy? It's pretty clear that the community sees a qualitative difference between "useful to a small number of persons" and "useful only in a specific time and place with usefulness that will expire in time". –  Dave Liepmann Aug 27 '12 at 22:42
    
@DaveLiepmann anything could expire at a certain point. BJJ was a significant disruption to the whole view of martial arts, and had MA.SE existed before 1993, a lot of the answers would have suddenly become useless at that point. Now if we're talking Singapore, the relevant differences that country brings in are tied to its laws and policies, which are tied to an entrenched and at the most very slowly changing political party –  Robin Ashe Aug 27 '12 at 22:45
    
People shouldn't be making decisions based on what they think the answer might be if they actually have no clue about it. Wait and see if there's a good answer, ask for clarifications about how it might expire, and if anything might expire in a short time, edit that portion out. –  Robin Ashe Aug 27 '12 at 22:47
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@RobinAshe I think that rejecting the entire concept of localization as an issue puts you waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay outside the SE cultural norm. –  Dave Liepmann Aug 27 '12 at 22:48
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I'm with you on the fact that a lot of questions being closed due to localization are in fact not too localized, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Localization and quality restrictions on questions are important. –  Dave Liepmann Aug 27 '12 at 22:53
    
Martial Arts is already a topic that isn't a very good fit for SE. It makes more sense to mould MA.SE to fit the MA part than to chop away everything until you have very little left to fit the SE part. –  Robin Ashe Aug 27 '12 at 23:43

I'm going to nibble away at the edges of this answer and attempt a little literary tai sabaki, if you'll forgive the metaphor. I understand that there is significant controversy about how we moderate, what questions we open and what questions we close, and the style by which we do that. I don't quite comprehend the boundaries of the debate, so I'm going to exercise my ignorance here and take a stab. I don't expect to be right - I don't expect to be in the neighborhood, but I hope that in the process of explaining to me why I'm wrong, that some clarity may emerge.

It seems to me that we're somewhat hung up on "objective". To my mind, within the context of MA: SE, I understand "objective to mean that if the querent and the respondent were suddenly obliterated from the earth, that a panel of third parties who have had no communication with either (other than the question and response), could examine the question/response and come to a majority agreement whether the response answers the question.

Thus "Is martial art x better than martial art Y" is very unlikely to have an objective answer. But "I have some leg damage from cerebral palsy; is this likely to interfere with my ability to practice TKD?" may receive an objective answer. It is concievable that "I've studied Tomiki Aikido for 10 years; how much transferrence am I likely to find in baquan?" could receive an answer that the panel would accept as responsive to the question.

The truth is that martial arts is automatically removed from "objective" - we have legal, ethical and social obligations which prevent us from performing reproducible experiments. Most martial arts is a simulation of a combat situation. As Dr. Box said, all models are wrong, some are useful.

So the standard we should apply is not "objective", but "useful"? Is this discussion leading the querent (and subsequent auditors) in a useful direction? is it generating more heat than light?

Does that make any sense? Or have I completely missed the point? Am I practicing yoga in the dojo again?

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Saying "useful" is somewhat contentious too. Someone somewhere could ask anything that is "useful" but which does not necessarily mean it is a good fit for Stack Exchange. However, it sounds like you have the right idea. –  Matt Chan Aug 30 '12 at 15:06
    
Martial Arts already isn't a good fit for stack exchange. I think we should be more concerned about making MA.SE fit the MA part than making it fit the SE part. –  Robin Ashe Sep 6 '12 at 6:37

I am not sure that the positions involved are that far apart.

By my view, there are essentially three categories of "which martial art should I practice?" questions:

  1. Questions that depend on the dojang, not the art. That was essentially what this answer (along with this answer) came down to: It isn't the art, it's the school. I can, sometimes, give you probabilistic priors based on the art, but even then there will be exceptions. The answer will come down again and again to "go talk to people."
  2. Questions that lean very heavily toward the "Subjective" end of the spectrum. Is tomiki aikido better than t'ai chi ch'uan for fitness? Which is better for self defense? Is aikido a good addition to Karate? Or shoud I go for jiu-jitsu? People have a lot of beliefs about these things, but they aren't generally based on experience and are only rarely based on outside experts: they are based on that individual's opinion about what is important for "fitness" and "self defense" along with their understanding and view of the arts in question.
  3. Questions that involve direct comparisons.

Questions in the first category can frequently be reworded, though sometimes they will need to be reworded by the asker simply because it isn't clear what exactly they want to know. "What questions should I ask if these are my concerns and/or goals?"

Questions in the second category are extremely problematic, and are generally only redeemable with loose interpretations, e.g., as we see with this answer or with a great deal of discussion, which is not the purpose of a Q&A site. It's also not a matter of experience for most which is "better" at any given task: it's a matter of belief and pure opinion. Not because they've actually practiced it in all of its various forms and come to an expert evaluation on the topic, managing to not only demonstrate a fair understanding of the topic and the art, but also managing to distinguish the art from the instructor.

Questions in the third category are much easier to work with and there's no particular problem with them as the rules stand now. There's nothing in the rules which rejects asking about what you can expect to be different between tomiki aikido and yoshinkan aikido.

The problem is that even with a priority list, unless there is something fairly fundamental to the art, it is difficult if not impossible to provide an expert's answer to the matter of "what should I practice." I am not you, I can't tell you what you "should" practice even if you try to give me all of the details of your circumstances. Especially if you do not live, oh, down the street from me (I can tell you about Master Joe Bob out of a nearby area, I can't tell you about I can compare them with an eye toward helping you decide, but fundamentally I can't say either what you should practice.

I will note that the original form of the question was a little broad and asked too many questions, but contains the essence of several good questions:

  • Are there age considerations in choosing a martial art?
  • Is it possible to study martial arts without an instructor?
  • What are the different types of martial arts that I might consider?

In the later form, we might turn it into something along the lines of:

  • What questions should I ask (or "what should I look for") to help decide between schools when these are my priorities?

All of these could make reasonable questions with the FAQ as it stands now.

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Could you revise this answer to be more explicit about which categories you don't think should be allowed? And is it correct to say that you want the FAQ to stay as-is? –  Dave Liepmann Aug 24 '12 at 15:58
    
I'll see about making it more explicit later. I actually am in substantive agreement with @slugster that I like #2's proposed rephrasing but not #1. –  David H. Clements Aug 26 '12 at 7:02

If we're looking at the too localized issue, as I mentioned in the other post, I don't see how asking a question aboug Feng Shou or Chow Gar doesn't fail the 'too localized' test any more than 'can you recommend a school in Bigsville'.

Obviously, 'Joe's Academy, I train there, highly recommended' is a bad answer, but there can be a good answer.

'Greater Bigsville Martial Arts Association' has multiple schools in and around Bigsville, the location specifically in Bigsville is a dedicated training hall located near the border of Mediumsville. The head instructor only teaches there 2 days per week, on other days the instruction is handled by students of various rank, and varying teaching ability. The mats are cleaned after every practice, but there are no shower facilities.

In contrast Fighting Spirit is a single school in Downtown Bigsville, with the head instructor leading every class and teaching multiple classes throughout the week, while sometimes bringing in higher ranked instructors for seminars. In addition to cleaning the mats, there are shower facilities in the location for those who wish to use it. Fighting Spirit also has a gym with 3 full squat racks that is open to all members during operating hours.

I would lean towards Fighting Spirit due to the amenities, but if you drive a car and can get home quickly, and have a home gym, the squat rack and shower facilities aren't necessarily an advantage, so in that case you'd be comparing having a single high ranked instructor teaching all your classes versus having a variety of instructors and ranks. Both have their pros and cons - with Fighting Spirit you always get a high level of instruction, but it's also the same level of instruction. With BMAA you don't always have the same level of instruction, but it is varied, which may or may not give you more comprehensive instruction.'

Now this depends less on the question being asked, and on the person answering the question. That could also be a stand in for a style to style comparison. What's good about both of them, what's bad about either of them, what are strengths and weaknesses based on your needs and preferences' That can be answered even with a rather vaguely worded question.

To get a better quality question, it might be tempting to require people asking the question to clarify what they're looking for, but if they're new to martial arts, how would they know what to ask for? Would someone who hasn't trained before even consider the importance of shower facilities, or that communicable skin diseases are a risk factor in martial arts on top of musculoskeletal injuries?

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