• Jackie Bradbury

I'm a LARPer (and I'm Okay)

For most of us, the martial arts are basically a hobby like any other.  For some of us, it's something we adapt into our daily life more than "casual" members of our community.


We are - well, most of us are - studying techniques generally intended to help us should violent conflict arise.


But to do that, do we really need to do everything we do while we study it?  I'm talking about the social customs adopted from eastern cultures, the terminology, the costumes, the art, the social order... all of these things we do as well as studying how to be the face puncher vs. the face punchee.


I submit that martial artists consist of a fandom, much like the fans of certain films (for example, The Lord of the Rings or The Avengersor television (like Star Trek or Supernatural) or literary genres (big ones - now with films as well - are Harry Potter or the The Hunger Games) or music (Juggalos) or fashion trends (Steampunk) or model trains (The National Model Train Association), or vintage baseball (Vintage Base Ball Association) or glass collecting (Just Glass)... the list goes on and on.


There is literally a subculture for anything you can think of in this world. Anything at all.


So when we dress up and train in the martial arts, it's basically Live Action Role Playing (or LARPing).


Honestly, I don't think this image of a young man coplaying the anime series Afro Samurai:


... is really that different than what we see in a dojo.


We might say, "Yes, but what we learn is meant to be used in real life." 


Sure, okay.  In real life.  In YOUR real life.  The one with the job, the family, the lawn, the dog...? Yeah, let's think about this a little more.


✔ When do you expect to be in a sword fight of any kind?

✔ Ditto knives, staff, or any other hand-to-hand combat weapon?

✔ Do work hard on mastering techniques for use on a battlefield (and you're not in the military)?

✔ When are you actually going to get into a serious (non-tournament, non-sport) stick fighting duel with another skilled stick fighter?

✔ Do you walk around everywhere barefoot?

✔ Do you own more than one pair of camo or tactical pants, and you are not in the military nor a hunter?

✔ Ditto combat boots?

✔ Do you own armor? Do you ever wear it?

✔ Do you have a Bruce Lee quote for every occasion?

✔ Do you study stealth and assassination, and you're an IT guy in the United States?

✔ Do you spend an inordinate amount of time mastering weapons that are blatantly illegal to own, use or carry outside of a training context?


Well, I hate to break it to you, if you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you're just another variant of this guy:


The truth is, most of us will never be in the situations we are training for, unless we deliberately seek it out (being in certain jobs in the military, or security, or hanging out in bad neighborhood bars...) and even then, only a fraction of what we study will apply.


We are no different than the guy sparring with padded weapons out at the Renaissance Festival (actually, they're less LARP-y than we are, because they have more experience in hand-to-hand combat than most of us have):

Of course, sport arts tend to be somewhat exempt from this statement, but even in there, there are sometimes elements of LARPing to be found.


We martial artists are Live Action Role Playing much of the time.


Now, I realize when you read that, you probably cringed and said, "Not me! Not my school, not my style, not my teacher!"


Yeah, you.  And me, too. And all of us.


The guys learning "combatives" in suburbia, the woman learning how to defend against a katana in aikido, every one of us who dress up in a Japanese, Korean or Chinese-derived training uniform, heck, the folks in HEMA and and dumpy middle aged moms from the Midwest learning how to fight with sticks and knives aren't any different than this right here:



You can call it reenactment, cosplay, or LARPing, or martial arts class, but they're all in the same basic category.


I know we think, somehow, that we are different. We don't want to believe that, at the core, we are playing a game, like the guys who joust at Scarborough Fair.  There are fantasy elements in the martial arts for each of us, as the odds of actually using 99% of what we learn are slim at best.


I can hear the objection, "But LARPing involves an organized game where you earn points and rewards for playing the game! That's not what we do in the martial arts!"


You mean like tournaments and competitions, belt ranks, titles, and certificates? That sort of thing?


So, I say, celebrate your LARPiness.  Embrace it, don't deny it.  It's the honest thing to do, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with it, if you enjoy it.


I'm a LARPer too, and I'm perfectly fine with that.


Does it bother you to be called a LARPer? Or are you okay with it like me? Let me know in the comments!

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