Wednesday, September 10, 2014

We're All Full of It: The Pervasiveness of Shenanigans Amongst Serious Martial Artists

I've covered this problem in more detail here and here, but given that it's just so pervasive, I wanted to bring it up again.

For a short time, I studied Tae Kwon Do (I actually possess blue belts in two different variants - jealous?). I was once told this story by a high rank black belt in Tae Kwon Do (HRBBTKD), when I asked about the purpose of the high flying side kick in self defense situations.  Note, this person was NOT a teacher of mine, thank goodness.

Flying Double Side Kick in Martial Arts
This kick, right here.
HRBBTKD: "It's more of a battlefield move. It's for kicking people off of horses."

Me:  "But you can't get as high as a person on a horse with that kick."

HRBBTKD: "Korea is mountainous and Korean horses are short."

I was being kind.
First:  if they mean the Cheju Pony, it is short - anywhere from 10-11 hands tall (40-44 inches, or 101-112 cm) - shorter than I stand at 62 inches (157.5 cm). But they're draft animals, not really of a size for cavalry. While some people can jump pretty high when doing this kick... it'd be incredibly difficult to do in battlefield conditions, especially when wearing armor of any kind.

Second: Wait, so, there's no flat battleground in Korea? Then why are they using horses in warfare, as mounted units aren't best on rough, mountainous ground?

Third:  Let's say it's actually used to ambush a solider riding along at a slow enough pace that you can catch up and launch this kick at him, and he's riding along a ridge or something (which I can buy, I guess).  Why use a kick when a tackle to pull them off the horse would work a whole lot better? Yet I do not see "flying tackles" in TKD.

Honestly, that explanation smells an awful lot like bullshit.  Perhaps flying side kicks have a real self defense purpose, but I don't see it, as unless you sneak up behind me and flying kick me as an ambush or something - and is that self defense?

I know what it looks like, but my master says it's a platypus.
If the explanation was: "It looks really cool for demonstration purposes and it's an example of athleticism and skill", that sounds much more reasonable, and that is a good enough reason to work on developing expertise in this kick.  In fact, this reason seems to be the most common when you search online (for example, it's cited here on Wikipedia:  Flying Kick).

But if you are teaching self-defense, do not even try to tell me that you can use a flying side kick when Joe Schmoe tries to mug you in a parking lot or Chad I-Done-Drunk-Too-Much takes a swing at you at the bar.

Is this a symptom of people mastering basics so well, they get bored and start making up wilder and wilder techniques, just to keep themselves engaged and entertained?  Then, lower level belts see this, and start thinking it's for real?

Possibly.  Probably!

Look, we don't have to have combat or self defense justifications for everything we do.  "Boards don't hit back" - but there is a legitimate argument to be made for studying breaking in the martial arts.  Sometimes, a drill is teaching more abstract principles that are hard to explain to beginners.  Sometimes it's a feat of athleticism. Sometimes we do it because it's fun.

Sometimes we do stuff because it looks cool.

Yes, we do, don't pretend we don't - we wouldn't have so many sword twirlers in the world if we didn't!

And that's okay!  It really is!  As long as you are up front about the real purpose, there's no reason you can't do this stuff.

Don't let your need to justify it cause you to make up bullshit stories about combat or self defense effectiveness or purpose.  Because then, you look like a liar, and you (and your school, and your students, and your art) becomes suspect.