Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Curse of the Martial Arts Fandom

I've touched on this subject before (here), but I've started thinking about it in a new way, and frankly, I'm starting to get a little irritated.

In a discussion the other day online, it occurred to me that there are an awful lot of people out there who sincerely believe they are doing the martial arts or are martial artists, when in fact, they're merely playing at the idea of the martial arts.

YAY!  It's just that easy! (not)

These folks are really in a FANDOM of the martial arts.  They dress up, read a lot of books and watch a lot of movies and video, buy replica (or even  real) weapons and pose with them for pictures, participate in martial arts discussion groups and forums, make home videos of themselves copying moves they've watched online, and spend time with their friends waving weapons around and hitting at bags and call it "training".

They don't actually have a real life teacher, they are not studying it with anyone in person who has trained, and they have no training partners (or if they do, it's other people just as "informed" as they are - that is, not at all).  They may or may not subscribe to home-study video courses, but the probably don't (they usually watch the free videos lots of competent people put online).

They aren't actually training with martial artists and learning a martial art - they're playing a game of pretending to do so.  They aren't putting in the time, money, and effort it takes to train seriously in martial arts - they are spending that on looking like a martial artist.

These young men think they're martial artists. They may be able to name lineages in real martial arts styles, describe and identify actual techniques, and use foreign words associated with whichever martial art they are a fan of.  They may sound like martial artists if you don't know the subject.  They may even believe they are deadly fighters.

But then you watch them move in their videos and you engage them in conversation, and it becomes very obvious, very quickly, that these guys are just obviously playing ninja (or kung fu, or urban commando, or pick-a-popular-martial-art-from-the-movies-or-anime).  They don't know much more about how to do martial arts than, say, some guy dressed up as Gandalf at a convention.

The current infection partly stems from Naruto, which I have not seen or read, 
but I hate with the passion of a million burning suns
 because of these people.  Image found here.
They think they are doing the martial arts - they think this is what the martial arts are.  They don't know what they don't know, so when confronted with a real martial artist, they use bravado, stories of glory, and aggressive online behavior to try to scare off criticism or sincere offers of real martial artists to help them along. They have bought into this fantasy of their fandom so deeply, they reject any attempt to help them into the reality of what we do.

They may embellish their stories with tales starting to train at a very young age by a master (the name of which will be hard to pin down or they "didn't know because it was kept a secret"), being taken as a child to fight in foreign lands (where are these folks' parents?), of winning fights against multiple attackers in bars, even participating in death matches. For example, one such fan made this claim on Facebook (I promise this is absolutely real):

Don't facepalm yourself too hard.

YEAH.  This same person also insists he was recruited to train gov't spies at age 19 (sounds a lot like Jamie Smith, no?).  If you think the guy I quoted above is unique, you haven't spent a lot of time in martial arts discussion groups.  He's garden variety.

Most of the time, these FANS of the martial arts are sincere in their love of what we do, but 1) have no idea what it really takes and 2) are unwilling to spend the money and time and effort to study an actual martial art.  Because real martial arts consist of a lot of sweat, hard work, and repetition, and far less leaping around looking cool and posing, they decide they are following the true path by sword twirling in their back yards with their friends.

So when real martial artists, generally being of a good nature and wanting to have people enjoy our hobby as much as we do reach out, they resist all offers and insist they are as real and authentic as we are.

On the internet it's sort of hard to tell the difference between fantasy and reality, isn't it?

Ninja Cosplay image, found here
Soke Masaaki Hatsumi, head of the Bujinkan, image found here.

To a fan, they look identical.

Fans are definitely easy pickings for fakes and frauds!  You see, the fakes will give them what they want, which is an easy path to being a really cool ninja/kung fu master/what have you, where real martial artists with skill know that it takes a lot of work, that it is in no way as romantic as it is in popular media, and that it takes a long time practicing with real human beings to develop skill.  The frauds get money, a following, and minions to fight their online battles.

This is where the CURSE part of the title of this blog post comes in.

Martial arts FANS are not members of our community.  They want to be - they try to be - but they are not.  Thus, they clog up our boards, our discussions, and our social media channels with their fandom. They assist fakes and frauds in their deception. In some quarters, they drive out the serious martial arts in favor of their cosplay and LARPing and posing. They're all sizzle, and no steak. All smoke, and no fire...


They redefine what we do from the reality (hard work, pain, sweat, and years of practice) to the exotic (posing, sword twirling, costumes), and elevate the romantic vision of the martial arts as being superior and more worthy than the truth of the martial arts.

The image becomes the reality, if we let it.  The play becomes the truth.

I don't want posing with wall-hangers and tall tales to be the truth of it.  I don't want the reality of the martial arts to disappear into the romantic mythology and fancy dress-up.  I want to keep what we do relevant in the modern world more than just in popular culture and memes and games.

The martial arts fandom needs to stay in its own community, and stay away from the serious discussion and practice of the martial arts.

You have fun with that, but stay in your own yard.

These fans are making frauds more than they should be, they derail discussion of serious topics into nonsense and shenanigans, and they degrade the people who put years into the study of the martial arts in a serious way by claiming to be equals.

They need to cut it out.  Have fun playing and being a fan, but stop inserting yourself into the real martial arts community.

You are not equals, not even to the whitest white belt in any martial art.  And until you step on a mat and train for real, you will never be equal.  I will not respect your play as something anywhere near the level of someone who really trains.  Stop demanding that respect from real deal martial artists.  You don't deserve it.

What do you think, martial artists?  Are fans a curse on the community, or are they something to be tolerated (or encouraged)?  What has been your experience with fans of the martial arts?  I'd love to know!