Confirmation Bias

You uploaded a video of your performance of a form in a closed Facebook group and asked for opinions. You received praises and positive comments such as this below :-


Does this mean that your rendition of the form is correct? The obvious answer would be yes. Its basically a no-brainer, right?

However, what if the root cause of everyone’s opinion can be traced back to a common source and the source was wrong? Would the answer still be yes?

This is the problem with confirmation bias. You hear what you want to hear and everyone tells you exactly what you want to hear. It does not matter if they are wrong. You are just happy to be told you are right. You don’t want to consider the thought that there is a remote possibility for error.

Within a group the dynamics are such that the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. The tendency is that if someone were to venture a different opinion, especially a negative one or an opinion that goes against the group opinion the messenger is shot at. People don’t like to be told that they are wrong even when they are wrong.

A person’s ego can blind one to a contrarian opinion. Those who have invested a lot in their art tend to see red when they cannot wrap their mind around a different opinion. Since they don’t know what to make of an alternative viewpoint and they don’t want to look stupid the only recourse is to attack the opinion particularly the writer who dared to go against the prevailing viewpoints.

Let’s take an example of what this means from the video I referred to above (P.S. – the video is in an FB closed group on Wing Chun). The opinions are predominantly positive. Based on this you would not be wrong to conclude that the performance is correct and good.

But is it, really? I have taken a screen capture of a particular movement of the wooden dummy form that a practitioner of 8 years was demonstrating. Take a look and see what you think :-


Looks good right especially when I put up a picture of a renowned master of Wing Chun to compare with. In fact, a cursory look shows that both rendition of the movement is quite similar. So we can conclude that this is correct and there is no problem with the technique.


But then let’s play devil’s advocate. Let’s get a partner and play Chi Sau at normal speed under normal conditions i.e. if you have a gap in your defence your partner won’t hesitate to let his fist fly in your face.

Chi Sau is a training lab for our Wing Chun techniques so put it to good use by testing out this technique, a double Tok Sau, amidst a live exchange and see if it will stand up to use under pressure. For the purpose of this test you should apply the technique in a manner similar to the way you practiced it in the dummy right down to the way your palms cupped the bottom of the dummy’s arms. The double Tok Sau application looks somewhat like the technique shown in the video below :-

So how was the testing? Were you able to use the double Tok Sau against a partner that is piling forward pressure on you constantly? Or did you find that you could not use the technique because the punching fist, forward pressure and elbow sinking by your partner was too strong to enable the technique to be used realistically?

I can’t speak for others but I would think twice, no, make that ten times before using the double Tok Sau the way you see it demonstrated or even in the manner in the Tai Chi video above. The reason is because with my students they don’t play nice or comply easily even when I am trying to explain and demonstrate a technique to them slowly.

Why do I think the technique will not work the way it is practiced in the dummy? The answer would be amongst the following :-

i) The distance leaves too short a timing to react

ii) The hands are in the wrong position

iii) The hands are not in the strongest position to exert power to counter a strong forward attack by the partner

You don’t have to believe what I have written. The best thing to do is to try it out. Yeah, get off your seat and try it. I know most readers are just content to read and do nothing. When you actually try it for yourself you will know why confirmation bias will not enable you to improve your skill. The best way to improve is to receive all critique whether good or bad, whether you agree or disagree with it. Try all, think critically and you might be surprised by what you find.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions and though we love to hear praises and opinions that are agreeable the downside is that this does little to advance our understanding of our art.

So if you want to improve yourself do not be afraid of the opinion that criticizes you. Look beyond the negativity to find the positivity within. You may be angry that someone outside your lineage or style dare to criticize you but do remember you asked for it in the first place. Put aside your ego, shut the hell up and listen. Amidst the difficult to hear critique you might find areas to improve on that you never realized were deficient to begin with. This is a pitfall of confirmation bias which we can easily avoid by putting our vested interests.

Oh, if you are curious there is a way to train the dummy to make the double Tok Sau work. This method is consistent with the principles and strategies of Wing Chun that I wrote about in The Ip Man Questions : Kicks, Power & Strategies in the Martial Art of Wing Chun

Alternatively, you can refer to the video under 6. Confirmation Bias in the Clips folder. As usual use your password for TaijiKinesis Vol 2 to access the folder. The explanation begins at 0:31. This is the best explanation that I have personally learned from the senior of the person in the video. You can use this method safely without the fear of eating a knuckle sandwich. Pay attention to the hands in Tok Sau position. See the difference? This is a stronger position and ensures that your partner’s fist cannot suddenly fly forward into your face.

Finally, I apologize in advance if the persons above are recognized despite my attempts to mask their identity. I could make something up but it would be contrived. In this way, you know that its an actual case study.


Want to learn Tai Chi in Singapore? At Singapore Tai Chi Yang Style (TaijiKinesis) lessons covering forms, weaponry, push hands, fajing and applications are offered. Lessons are conducted in English. Send enquiry today

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