Friday, April 11, 2014

SHENANGIANS! Your Martial Art - and Mine (pt. 1)

Note: When I first wrote this, I repeatedly used an expletive in place of "shenanigans" and "nonsense", but I decided to PG-rate this up a bit, so you can substitute the word I used - and you know what it is - in your mind as you read these posts.

The topic of shenanigans in the martial arts has very much been on my mind lately, stemming from a lengthy conversation my teacher and I had regarding weapons arts (specifically an issue in jo training, but it lead to a larger observation).  He's been struggling with this issue for a few years now, and I think he's finally trained my husband and I up far enough where we can see what he's seeing.

And now I'm seeing it.  And I'm seeing it everywhere. Including my own art.

And I don't get any cool sunglasses, either.
We all know there's some spectacularly awful martial arts and martial artists out there. It's not hard to find it out there.  But in this case, I don't mean these obvious frauds and fakes.

I mean the real deal, honest-to-goodness, serious martial artists - you and me.

Shenanigans and nonsense in the martial arts is an endless and popular topic in our larger community. There's web sites, forums, numerous blogs and blog posts, discussion groups on social media of all kinds, podcasts, magazines... there's no shortage of conversation about this stuff and it's been going on as long as there have been martial arts, I'm sure.

But the truth is, the more you look at your own art with the same critical eye you cast towards other arts... you're going to see shenanigans there, too.

I know, I know, your art is perfect, and your teacher is infallible, and the founder of your art was an unbeatable genius that could do no wrong.  I completely disagree because that's true about MY art and teachers, but humor me for a minute.

Pretend you come from a completely different martial art and are evaluating how to defeat you in a fight - look at it with an open mind.  Be honest - try to find the weakness, the counters, the flaws in assumption and execution.

Assume your teacher is not perfect. Assume your founder is not perfect.  Because they aren't and weren't. They're people, like you and me, and not some magical super beings.

We are all, at heart, this guy.
You're going to find some nonsense there.

Does that mean your whole art is nonsense?  Does it mean your teacher and your founders and martial arts ancestors are frauds and idiots and unworthy of your loyalty?


But it doesn't mean you can ignore or excuse the manure in your own yard because their yards are all piled man-high with the stuff.  This is not an "either/or" proposition.  You can do both.

For example, do you have some techniques or drills that...
... require a lot of things to go right in order to make it work?
... have REALLY easy and obvious counters?
... assume that the attacker will always respond in a specific, proscribed way?
... block a weapon (not the weapon arm, the weapon) with an unprotected body part?
... require a very compliant uke in order for it to work?
... can't be explained to do anything reasonable other than "it looks cool" (and don't stretch it... be honest)

I'm not talking about gaps in training (such as no ground work for a striking art), or strategic choices (like certain types of baiting or choosing speed over power)... I'm talking about "If you do this technique exactly the way it's taught, can it actually work against a resisting opponent?" If it requires the intervention of a higher power or an extraordinary amount of luck for something to work... my friend, it's nonsense.

In part two tomorrow, I'll talk about how and why nonsense creeps in, and what we might do about it.

I know this is going to be a pretty controversial topic. Fire away!

Not you too, Helen Mirren!