Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sea Change

Sampling error is a big problem whenever you try to figure out what is going on. You surround yourself with people and, at some point, you start attracting people who see the world in certain ways. What follows may simply be the result of sampling error. But I don't think so.

The martial arts world is changing, and the change is fast and the changes are big.
It's coming from a lot of different sources.

The obvious:
There is more information accessible than ever before. You want to argue endlessly about the lineage of some obscure family system, go right ahead. But if you keep doing it, the argument is the point, because we know someone who knows someone who has a cell phone who is right in the freaking village. If the founders's actual physical grandson thinks the argument is pointless...
Anyway, the combination of cell phones and "six degrees of separation"... which is actually closer to 4.7 degrees.

That's not even counting the internet, which has immeasurably increased the possibility of like-minded people getting together. Guess how many people who comment here are cops (or former) and martial artists of long standing with an introspective streak and a desire to understand and explain. Think there are more than a handful of those in any given area? And that's just one obscure blog. It cuts both ways, of course. People looking for new information and to be challenged can find that. People who want their personal flavor of koolaid praised and defended can find that as well.

The prevalence of video. You can actually see how bad stuff happens. No more excuses when you practice defenses against attacks that don't happen.

The rise of MMA. I don't think it's reality fighting or even a good laboratory for what I'm interested in. At some point, two guys of the same size planning to meet with several months notice at an appointed place and time without weapons and voluntarily using the same range of techniques became the benchmark for "reality fighting." That's a big WTF, as far as applicability to self-defense goes. But MMA and particularly the early UFC had a huge impact. It both made people think and question, which was valuable. And it made it unacceptable to hide behind tradition or received wisdom. Put up or shut up. Which was invaluable.

The RBSD...fad? Hard to tell if it is a fad. There is at least as much fantasy in the RBSD world as in the traditional. There are little battles about how real reality is. Is a bouncer's reality real? "I don't hide behind no badge." Is a cop's reality real? "We arrived on the scene..."

Does a RBSD system derived from military arts (designed around young men in peak physical condition and with ROE not related to self-defense law) automatically transfer to the needs of an undersized drunk college girl who badly misread the character of a guy she just met?

But just like MMA, RBSD is getting people thinking.

Teaching methodology, everything from adult learning models to Olympic coaching methods are changing the martial world. There may be a few dojo still practicing exercises known to destroy knees, but they are dying out.

But the biggest change, I think, is in the practitioners. Kris Wilder has been digging into body mechanics that I can only describe as Okinawan internal arts. That would be impressive enough and thirty years ago it would have been (hell, it was) a closely guarded secret. It's impressive that he is studying and teaching it. More impressive is that it isn't enough, not for Kris. He reasons that if the body mechanics are that good, they are universal...and he tests and refines them in judo competition.

When Jake Steinmann heard conflicting information from two sources he respected, he didn't feel a need to choose a side and get defensive. He felt a responsibility not to get his students killed and went to bang it out.

Teja Van Wicklen was a rough, tough martial artist... and then she found, eight months into a rough pregnancy, that none of her twenty years of training applied when she was truly and completely vulnerable. Another instructor might have ignored the truth or drunk some more koolaid or done something to feel better about the situation. Teja realized she needed to rethink the entire process from the ground up.

Jeff Burger... damn. Train with him if you can. Too long a story to go into here.

Testing. Challenging. Looking at real problems. Most importantly, I think, for the first time in martial arts (and this will ruffle a few feathers) we have a significant percentage of serious practitioners who are thinking for themselves. Not taking the word of a 'master'. Not pretending that techniques that failed worked. Noticing that sometimes, "We've always done it this way" has a direct correlation to "Every senior practitioner has had knee surgery."

It's not always cool. Along with the people who are hammering out the new things I hear a lot from people who are quitting. One who put his life on hold to train in Japan for a decade and a half doesn't want to deal with the politics, with the tribal vitriol of people who have never been and done and feel threatened by one who has. One talented instructor hit his funk, "I don't think what I'm teaching is what I think it is. I thought it was self-defense. I thought I was teaching fighting..."

Good people are considering walking away from something they love. That means they can see something big, so big that it frightens them. The rest of us... I don't think we see it as big. We see problems we can change and fix and as we talk and connect, it gathers momentum.

I don't think the martial arts of 2030 will look anything like the arts of 1990. The change we are looking at is big. Deep water stuff.


Josh K. said...


Mac said...

I don't think anything at all has changed, except we have moved so far away from the combat roots of martial 'arts' that, as with any closed system, complexity and confusion has set in. First, define WHAT your goal is - to learn to kill? (solo; team killing is soldiering); defend yourself? (a good pair of running shoes and a first aid course); defend others? (earn a badge); win trophies (find a good 'ring' or 'octagon' school), be coordinated and agile? (arnis and related arts); physical fitness? (put down the croissant and work out); become wise? (don't watch TV). Once you define your goal, you can become it. The rest is just mental mastur@#*ion.

Josh K. said...

Mac -
But in defining our goals isn't there a preconceived notion or idea of what the end results going to be? Do we then become less open to opportunities that come are way, because they don't meet our expectations?


sam said...

Rory I have read your blog for a long time and I have never commented but what you say encourages me because now I can get in contact with competint people without a huge ego who question what they think they know as absolute fact and evolve. I would like to learn from them and then mabey someday make a leap of my own.

Charles James said...

"I don't think the martial arts of 2030 will look anything like the arts of 1990. The change we are looking at is big. Deep water stuff."

"All bottles are good, they all serve a purpose."

In a nutshell, good-good-good! In 2030 I will be only "77 years," Ohrahhh. :-)

Jake said...


For what it's worth; my willingness to go and try to test things out (still shockingly short on people willing to stab me), is at least in part inspired by your writing and training. So give yourself some credit too.

Anonymous said...

Asking because I genuinely don't know:

When people talk about the "RBSD fad" what systems and/or instructors are they usually referring to?

Or if someone doesn't want to name names, what kind of stuff?

I'm familiar with Peyton Quinn for example, but wasn't aware this kind of stuff was considered a fad or that fantastical.

Meron said...

Funny, I'm getting the impression that there's a shift starting in the overall thinking of the people who teach and choreograph stage fighting as well as it relates to real world violence. And we KNOW that what we're doing is not real and specifically designed Not to cause harm.

Josh K. said...

Anon 8:46 -

Gives us 50 years and we will be talking about RBSD just like we do old world/ old school combatives, and there will be just as many cool-aid drinkers saying its the be all end all of marsial arts.

We still have a lot of people looking for "the" answer. Let's take the R in RBSD. Your reality and my reality are two diferent things. What works for you might or might not work for me. But we still get people say their answer are the answers.

As with all evolving/devolving system anything that is not of a semi-permanent nature and will be replaced with the next best thing could be called a fad? I'm not sure if that is what Rory was getting at.


Anonymous said...

Age-old convictions such as purpose dictating action have not changed. But, more and faster connections to more and more minds, provides easier access to information. An immense volume of consolidation activity is in process all around us.

Confusion comes from perceptive and cultural time flitting around very quickly. Lots of people trying to catch up, some choosing a stagnant denial minds getting ever increasing head starts …The built-in pitfall of taking intellectual steps ahead of actual experience.

This dynamic is pervasive. It's been accelerating since the advent of mass communication ...the printing press. Messages now travel literally at the speed of light and sound. Digital recording now manipulates the time environment itself, (who here uses a DVR?). Both confusion and clarity happen quicker than ever.

MA is of course ancient stuff. Our descriptions of it are getting deeper, and more completely available to the masses due to the technological impact to our human learning process. We both individual and collective collaborate to create knowledge. Concepts may be cementing quickly, but I would doubt they are universally new. Think how much human thought on this subject has been lost in the death of a mind before our times. New is a lasting energy though. And, so are the ever-expanding common understandings or disagreements.

Maybe it is like building sandcastles at the beach. A couple kids get so far in an afternoon. Much is washed away before tomorrow's kids arrive to start over. Language was invented so we did not have to start over completely. The kind of speed in recording our descriptions today is like hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands building sand castles all day and night. At some point the same old wet sand starts to take shape for common recognition and increased longevity in the world.

-Billy G.

Anonymous said...

Oh ...Jake,

Thank you for the invite! I believe some of my guys will see you at yours on Jan. 22nd. We will plan on trying to stab you if you like. I'm surprised more people don't like that kind of fun. :)

-Billy G.

Jake said...

Hey Bill,

Awesome! Look forward to seeing you guys.

That event may not be the appropriate place for stabbing, but if you and yours are interested, let's talk. I'm sure we can set something up!

Brett said...

You, sir, just blew my mind.

Seriously, though, great post. I am always refreshed to find another warrior-scholar (not claiming that moniker for myself, mind you).

You have some very, very intelligent things to say and I am impressed. I have only just today found your blog but I will be a frequent visitor, I can promise you that.