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Faulty memory

Intro

When talking with martial artists, you sometimes find they have very selective memories. For example, they always seem to remember their victories, but they have a difficult time remembering any losses. Each time they speak about a tournament, their opponents get bigger. Each time they speak about a self-defense situation, their attackers get more numerous. Every year, Bruce Lee becomes even greater.

Sometimes people are knowingly lying, sometimes they are unknowingly lying, sometimes they are just exaggerating, and sometimes, they are just remembering incorrectly.

Sometimes things are remembered as being true, sometimes as being false, and sometimes things are just remembered incorrectly. Studies have shown that, while people may remember information that they have read or heard, they tend to forget which information was true or was from a reliable source, and which information was false or was from an unreliable source. In laying down a memory trace, the human brain seems to encode the memory of the information separately from the context. For example, people may remember a quote but forget who said it or from where they obtained the quote.

Liars

You can never believe a liar because once you know they tell lies, you never know when they are not lying. When people knowingly lie, it is usually because they are habitual liars; they lie all the time. Habitual liars have a difficult time keeping their lies straight; they lie so much that they cannot remember how they phrased their last lie about an incident. This is why law enforcement investigators keep asking suspects the same questions over and over and on different days. Liars tend to get their lies confused and their statements are inconsistent while a truthful person will make consistent statements over time.

When people are unknowingly lying, it may be because they are repeating a lie they heard from someone and don’t realize that it is a lie. You see this every day on social media.

Sometimes people will state the same lie so many times that, in their own minds, they now think of it as the truth. These types of liars are usually consistent with their lies since the lies have become embedded in their memory as truths.

Sometimes people are not telling outright lies; they just get so involved in a conversation that they begin exaggerating their experiences so that their stories sound better than the stories being told by others. Exaggerators have the same problems as liars, they forget their past exaggerations, so their exaggerations are inconsistent; and sometimes, they began to believe their own exaggerations.

Sometimes people are not lying or exaggerating, they are just remembering things incorrectly. Sometimes, when we are having a difficult time remembering certain facts, we unconsciously fill in the gaps with things that are not necessarily true. However, unlike liars, when we remember the truth or find out the truth, we correct our previous statements willingly. This is not the same as a liar being trapped in a lie and then suddenly remembering the truth.

When talking with martial artists, knowing something about how memory works may help you sort out the truth in their statements. There are three types of memory: procedural, semantic, and episodic.

Procedural memory

Procedural memory is the strongest and longest lasting. For example, in Alzheimer patients, these are the last memories to go.

Procedural memories consist of memories of how to perform some procedure that we have done so many times that we do not consciously think about how to do it, we just do it, such as walking, driving, or in the case of martial artists, sparring, performing a pattern, or executing a proper stance. Black belts will never forget how to perform a pattern or how to spar because they will have done these procedures so many times in their training that they become embedded in their memory.

When a black belt spars, he or she does not think about sparring, it just happens, much the same as an experienced driver does not have to think about how to drive a car, the brain just does it automatically. If a person was ever a legitimate black belt, they will never forget what they learned, barring any mental problems. Even if they have not trained for decades, when asked, they are able to immediately step into a perfect back stance, since the motions are embedded in their procedural memory. Fraudulent black belts, instead of performing the stance properly, will make excuses, such as I haven’t trained for a long time and have forgotten how to do it.

Semantic memory

Semantic memory is factual memory. These memories are relatively long-lasting; in the case of Alzheimer patients, these will be the next to last memories to go.

When semantic memories are based on the truth, they last much longer. We use these memories every day in remembering our phones numbers or addresses, what year it is, or whether we ever earned a legitimate black belt. Illegitimate black belts have a difficult time remembering the dates they trained, the schools they trained in, what they had to perform at their black belt test, and other facts. As an excuse for not remembering, some even claim their past is a government secret that they have sworn to never reveal.

Episodic memory

Episodic memory is the most fleeting of the memories. These are the memories of our experiences, such as where did I leave my keys, where did I park the car, what was the name of that movie I read about this morning, etc. These are the memories that play tricks on us at any age, but they cause more problems as we age, and, in the case of Alzheimer patients, these are the first memories to go. This causes many of us to fear that we are getting Alzheimer disease when we start forgetting the little things.

A legitimate black belt may forget the name of his or her first instructor during a conversation, but then it will some pop into his or her brain and he or she will remember it. This is just the brain playing things on us. However, an illegitimate black belt will not be able to remember anything in about their first instructor. They will not remember the instructor’s mannerisms, funny things he or she used to say, or any tales the instructor used to tell. For illegitimate black belts, episodic martial art memories are not fleeting—they never existed.

Conclusions

The details of a memory begin to fade almost immediately, and the memory's context fades even faster. This means that while people may remember information, they tend to forget where they obtained the information. So, people may remember some information about the martial arts, but they forget whether the information was obtained from a reliable source or from a movie, a game, a fictional book, or from a National Enquirer magazine that they read while waiting in line at the grocery store.

Studies have shown that unless people have some countervailing context to grab hold of, they tend to regard information that seems familiar with being true. When remembering past experiences, people tend to remember what they thought was true at the time or what they have wished was true during the intervening years, rather than what was the actual truth. They are not purposely falsifying their memories; they are simply misremembering. As the years go by, as seasoned martial artists reminisce, the number of boards they broke at demonstrations tends to increase, the difficulty of their black belt tests increases, the higher their kicks were, and more famous people they have met.

All this means that you cannot trust your memory; that’s why we have the printed word. If it was true when it was written, it will be true no matter when it’s read. People may interpret what is written in ways that suit their needs, but the truth stands as written.

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