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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

The Curse of the Martial Arts Fandom

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.

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 OR they just copy their favorite moves out of a tv show or movie).

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 people think they're martial artists because they can't understand the difference between actual training and posing. They may even 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 themselves.

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 knows about fighting Orcs.

Click on the image to see the source.

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 pointing out how they don't know what they're talking about, they use bravado, made up stories of glory, and aggressive online behavior to try to scare us off. They certainly won't take the advice of someone who actually trains 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 you that this is absolutely real):

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 truer 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 and try to help them become the real deal, they resist all offers and insist they are as real and authentic as we are.

Let me say that again.

They believe their fandom and cosplay is EQUAL to what we do in actually training.

Martial arts FANS are not equal members of the martial arts community.  They want to be - they try to be - equals to people who actually train, 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. As they say in Texas, they are all hat, no cattle.

This is why I titled this post "the Curse of the Martial Arts Fandom" because their invasion of our discussion spaces is absolutely a curse.

They try 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.

There's nothing wrong with being a fan of the martial arts vs. an actual martial artist. Have fun playing and being a fan, but stop inserting yourself into the real martial arts community. You are not our equals in our spaces, 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.

Martial arts fan, 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!

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