Saturday, April 12, 2014

SHENANIGANS! Your Martial Art - and Mine (pt. 2)

Part 1 here.  If you didn't read it, my premise is that ALL of our martial arts contains elements of nonsense.  Yes, yours too.

Definitely yours.
So, why does this happen?  How are we allowing nonsense into our arts?

I think this is a complex problem - if it were simple, there wouldn't be any of it to worry about.  But here's some speculation on how it happens:

1) Shifting Context

Martial arts are generally developed for specific conditions, situations, and cultures. When removed from that context, it can be very difficult to understand the practicality of what's being taught. Thus, to modern eyes or different cultures, it becomes nonsense.

2) Boredom

When you do an art for decades, you start to become removed from the pure practicality of the art, because the practical, lower-level stuff is boring after all that time.  So things get made up that may be more of a physical and intellectual exercise vs. a practical technique.  And then people who aren't at that high level with decades of experience see and learn the technique, not understanding it for what it is, and start thinking it's supposed to be more than a simple exercise, and it becomes nonsense.

Yeah, been there.
3) The Telephone Game (or "Chinese Whispers")

We have "lineage" in the martial arts, generally. We learn from our teacher, who learned from hers, who learned from his, and so on, to the originator of the art. Some lineages are longer than others.  We know that in this method of conveying information, key pieces will get lost, such as a foot placement, or a changed target, or a different range... and it only takes something like that to turn a technique from useful to nonsense.  Check out a great example of how this happens here.

I think this also happens when techniques that require a higher level of understanding are taught to people not quite ready to understand the information.  The understanding never comes (as it's been shortcut and lacks context), so key features of the technique gets lost or garbled as it's passed on.

4) Sport and Performance Arts Feature Creep

I've defended both sport and performance martial arts in this blog.  However, "creep" of their techniques and tools are a huge problem for nonsense getting incorporated into our arts.  Things that look cool or work when you wear safety equipment or are allowed/disallowed by rules don't translate as well to serious self defense. In my opinion, it's especially bad with weapons.  See my teacher +Mark Lynn's discussion of the problem here and here.

This is a DEMO. It is only a DEMO.
5) Lack of Pressure Testing

It's one thing to do it in air or against a dummy or stationary opponent.  It's a completely different thing to do it against an alive, resisting, moving opponent. Without pressure testing - against both experienced and inexperienced people (so you can see how different people react), you might be propagating nonsense and not even know it.

6) Safety

In modern times, we can't just beat the heck out of each other as a general rule, and we definitely can't beat the daylights out of kids (and those are the majority in our classes, generally). So we do things for safety reasons (such as not going full speed, or pulling a punch, or striking way out of range).  We have to make sure we get to the point where those safety constraints are removed, otherwise, the technique becomes nonsense.

7) Hero Worship and Loyalty

We want to believe our teachers are above reproach.  We especially want to believe that the founders of our arts are perfect.  So, when we are taught or shown something that doesn't seem to make sense, we insist that somehow the fault is with us - it can't be with the technique, because the teacher would never make a mistake.  And sometimes that is absolutely true.  And sometimes... what you're being taught is nonsense.


Additionally, questioning the teacher can at times be interpreted as disloyal and rude. Given that we do not often build in a time and a place to respectfully question what we are being taught, it's no surprise that we end up discouraging any questions at all.

8) Misunderstanding Teaching Methodology

My teacher explained this to me, and it makes a lot of sense.  This comes from the huge influence Japanese martial arts has on the overall community.  In the West, we want our teachers to provide answers. But  in Japan, the teacher shows the path, and it's up to the student to provide the answers herself.  Thus, we misinterpret the teacher's showing of the path for the answer itself - and we propagate nonsense as a result of this misunderstanding.

I'm sure there are more reasons, but all of these reasons applies to each one of us in some degree.

What can we, as a community do about it? I think some of this is easily solved - pressure test what you do to verify it makes sense. If it doesn't make sense, what change can you make to make it work (i.e., is there a small adjustment that would make it work?  Is it a matter of  range, target, stepping off the line...?

I think, however, we have some cultural problems - hero worship, loyalty, obedience - that are much harder to address in order to remove the nonsense from our arts.  I honestly don't know how to solve that one.

Thoughts?  I'd love your perspective!