Monday, October 25, 2010

Long Ago, in a Galaxy...

When I started in martial arts, there were lots of hints about mystical bullshit. When you got to your blackbelt level you would gain powers that weren't quite like the ones on TV, but really close. So I was told (often, it was one of my obsessions) that all expert martial artists learned to heal as well as destroy... but the people making that claim had somehow never got around to learning that part of it.
There were secret strikes that could only be divulged after your character was tested, but no matter how tested you were it wasn't quite time...and then you might happen to overhear the person withholding the information ask his instructor, and you might even hear him get the same run around. The mystical knowledge wasn't there.

But people want it and they want it bad. People really like magic. And if enough people want something, someone will supply it for money or sycophants or just for ego. And the cool thing about supplying magic is that the people buying it will do all the heavy work, suspending disbelief.

So I was attracted to instructors who not only could do things, but could explain it. If the instructor had amazing skills and his students sucked, he either couldn't teach or was deliberately withholding...and if the instructor sucked and the students thought he was amazing, it was a religion, not a self-defense class.

Brent Yamamoto and Kris Wilder, under the tutelage of Hiroo Ito, are doing some amazing stuff. Stuff that harkens back to the legends I heard as a wee beginner. It's not mystical. It is structure and slaving (in the engineering sense) small motions to big muscles. Applying bone rather than muscle. They are doing the things that the internal stylists talk about, but because they are learning and not parroting, they can apply them moving and even fighting, something I have seen rarely in internal stylists.

And they can teach. Their students are picking it up. Applying it.
My reductionist side wants to take it down even further, but that can wait.
For now, I know two men in the Seattle area, NW Martial Arts in Bothell and West Seattle Karate, who are teaching some of the things that the instructors in the eighties pretended to know.

Billings, Montana this Saturday. I'll be going through Spokane Thursday night if anyone wants to meet on the route.


Travis said...

Hey, I'd love to get together Thursday in Spokane. I've got your e-mail and will send a note tonight after checking w/ wife and childcare schedule.

Charles James said...

Magic, well we know that the popularity of the Harry Potter franchise is due to this "need" to believe in magic.

Great post, thanks!

zzrzinn said...

Kris is awesome, the first time I was exposed to some of his skills I was like "that shouldn't be possible" after training with him for a few years, I can do some of it...a little.

Can't do anything like he can, but the fact that I can do it at all, (as I live out of town and am not around full time)is a testament to the fact that the stuff works, and can be learned and integrated by anyone, and that he teaches it well!

Definitely not magic, though you could call it trickery..trickery in a good way!

Jim said...

There are two different sorts of "magic" in martial arts. The first is mythology; at extremes, this is the idea that ninja could walk through walls, that you can fly with the secret technique, or that there are magic points on the body that can kill weeks or months later. This is the stuff that gets inflated with the martial arts trickery demos, too.

The second? That's the result of long years of hard, dedicated, serious training. That's what Rory's describing here. It's deep understanding of the techniques and body mechanics, and refinement of the techniques that make them look like magic.

And -- to me -- the second is the much more magical stuff. Honest teachers don't play games; they admit that what they do looks impossible is something that the student can learn.

Anonymous said...

perhaps i am fortunate in never having come across anything other than a fairly sensible and realistic approach to karate - in that it was always made clear that learning karate doesn't make you superman, and the only thing that 'matters' is what works - especially, but not exclusively, in terms of self-defence.

not-withstanding that, i have read kris wilders kata book and along side meditations on violence' it completely changed my whole approach to my training and the value i place on kata. 'training the flinch' is how i like to think of it.

'the way of kata' is absolutely brilliant, a guide to unravelling the mysteries and value of kata, and gives an understanding as to why kata is at the heart of karate.

Mac said...

After a lifetime of journeying, we come back to where we started either burdened with baggage or naked and free.

Brian said...

I think the idea of magic came from the movies and our egotistical drive to be something like that. I remember when i started training about 16 out of 20 new students want to somehow "be cool and do cool".

Travis said...

Rory, I sent e-mail to the easystreet e-mail address but haven't heard back. I figure you're a busy man but wanted to try and catch you before you are on the road today. I'll e-mail again and include my phone number. I'm limited to after 6:30-ish but would be happy to buy dinner and pick your brain.

I also usually attend a Thursday night kajukenbo class (7-9) and I know you would be welcome there if you want to get some working out in.

If you have anything in the works with others I'd be happy to tag along.


Anonymous said...

Trouble is, unless you show us what these guys are doing and how good it is......well!! we are back to magic and seeing how good sensei is

Anonymous said...

I would bet that Jack Hoban has more than a thing or two to say about the mystical aspects of the martial arts.

kenpokiwi said...

I dunno... I saw with my own eyes (not somebody elses) some Ryukyu acolytes knocking each other out from 12 feet away!!!!! And they're from THIS GALAXY!!!!!
Now they did have a little difficulty knocking out one of my students, even with contact but was told by the head instructor that he had "used up all his energy" on previous knockouts. There might just be sumthin' to this Mystikal stuff (he says facetiously). Just sayin'

Dan Gambiera said...

I've seen magic in all sorts of things, cooking, music, science, writing, dancing, carpentry, fighting and yes, martial arts. What I've never seen is magic in any of these that is any different from any other field.

It comes from such deep familiarity and casual competence with the activity that it starts to give back the work someone has put into it.