Thursday, August 02, 2007

"If You Can't Say Something Nice...

...don't say anything at all."

"I've seen his stuff," I said, "I'm not impressed."
"Really? He's famous! One of the best in the world."
"There are at least two better locally..."

It struck me right then- I've gotten very, very critical of martial arts and martial artists. Sometimes on the blog, but more often when people ask me for advice on picking a school or an instructor. Some of the things I've said, and the circumstances:

A famous Taiwanese internal arts master brought in for a seminar actually turned my stomach away from the Chinese and internal arts for years: "He's a complete fraud. His physical skills were amazing, but how he was explaining them and what he was teaching his students was pure bullshit. He's actively making his students worse so that he can look better."

At a recent seminar one of the guest instructors was someone who I knew briefly years ago. The students were eating it up but I honestly consider him one of the worst martial artists that I have ever met... and that's completely aside from his tendancy to hit on every woman who walks through his doors.

A local, famous Indonesian stylist- actually a very good instructor, but the first time I met him he showed a basic technique, something common to judo, jujutsu, WWII combatives (hell it's in Bruce Tegner books)... and all of his students, two of whom had nearly thirty years in martial arts, were flabbergasted. "That's amazing! Show us that again! I've never seen anything like it!" It left me with the belief that he was a good martial artist with a knack for getting students who had only had terrible instruction before, leading to his cult-like status.

A friend asked about a mutual acquaintance and I demurred until asked directly, then answered: "We've had some interactions in the past. Just as an experiment try to verify a single one of his claims that doesn't trace back to his publicity machine. One of the international medals he claims, well, that event wasn't held on the year he 'won' it."

After watching a jujitsu instructor teach a knife disarm in which he cut his own throat in every repetition (if the weapon had been real) I couldn't say anything, just stare with a sick look on my face. He then taught an escape from a wrist lock that was exactly the wrong way to move. No surprise, it worked on his students and no one else. I blurted: "How many years does it take to brainwash a student so that will work?" (I really shouldn't have said it outloud. I did not make friends that day.)

"Why don't you believe in kyusho? You've used it!"
"I've used targeting. Some places hurt worse than others. But when one of the top names uses you for a demo dummy and he fakes so bad that up close it's like something from a bad highschool drama class but the audience buys it, it's hard to accept on faith. Then you do the math and if the theory is right, it's impossible to survive a good massage. Targeting is fine, but his explanations don't work."

There are more. That's a lot of bile.
I think it's time to work on finding and acknowledging the positive.


Mark said...

Paying more attention to the guys who actually know what they're talking about can't hurt, but since your focus has been trying to sift out what works in practice from what doesn't, it's no surprise that you're critical. As you yourself have pointed out, most martial artists--instructors as much as students--never have their theories tested in the real world. You can't have science without real world testing and validation (or disproval) of theories; most of these guys are the martial equivalent of alchemists. And as someone somewhere wrote the other day, "every alchemist has to learn for himself that drinking mercury is a bad idea."

Anonymous said...

But how do the people who haven't even met someone who knows what they're talking about tell the difference? And even if some did, do they want the little world that they belong to shaken up?

I've always been amazed at how people who don't believe in the Easter Bunny will believe some crap presented to them by some stranger with a black belt. I'll admit that I've fallen for some of it myself.


gwadzilla said...

cool post

someone would have to know very little
because I do not know enough about anything to say that someone who claims to be a master is not in fact a master

a master and a qualified instructor could be to different things

but I am just saying this from what I know of Martial Arts in pop culture; Bruce Lee, Billy Jack; and of course the original Kung FU

I am a cyclist not a fighter
and not really much of a cyclist

great post
I am going to read more

Drew said...

"I blurted: 'How many years does it take to brainwash a student so that will work?' (I really shouldn't have said it outloud. I did not make friends that day.)"

Hey now, if I only learned one thing from you it is to let people make their own dumbass choices and mistakes!!! :P