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"People who fixate on fighting don't want to cure the
they want to choose the symptoms. As any doctor can tell you,
you cannot pick and choose your symptoms. Winning or losing
a fight -- those are just symptoms. The disease is the behavior
that got you into the fight. "
Traditional Martial Arts vs. "Real" Fighting
(better known as "give it a rest")
On this page:
The hallway of mastery | The "martial art" misnomer | The Art of War | History and "warrior" culture | Conclusion #1 | Martial arts and "fighting" | Why aren't "traditional" martial arts good for "real-fighting?" | Reality of violence | Conclusion 2: | Further Resources
"Two fleas were arguing over who owned a dog...."
That inane concept pretty well sums up the arguing, politics, disrespecting,
bad-mouthing and overall bullshit that surrounds the controversy of traditional
martial arts vs." real fighting" When, in this business, you see at
the number of people who claim
a) to have the "true" version of a martial art system,
b) to possess the "secret teachings" of a MA system,
c) that they teach combat (fill-in-the-blank)-do,
d) they are masters of "reality-based fighting,"
d) they are masters of the "ultimate fighting system," and/or
e) they are grandmasters, pendekars, datus, masters, maha gurus, doctors
(or whatever grand-poobah title they use) of an ancient, secret
fighting system that only they possess knowledge of ... then look back at the "two fleas arguing" idea you begin to see exactly how ludicrous these claims really are.
I very specifically used the term " business" in the previous paragraph as the ones who are doing the most politicking, badmouthing, recruiting and salesmanship (read: outrageous claims) really are more about business than anything else. Because "salesmanship" is what all those claims boil down to -- to get someone to give them money by peddling something that the buyer wants.
Bottomline: Nobody 'owns' the TRUTH™ about martial arts and self-defense. Nobody can teach you the "true" version of a martial art. Nor can they teach you about self-defense without including a wide variety of topics other than just physical. If they say they can, they are lying...usually to get your money. No "traditional" art from a distant and exotic place, no matter how physically effective, can teach you about the modern cultural, legal and pragmatic standards of fighting in your country. These little issues seriously affect "real fighting."
By the end of this page, you will know what I think about people claiming to be able to teach you "how to fight" and fixating on that aspect only. To tell you honestly, the only "truth" I ever learned about "real" fighting -- from a lifetime of doing it -- is that it is both painful and an outrageously stupid waste of time. As such selling you training in the ultimate fighting system is pretty damn silly -- and don't even get me started on the hucksters who claim to be able to make you a master streetfighter. There ain't no such thing, except in the heads of people who have paid a whole lot of money for that fantasy.
However, as the old saw goes "There wouldn't be prostitutes if there weren't customers willing to pay for it."
If there weren't people whose fantasies were being fulfilled by what I just described there wouldn't be people selling it. The purpose of this page is twofold. First, to assist the you, the reader in reviewing your own motivation for studying the martial arts. Second, to help you recognize when someone is handing you a line of bullshit. Whether the BS be about their ancient warrior lineage or the "combat effectiveness" of their modern "reality-based" fighting system, both are trying to sell you a dysfunctional fantasy.
The question is: Is that what you in the market for?
The hallway of mastery
What I really want to do with this page is to show why fixating on only the "fighting" application of the "martial arts" is not only a dead end path to take, but it is, in fact, a deliberate act of ignorance, obsession and, often, an excuse for bad/dysfunctional behavior. Unfortunately this emphasis has become very, very popular among a small, but extremely vocal, minority. As such sooner or later, you will encounter it...and, if you aren't careful, be sucked into it too.
In my youth and in my earlier books I was contemptuous of traditional martial arts applicability for use in the situations I was in. I had had many bad experiences with "martial arts instructors" who claimed they could teach me how to "fight." What they had to offer was a disaster when I tried to apply it. Not to put to fine of a point on it, but I was getting my ass kicked trying to use "traditional martial arts" for fighting. When I confronted them with this failure I was told I had "done it wrong." Bullshit, it had failed all on its own. This was the foundation for my anger at "the arts."
As I matured however, I came to realize something: It was not the "art's'" fault.
While there was plenty of blame to be distributed, it was not with the arts themselves. Basically there were two doorsteps that this dead skunk could be laid at. The first was me. I was living a violent life and all I cared about was the fighting application. I was trying to make it work for fighting. This blinded me to other possibilities, significance and uses of the "arts." Where the second part of the blame lie, was with people who didn't know the subject, and yet, claimed they could teach me "self-defense/fighting" through their martial art. In short, just because they "knew" karate, didn't mean that they could teach me how to defend myself, much less fight. But many of them thought that they could, or at least told me this because they wanted my money. Their greed, mixed with my aggression, nearly got me killed on numerous occasions.
Oddly enough, and for reasons unclear to me at the time, I continually returned to the "martial arts." I now realize they provided me with a structure and with depths that was otherwise lacking in my life. In these times I met true "masters" of these arts; eighty year old men who could mop the floor with my young -- and supposedly bad -- ass. What really shocked me was exactly how unimpressed they were with themselves for possessing this skill. What was to me of overwhelming importance was literally a "so what?" issue to them. It wasn't until I began to understand what I am about to tell you that I realized why kicking my ass wasn't that much of a significant accomplishment to them.
I want you to think of a long hallway that has many, many doors in it.. Each door leads into another hallway that you can go down. Each hallway is a specific "aspect" that is directly related to the main one, but is not, I repeat not, the original hallway. These many aspects can be researched and learned. In fact, in order to have truly "mastered" the main hallway, one must have gone down many of these side hallways -- and learned their significance and their influence on the original. You do not learn these side hallways, by merely opening the door and looking down the hallway before moving onto the next one. They can take years to understand the significance of just one of these "aspects" and there are many hallways, over and above the main. It is by understanding, both the original hallway and the significance/influence of these side hallways that one "masters" an "art"
It is by knowing this analogy of the main hallway and the influence of its many side branches that you will understand the two most common problems that occur in the martial arts/self-defense world. The first is closely related to the problem of "rank inflation"; and that is where someone who has only been studying for a few years claims to have "mastered the entirety of the subject." In light of the fact, that individually, any of these "aspects" can take five to ten years of study just to explore its significance -- much less understand and effectively apply it -- you can see how absurd someone claiming to having "mastered" every aspect in just six to ten years really is. This is especially true if those years include "learning" the art. Do the math, even if there were only twenty side hallways and you only spent two years on each that would be forty years before you could honestly claim "mastery!" Yet, you will constantly encounter people who claim the title of "master" -- and often of multiple arts -- who have been in the "arts" for well under fifteen years.
The second problem that is explained by this main and branching hallways analogy can be viewed as the focusing on a side hallway to the exclusion of everything else -- including reality. The person initially enters the main hallway, but he/she soon becomes fixated on only one side hallway. All other aspects are either ignored, dismissed outright, or they are twisted and bastardized to fit with this myopic fixation. It is when this happens that the outrageous claims, distortions of history and blatant lies occur. Because these distortions feed the fixations and the dysfunctions that lead to them.
And now the really bad news, even if you do go down a side hallway, the same idea applies. Even there, in the midst of myopia, it isn't just one thing. There are still lots and lots of other doors that lead into connecting hallways of related issues. Putting it bluntly, "Real fighting" that only focuses on physical technique or yourself, isn't real fighting. Without these other aspects, it is just another macho fantasy. Even here in a limited focus, these are issues that you cannot glance at before continuing on to what you want the subject to be. They too must be examined and studied...and that is a lot of work and skullsweat. More than most people who want to fixate on a single aspect want to invest.
Those old men who could slap me around like a child, had spent decades learning many aspects where I had only spend a few years years focused on only one idea. Over the years they had learned how to effectively counter raw force with skill and finesse. Their physical prowess was a by-product of this decades long study. No matter how young, fast or bad I was, in comparison to them, I moved like a pregnant yak. It would take decades of research, study and practice before I finally understood how much they knew -- and by extension why it was so easy for them to defeat me.
In short, years sound impressive, until you realize the time scale for 'mastery" is decades. This is why the idea of someone claiming to be a "master" under the age of sixty is ludicrous. It literally takes decades to have thoroughly researched more than just one or two of these aspects/hallways. And that is why, one of the true signs of "mastery" is the awareness "that the more you know, the more you realize how much there is left to learn."
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Note: From here on, this page is a long discourse arguing against the
"macho fighting aspect of the martial arts" that is so prevalent on the
Web, magazines, some schools and MA/SD cults. If your interest was only "Should
I enroll little Johnny or Jennie in karate" then the preceding paragraphs were
all that you needed to read. What follows will probably only be of interest to
someone deeply involved in the MA/SD world as it addresses a particular
mindset/problem that is endemic to that market.
Let us add that we're going to BBQ a large number of sacred cows here and we do it the way that urban legends, myths and tall tales are normally debunked -- through research and documentation. We aren't asking you to believe us without explanations and references to back up our contentions. Things that you can look up yourself. But that means we get wordy. The following page is indeed long and as such, we highly recommend you print it out to save your eyes.
The "martial art" misnomer.
Since the rest of this page is dedicated to clearing up misconceptions and fixations on only one "aspect," the first thing I want to look at is the term "martial arts." As I have experience with "classic" NLP (Nuero-Linguistic Programming) I tend to look very closely at the words/terms people use as they are often indicative of underlying assumptions and agendas. For example, someone who habitually refers to women as "ho's" and "bitches" is not accurately commenting on women, as much as he is revealing his own assumptions/opinions about women. He is revealing this through unconscious word choice and usage. This sort of assumption/motivation display is often an indicator of future problems; as these ideals often steer the course that person's actions will take. Yes, your choice of words reinforces what you think and what you think often determines your perceptions/actions. Along these lines, there are serious unconscious assumptions/connotations about the term "martial arts" which I would like to take a moment to explore.
Dictionaries operate in two main methods. The first method doesn't "define" words, it simply lists (in order of popularity) common usages and what the words means in those contexts. This is the common way abridged and smaller dictionaries work. The second method uses the first, but it also defines the word, includes the etymology (roots) of the word and tracks the changes of meaning that have occurred over time. Which is why you will often see "archaic" before a definition. The second method is how unabridged dictionaries and the OED are done. Knowing these two methods explains how words can change their meaning over the years and how different dictionaries can have different definitions. It also explains why certain words/terms (like "martial arts") are relative newcomers to the dictionaries. Remember, current trends and popular usage -- not necessarily exact definitions -- are what you see in most dictionaries.
It is the first method that really applies to the term "martial arts." It's funny because "everyone knows" what that term means. And if you look it up in a newer dictionary, odds are that "definition" is close to what you will see (i.e. Oriental empty handed/archaic/personal weapon systems). What you will not necessarily see are the military connotations of the word "martial."
It is interesting to note is the word "martial" is a western term whose etymology traces back to the Roman god of war. While there are ancient Oriental gods of war, Mars is not one of them. Unlike the words Bu or Wu, the term "martial" does not specifically mean "war." It does however, mean: Inclined to or disposed to war, pertaining to or connected with the army, etc" among other definitions(1). Martial does not mean war, nor specifically training for war. Its refers to " related to" the military (e.g. martial law, martial music). As such the connotations of the term "martial arts" would be "the arts/skills related to military." This is where we run into the first bump about the term "martial arts." (For expediency's sake we won't even argue the assumption that "art = training/skill," but we will use it). By definition then, the term "martial arts" should mean "militaristic training/skill" If that were the case, training for any position on a submarine, missile silo operation or NORAD is more of a "martial art" than karate, as they are directly related to military operations. (We will discuss later the differences between the fantasy idea behind military training and the real thing).
But this is not how the term "martial arts" is used.
The term is used to more commonly refer to individual empty handed/ archaic and/or personal weapon systems. But these are commonly presented as "ancient warrior skills/training" Tae Kwon Do is a prime example. Never mind that it is the national *sport* of Korea. That is not as important as the fact that it was organized by General Choi in the 1950s. He did this by bringing together multiple kwons/instructors (most of whom had been trained in karate) and then putting them under one banner -- HIS. Then came the nationalistic/political push to create a "Korean art" and history was seriously rewritten to exclude outside influence. These days you cannot pick up a book on the subject that doesn't trace Tae Kwon Do back thousands of years to the ancient Silla warriors. When in fact, the strongest influence is from karate as is immediately apparent with a comparsion of pyong /piyong/ heian/ pion forms. The current trend of calling it an ancient art arises from a marketing spin based on exactly one illustration of two individuals fighting drawn on the wall of a crypt. Let me run that by you again, because of one drawing of a guy kicking another the entire style of Tae Kwon Do is supposed to be over a 1,000 years old. The fact is we can't tell how these people moved from one drawing. For all we know they could be doing Savate.
And BTW, nobody isn't saying that Tae Kwon Do isn't currently taught to Korean soldiers, it is. But as we understand it, it is more oriented on physical fitness training and competition than effective CQC. For the same reason it is taught to kids in school. It is after all a major point of nationalistic pride. What it isn't is an ancient Korean warrior art (2).
It is this semantic linkage to "ancient warriors" or modern military training that we must be cautious of, because quite simply that is a fantasy. One that allows us to pick and choose those aspects that we find convenient and ignore realities that don't gel with what we want this to mean. Using the term "martial arts" is the first step in both creating *and* accepting this fantasy. The popular interpretation that the "martial arts" -- as we think of them today -- being related to ancient warriors and military training from the Orient is more of a 20th century "spin." One that comes from a few very specific sources. The "arts" themselves do NOT have the same militaristic connotations elsewhere in the Orient.
Staying with English for a bit more, it is interesting to note that before 1980 the term martial arts didn't appear in dictionaries. (Although there is rumored to be a use of a term similar to "martial arts" in an obscure Western weapons manual for individuals dating from the 1600s, it was talking about western fighting techniques, not Oriental). It is also worth noting, that older telephone books didn't have a "martial arts" listing, but instead had only "Karate." I am hard pressed to find the term in general usage before the 1970s. Back then the public simply referred to them as either "karate" or "kung fu," not the "martial arts."
Bottomline, the term "martial arts" -- as it is currently used -- is a new comer to the English language. And, while its popular "definition" might not be too controversial, its origin definitely is.
Common misconception is that the term "martial art" is a literal translation of an "Oriental" term. This terminology supposedly describes ancient warrior traditions and fighting systems. Or at least the means used to train them. Unfortunately, exactly which language both created the term and has used it for "thousands of years" tends to be rather vague. But everyone knows it is a literal translation from an Oriental language. Granted they can't speak these languages, but they know that's what it means. They know because that's what their teacher told them or they read it in Black Belt magazine. Odd, but when you begin to search for the term in older texts you find either specific style names, actual military terminology and/or terms that can be interpreted in many different ways.
These latter terms carry significantly different connotations than individual fighting techniques. Anything that carries the words "do/tao/michi" attached to it is a prime example, these topics have extra social/philosophical/religious dimensions far beyond the mere physical prowess of the individual. Terms like the Chinese originated, "heiho" (lit. "soldier" and "forms" i.e. strategy and troop arrangement) extend beyond the individual as well. The term "jutsu" indicates a combination of skill and learning. As such a skilled surgeon has good "jutsu." The Cantonese slang of "kung fu" carries the same connotations. That of time spent in learning and practice of any art/skill, not specifically fighting prowess. These misconstruing of words is a common problem anytime you attempt to translate from one language to another. Things are lost in the translation or they are just flat-out misinterpreted. There is indeed a difference between a "do" and a "jutsu." But it is not, as many would say, the difference between "a spiritual path" and "real fighting."
Backing up a bit here, if you read the writings arising from the Pacific Theatre in WWII, you will notice a rather interesting phenomenon. The term "martial arts" is seldom -- if ever -- mentioned. Instead you commonly read sentences like "He spent much time in judo and other military style athletics"(3). Specific "styles," such as judo, jujitsu and, to a lesser degree, karate, are definitely mentioned by these authors; but usually in a sport or "spiritual" context (as in "do/tao"). In all of my reading about that theatre of war, the term "martial arts" was never specifically used by these writers. Nor was it commonly used by early authors who were writing about what we think of as the martial arts today(4). Interesting that these authors, military personnel themselves and who had spent time fighting the Japanese and/or were stationed there for the occupation, didn't use the term "martial arts" 50 years ago -- even though it is currently assumed to be of ancient origins. The term appears in the modern reprints of these older writings, but not necessarily in the originals. Of course, now these terms exist, but there also exists a very good chance that they are more modern than ancient. It is interesting to note, that the earliest usage of the term "martial art" -- in its "popular" meaning -- that we could find was in a 1938 Japanese travel brochure. And it was in reference to a demonstration of archaic weapons (bow and sword) and karate. This becomes extremely significant when looked at in the militaristic and nationalistic build up of pre-WWII Japan, which we will discuss later.
While there are many words/terms in different languages that do relate to the study, practice, requirements and even the "art" of war; they do not translate into the current popular usage of the term "martial arts" -- that being primarily referring to empty-handed fighting and/or use of archaic/ personal weapons.
Equally corrosive to this term's "military" credibility is the fact that these so-called "warrior" arts have miraculously survived in hidden valleys and distant mountains, and yet they have been largely overlooked by the modern militaries of those same countries. Militaries that generally prefer modern weapons and means to conduct their warfare. This is an important consideration as not all the systems that are grouped under the umbrella of "martial arts" are about the military or warfare. In fact, even the "self-defense" emphasis of these arts, much less their supposed fighting application is extremely questionable. There is sufficient evidence to indicate that they were designed with an entirely different emphasis in mind.
This does not prove the inefficiency of traditional systems for "real fighting." What it does is point out that the term "martial arts" is both a misnomer and quite possibly, a deliberate act of overemphasis on only one aspect of a multi-faceted subject. This misnomer has been applied over a very wide selection of systems. In doing so creating false and misleading "categories" and "associations"
Going back to the beginning of this section I stated choice of words are
often indicative of underlying assumptions and agendas The very term "martial
arts" must be looked at in this context. By trying to include all "systems"
under the umbrella of military, warrior and fighting connotations, they are far
more appealing to younger, more macho Western markets.
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The Art of War
When we mention that the term "martial arts" is a misnomer, we almost always met with the response of "But what about "The Art of War?" or "What about bujutsu?"
Well, to start with, we are not saying that there is not a study of war or an "art" of war. In fact, places like West Point and Annapolis pretty well prove that war is a subject that must be studied. However, in looking at the difference between the "Art of War" and the "martial arts" one encounters an example of the different categorical propositions of logic; "All men are human, but not all humans are men" (A/O). In other words, just because something is part of a larger whole, it doesn't mean it is the whole. Nor does it define the whole. The difference between those two points is small but significant.
As such, "While Close Quarter Combat (CQC) is part of military training, not all military training is CQC." Now let's take this up a step. "Training is part of warfare, warfare is not just training"
In fact, the usage of the term "Art of War" or "War study/practice" has a much broader context. These includes issues that are not discussed in modern "martial arts" circles, but are very much a part of what the military and nations have to consider when wrestling with the subject. Even reading "ancient" texts, such Sun Tzu's "The Art of War," The "36 Strategies," Clauswitz or Machiavelli shows politics, economics, finance, troop movements, logistics, strategy, training, morale, espionage, intelligence, diplomacy and countless other issues that are not the purview of individual "warriors."
These issues are, however, very much the purview of the military and politicians when considering the issue of war. As they are far more a "part" of war than what is, essentially, CQC training for the individual.
What is taught regarding modern warfare is far more complex and broad in nature. Also modern warfare is far more technical and often requires strong mathematical skills. Having said that the two "older" Chinese texts on the training for war that we could find that specifically mentioned CQC training were both the exceptions to normal military thinking of the times. Both considered CQC training to be very much akin to what is described below by the US Marine Commander, i.e. part of a larger picture (5). The quote from one of these texts indicates the author considered CQC just one cornerstone in the foundation of training; not the whole of the foundation, much less the whole of the building.
This brings us to the intent of "military training." Wars are not fought by individuals, they are fought by armies. Large groups of men working together for victory. Strategies that work for the individual don't work for armies. Yes, I know Musashi claimed that if you studied his sage wisdom you would be able to defeat 10 or 10,000 men. But he never mentioned the problem of feeding or moving those same 10,000 men and their equipment, much less how to deploy them. (6) There is a big difference between "bushido" and "bujutsu/heiho" One is individual, the other is group, and that point is critical about "martial" training.
This brings us to the idea of "martial arts" being about "warrior" training. While that sounds very romantic, it totally ignores the fact that actual military training has less to do with individual accomplishment and more to do with group effort -- and training the individual to work as part of a team instead of thinking of himself only. This has been the formula for success of all great military powers from the Ancient Mesopotamia to modern armies. It is getting a member to stop thinking of oneself and ingraining the ability to function as part of a larger, more effective whole. This is the difference between a "warrior" mentality and a professional "soldier." This is shift away from "self" is more a part of martial training than any particular physical system.
Recently The Learning Channel was running a program on martial arts around the world. The US Marines are using a stripped down version of Gracie Jujitsu as part of their CQC training. A Marine commander, a man whose job it is to train actual "warriors," made an interesting observation, not about what we think of as martial arts, but about CQC's purpose in training. Paraphrased "It is our job to instill the warrior spirit into these men. To make them into Marines. We don't expect them to have to fight at this range. But they must have the spirit and the willingness to fight at all ranges, so we include this in their training of becoming Marines."
How important is CQC to over all "warrior" training? Not very. I would like to point out that in boot camp, a far greater emphasis is placed on, and training is oriented towards, the three things infantry does best: Shoot, Move and Communicate. And dong it as part of a larger team. When was the last time you were taught that in your dojo? Or if you were in the military, how much time did you spend learning CQC? As such, the idea of any "art" that is supposed to instill in you "ancient warrior traditions" while emphasizing personal accomplishment is hardly "military" at all. That point alone should make you stop and reconsider the popular definition of the so-called "martial arts" and any stories you have been told about an empty-handed and/or personal weapon system being part of an ancient warrior skills.
Concurrent with this you should also consider the implications of the fact
that an overwhelming majority of "martial arts" stories are, in fact, about
individual accomplishment...glorifying the individual not the group. The "lone
gunman/ronin facing off a horde of attackers" mythology is very much present,
but carefully concealed in the stories that martial artists tell themselves
about ancient warriors.
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History and "warrior" culture
While I am not denying that they did exist, through out history, so-called "warrior cultures" have always been few and far between. By warrior culture I mean societies that are both ruled by and oriented towards the military/warrior caste. Sparta, Assyrians, Feudalism, feudal Japan, Yanomamo and the Masai are just a few examples of these kinds of cultures.
The reason they are relatively rare is that what it takes to run a society is far more complicated, and involve much more, than what is covered in the "warrior" mindset. In short, a society that is entirely oriented on the warrior caste is a very limited society and not likely to succeed in the long term -- except under very specialized, and isolated, circumstances. This specialization tends to leave such cultures weak in issues such as technology, commerce, economics, diplomacy, internal stability and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. But more importantly, such societies do not address the needs of the majority of its members -- as such they are doomed to fail.
While smaller tribal "warrior" societies are not necessarily "oppressive" they too have their own unique problems (Napoleon Changnon reported in his 1968 study on the Yanomamo that a full one quarter of the men died by violence. While mortality through primitive living conditions accounted for far more, a death rate of 25% is still very high). However, throughout history, larger "militaristic" societies have always been oppressive to their non-warrior castes and/or non-citizens. During the Edo period, the samurai had the legal "right" to strike down any lower class member who gave them offense(7). The Spartans engaged in regular, scheduled, nighttime murderous raids upon the helots (serf/slaves) . These scheduled raids were part of the training of the young homoioi (Spartan warrior class) And nobody can say that the conditions of medieval Europe was a sterling example of protecting human rights. The Crusaders' acts of wholesale slaughter, cannibalism, rapine and brigandary are still used by the Muslim world as one of the many justifications to hate the West.
However, the most current example of the horrors of when a "warrior" culture is unchecked by civil authorities is to be found in the atrocities and war crimes of WWII Japan. The Rape of Nanking, Yangtz River massacre, the Bataan Death March, comfort women, the Korean opium fields, chemical warfare experiments on unit 731, Palawan prison camp massacre and the "mutiny" of Japanese troops ordered to withdraw from Manila are all indicators of the "real" nature of "bushido" when it is in charge. A code that had such "sterling" points as considering anyone not Japanese subhuman, Japanese of non-samurai families barely human, surrender contemptible (and as such, anyone who did surrender as unworthy of living) and a "code" that had no hesitation about sacrificing the Japanese citizenry as cannon fodder to maintain itself in power. (Do some research regarding Japan's attempts for "conditional" surrender and why the atomic bomb was dropped in order to get "unconditional" surrender. Also, pay attention to how/why MacArthur's constitutional changes created such a dramatic revamping in Japanese culture and government. When finally given a chance, the Japanese citizenry democratically threw out the the "samurai ruling class" with amazing speed).
A point that should rock you back onto your heels and make you seriously reconsider your use of the term "martial arts" (and its current militaristic connotations) is that it was during the pre WWII nationalistic and militaristic build up in Japan that the definition of "karate" was coined (empty hand). It was changed from kanji symbol meaning T'ang China-te (Chinese hand) to distance itself from its Chinese and Okinawan roots and make it more Japanese. As was pointed out to me by a reviewer of this page living in Japan, the change was not oral as much as it was written. (The pronunciation didn't change as much as the "spelling." The analogy he pointed out was the difference between dear and deer.) It was also during this time that "karate" adopted Jigoro Kano's Judo belt ranking system.
These changes were made to make to make the system more palatable to the Japanese people. As was its connection to military training emphasized. This was a deliberate act of propaganda to whip the populace up for war. The Meiji restoration did *not* expel the samurai caste from power as many Westerners believe. The changes brought about by the restoration were slowly eroded away by this supposedly "ousted" social class as it regained power over the following seventy years and eventually lead Japan to war. After two hundred years of peace, they were just itching for war. As six non-warlike -- and assassinated -- prime ministers show. As we have already pointed out, the earliest use of the term "martial art" was found in this same period.
In short, the "spindoctoring" of the term to attach it with fighting and warfare largely comes from the twentieth century and from one particular militaristic culture. Although this misinterpretation has been picked up and "run with" by people in other cultures who want it to mean that. It is in the West that either the fighting and/or martial emphasis is stressed -- while largely ignoring the "do" aspects.
It is important to note however, that Japan's warrior oligarchy is indeed an isolated anomaly in the Orient. "Warriors/soldiers" were not held in universal "high esteem" throughout the Orient. In fact, soldiers were often looked down upon and/or feared, as often they were used by oppressive regimes to maintain power. As such, while armies did have influence in history and government, soldiers' influence on culture was most often limited. Furthermore, when researching general history you will seldom find any reference to many of the most cherished "legends" about warrior behavior and/or accomplishments. The largest source of these "legends" about feats of prowess and ancient warriors cultures tends to from the "martial artists" themselves. They are not reflected in legitimate history or supported by research.
Having said all of this, it is not unbelievable that "personal defense" systems existed throughout the Orient.
However, such systems would be significantly different than "warrior" training as they would be more focused on the individual and his/her protection. An example of the difference between personal and military systems is found with the Western "rapier." Although sword fighting was indeed part of the military disciplines, the rapier itself was a personal weapon. Because of its light weight, it found very little use on the battlefields of the 16th and 17th centuries. The swords carried into battle tended to be much heavier as many of the weapons found on the battlefields of that time would have overwhelmed such subtle and sophisticated weapon as the rapier. Rapier techniques deviated drastically from the techniques of the heavier military blades As such, although swords were used on the battlefield, rapier fighting is a personal, not a military discipline.
The raw truth is that throughout history, violence has been common... as has the need for the ability to defend oneself, one's family and your village. However, far more realistic is the fact that the struggle for survival against starvation, disease, catastrophe and oppression takes up far more of the people's time and energy than pursuing a mystic "warrior" ideal. These issues along with raising a family, fitting into your society and just "getting through life" tend to absorb the interests and activities of people -- whether locally or in far off, exotic lands. It should also be pointed out however, that even achieving these non-militaristic ends requires self-discipline, commitment and self-control...which the "traditional martial arts" do teach.
As such, we must consider people who try to glorify these ancient warrior traditions as engaging in fantasy and obsessing on a microscopic aspect of life and ignoring the big picture. As such, it is our conclusion that the use of the term "martial arts" is a case of spindoctoring to make these disciplines sound sexy, exciting and interesting to people who are obsessed with the idea of real fighting or being a warrior.
IF -- and I do strongly emphasize the word if -- these "ancient" empty handed systems were indeed used in "martial training" of ancient warriors, then they were only a small part, not the whole of the process. As such, the popular conception of these systems being "martial arts" is at best erroneous, and at worst, a carefully selected and over-emphasized macho fantasy. A fantasy that carefully ignores the Buddhist and Confucian roots of these "ways." As it ignores the Islamic and Hindu influences in other arts. Return to top of page
Many schools and practitioners of various arts use this "martial" connection to enhance their credibility. Even if it isn't directly stated, the implication is obvious: Ancient warrior tradition = effective fighting system. Unfortunately, this mythology is often told and the inference is indeed encouraged, if not directly stated. This is an act of marketing and salesmanship to attract and maintain students -- which, as we will discuss in the next section, there is definitely "market appeal" to a certain mindset. It is blatantly apparent that this marketing strategy attracts paying customers.
The problem is it leaves the schools/teachers exposed to legitimate criticism when it comes to the fact that the system doesn't work for fighting and, worse yet, fails miserably for self-defense. This is especially true when the system has been modified for sports, liability issues and/or long term customer appeal. Which in order to be successful, much less stay in business, a commercial school MUST do.
When it comes to the argument of "Are traditional martial arts good for fighting?" part of the blame for this fight must be laid at the doorstep of the "traditional" martial arts themselves. By using this "ancient warrior tradition = effective fighting system" approach to attract customers they are indeed misrepresenting themselves and giving the "reality-based" crowd a legitimate ax to grind about the efficiency of what they are teaching for application in conflict.
Any "traditional" art instructor knows that the real value of the arts is in
self-improvement, not fighting. But by selling them as "fighting/self-defense"
systems to initially get people through the door they are helping to create the
dispute and at the same time, misleading their customers. Which if you think
about it, has significant impact on student turn over.
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Martial arts and "fighting"
Until now I have stayed with the historical, cultural, etymological and business reasons why I feel the current focus on "fighting" is in error. The truth is, with all the references and research I have done in those and other subjects, I could have footnoted the hell out of the previous paragraphs . Unfortunately, that would have made this page more pedantic and boring than it already is. And even I have to admit, the previous sections were boring as hell -- and I wrote them! However, I wanted to hold modern "martial arts" and their mythologies up to the mirror of reality and see how well the reflection came back. The answer is not very well.
Now I want to turn my attention to the fixation on "fighting" that so plagues the MA/SD world. And that means I want to hold the same mirror for people who are going on and on and on about "reality fighting" and the "In a real fight, I'd...." crowd. Bottomline, their spaceship of what reality is disintegrates when entering the atmosphere of reality. I'm not even talking about "down-to-earth, nuts-and-bolts" reality yet, I'm still talking general ideas and basics. These are not vague, mythical ideals, I am talking about a "bigger picture" realities. And like it or not, the bigger picture always includes realities that we don't want it to. Things that are conveniently cropped out of the smaller, more specialized, picture.
Let me give you a "fish or cut bait" standard about reality: If something is "true" then you should be able to find it in other places as well.
Truth is reflected all over the place, not just in one particular field. These "local" issues will appear again and again in different forms and interpretations. If they don't, then something is wrong with the picture. The example I use is "secret techniques" if it works, you will see the same idea elsewhere, manifested differently mind you, but you will be able to find many variations. This is why it is so ludicrous when martial artists go on about who stole what technique or who invented this or that idea. If it works, it will be all over the place if you choose to look.
However, that statement about "if something is true..." is a double edged sword. Not only will versions of "local" truths appear elsewhere, but other bigger "outside" issue will appear locally too. As these issues do have a very strong influence on the subject. If they don't appear, then something is wrong with the picture. Which is why I took that trip into history, culture and etymology -- to show how current ideas about "martial arts" don't pass this litmus test. When you hold them up to a bigger picture you begin to see both what is intentionally being left out and how small, insignificant aspects have been blown out of proportion and presented as the whole picture.
A prime example of this idea of bigger pictures intruding on smaller, more specialized one: The truth is that "if you engage in violence, there will be repercussions." In modern civilized societies these repercussions will be legal. In less civilized places, there is a very good chance you have just bought yourself a feud/vendetta. And that is if you "win," there is a very good chance that you will get your ass kicked, be hospitalized or killed. And yet, to what degree is this discussed in either martial arts schools or reality fighting schools? We are talking possible -- if not probable --death and prison here as the outcome of using these ancient warrior arts. But how often and how deeply is this looked into? Or is the fixation only on training for the great and glorious battle against hordes of evil attackers...and the aftermath, only an afterthought?
With that question firmly in mind, there is another test that one must run both "martial arts" and reality fighting by. And that is of psychology, especially regarding motivation and dysfunction. I have to warn you, this one is far, far more damning.
After a lifetime of both study of and involvement in violence I can tell you unequivocally that fighting and violence are multi-layered, multi-faceted, complex issues that involve issues like legal repercussions, psychological considerations, emotional impact, cultural standards and * gasp * moral and ethical issues about use of force. Like it or not, violence doesn't happen in a vacuum, and these issues are very, very much a part of "reality." And they are major factors, not small, in-passing issues that you only talk about once for a few minutes before getting back to the exciting and fun issues of kicking ass. (It's that A/O thing again of logical categories).
When I hear people going on about "reality fighting," which system is the "real" system or why this fighting style would work in a "real" fight I am always reminded of the supposed Mark Twain quote. "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."
A lot of what they are talking about is the "fourteen-year-old" perspective. It is very limited and juvenile, but it is all that they see. As such they have no idea how much they don't see. To them it is all about training for the "ultimate street fight" (or at least what they think the ultimate streetfight is...but that fantasy is another issue altogether) And as such they don't see value in any other focus or system (the other hallways/aspects).
The problem is that many of so-called "reality based" people are never getting to that twenty-one stage where they are seeing that the world is more complex than what they think it is at "fourteen." In other words, they never see "how much dad learned in those seven years." As such they go on endlessly about "how this teacher doesn't know what he is talking about, " how ineffective "traditional" martial arts are for fighting or "how in a "real fight" you have to...." etc., etc., ad nauseum.
Funny thing is most of them have no experience with violence outside being harassed and bullied when they were younger. They have fixated on this concept and in their obsession on "real" fighting without a clue of all that reality contains. It appears, in their way of thinking at least, that the ultimate "streetfight" resembles an "uber-version of a high school fight -- where they slug it out with an "uber-bully." And that is what their training focuses on, full blast, one-on-one fighting.. The idea that a truly violent and dangerous "streetfighter" would walk up behind them and just shoot them in the back doesn't seem to enter their heads. They fixate on and train for their fantasies about violence, not how it really happens.
From all apparent evidence, these kind of people are trying to "rewrite history" (as it is know in psychological circles). If they train hard enough in this ultimate system they will be able fight off the next wave of uzi wielding ninjas that are lurking around the corner waiting to pounce on them (and never addressing what behaviors they were engaging in that would have instigated such a response).We refer to this as the "27 ninjas" or when it comes to women's self-defense, the "Never Again crowd" as there is a distinct "flavor" to people who are training in hopes of rewriting history. Odd thing is, most of these people live otherwise stable lives with very little actual violence in them save for their fixation and training. But, by insisting on their fixation, they ignore all the other values of these systems.
This brings us back to the spindoctoring of the term "martial arts." By emphasizing the "warrior," fighting and "self-defense" aspects -- whether that is what the system was designed for or not -- the marketers prey upon this kind of person's neurosis's and fixations.
In logic, there is a thing called a "straw man" argument. In short "The straw man fallacy is when you misrepresent someone else's position so that it can be attacked more easily, knock down that misrepresented position, then conclude that the original position has been demolished." (8). This straw man idea that has many similarities to the situation we are describing, but instead of destroying it, here it is more like saying "Yes there is a boogey man, and he is exactly what you think he is, and if you study with me for 10 years and give me all your money, I will teach you how to defeat him"
The reason that
knowing about this straw man concept is important is for
two reasons. First instead of knocking down a false
position, the marketers encourage the distorted
perspective in order to profit form it. Second, you will
find that the straw man tactic is most often used when
tearing down traditional martial arts and the particular
"boogeymen" of other "reality based" instructors. In
short anybody who doesn't meet such a person's
expectations of what "real fighting" is, is likely to
become a target of derision -- especially if you were
dumb enough to market yourself or your art this way in
order to attract this kind of business.
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Why aren't "traditional" martial arts good for
Until now I have tried to present a substantiated and reasoned argument about both sides of the problem. And when it comes to the business of martial arts and fighting, the old saw about "there wouldn't be prostitutes...," really applies. There are indeed two sides to the problem. First are the people who are selling myth of the martial arts as ways to become a "warrior" or "the ultimate streetfighter. Second are the people who want it to be about fighting in order to fill a missing "something" within themselves or rewrite history. And quite honestly a whole lot of the behaviors out there on both sides are beyond the simply neurotic, and extend into megalomaniacal, cultish, criminal and even into the downright pathological.
Well kiddies, there comes a point where one's little ducky neurosis's give way to the the brutal reality that this is the real world and that kind of behavior is going to get your brains blown into a fine pink mist if you try to pull them in the wrong place -- especially if in your pursuit of "reality" you have crossed the line from assertive to aggressive. From here on I am going to be doing some plain talking. And I am not going to pull any punches, because unlike many of these idiots who are are mentally masturbating over the idea of violence, I've been down that dark and bloody road and I know what a dead end it is. I also know the kinds of selfish lies and twisted attitudes that lead you down there -- because I had them once myself. People talk about this training being about "self-defense," but they have no idea about the difference between self-defense and fighting. I know this type of self-deception because I used to use it as an excuse to get into the all shit I used to -- "Oh yeah, I was just defending myself" (from an attack that I provoked).
I want you to consider the implications of the following sentences. The concept is a pretty well known behavioral pattern among people who study domestic violence. "Abusers often use getting drunk as an excuse to go off. They in fact, intentionally get drunk to give themselves permission to become violent."
In short, it is what they want to do and being drunk is the excuse they need.
First, I agree with a lot of what Nathan Johnson says in his book "Barefoot Zen" about how the MA have been bastardized and twisted for nationalistic, cultural and economic purposes. He doesn't document nearly as well as I would like, but you will see many of the same conclusions arrived at from a totally different perspective. That of Buddhism. I chose the more historical/political approach because of both religious connotations and ease of documentation. He goes deep into the connections between Buddhist ideals and "moving meditation" that greatly influenced the various system. These concepts that have been lost by the Western emphasis on hitting, sports, fighting and "martial arts." Ideas at odds with Buddhist doctrine.
Second, "traditional martial arts" tend to be more about personal growth, accomplishment and self-control. And yes, these things do allow you to have enough self-discipline NOT to fight. And to quote Carl Totten of the LA Taoist Institute where I studied for a short time when asked "Can this be used for fighting ?" "Yes, it could...but that isn't really what they are designed for." These are the other hallways/aspects that I mentioned.
Third, and this is where the observation about abusers looking for an excuse comes into play: How many of the people who are decrying that "traditional martial arts aren't good for fighting" are actually objecting to the idea that if they follow that "path" they wouldn't get to "go off" on someone?
In otherwords, if a guy is looking for an excuse to fight, how well is he going to accept conditions and standards that will keep him from doing it?
The answer is "not very well."
I mean if the guy is looking for a chance to "rewrite history" and/or an ego builder that lets him bully people and just generally get away with being an asshole because he's a "fighter" then of course he is going to dis' traditional martial arts.
Moreover, how likely is it that such a person is going to invest the concentration and skull sweat necessary to understand the elements that make a technique effective? Without this understanding of the principles and aspects of what make a technique work, such a person is not going to be able to effectively apply the technique under stressful conditions, let alone be able to come up with an effective alternative if the situation doesn't present itself for a particular technique. That takes concentration, self-discipline and critical thinking...which is anathema to what these people want a "fight" to be. They want a fast dirty answer that is guaranteed to work.
There ain't no such critter, but they will pay handsomely anyone who claims to be able to give it to them.
Unfortunately, most people I know who go on and on about traditional MA not being good for fighting remind me of yappy dogs who bark at bigger dogs from the safety of the porch. Technically, they are correct, traditional MA are not good for fighting.. However, these guys in their pursuit of the "Ultimate fighting art" are playing at being fighters. They aren't out in the shit, slamming and jamming or doing high-risk jobs. But "oh boy are they asskickers" because of what great "fighting system" they know.
This is where the yappy dog analogy comes in: They are fascinated and fixated on violence, and they play with it constantly, but they don't go out there and get into it. So they train and train and train for the day that they dream of... the day that they find themselves in a situation where they can give themselves permission to go off and unleash their deadly fighting art.
This is why, so often, when I talk about avoidance and running like hell, I hear people respond with a "But what if I can't run?"
They don't want to hear about "getting the hell out of Dodge." They mentally/emotionally want to paint themselves into a corner so they can give themselves permission to fight.
I cannot tell you how often I encounter this mentality. And not just in one
place, but around the world! They don't want the "realities" of violence,
street-life and crime, they want to learn how to defeat those "27 Ninjas". The
problem is if the shit is that extreme, they're gonna get torn up...maybe
killed. I think on some unconscious level, they know this, which is what keeps
them from ever actually going there. So instead, they flitterygibbit around the
edges, telling themselves how wrong traditional MA are and how what they're
after is "Real fighting" And by gawd, now that they
study with "Studly Dan, the macho man," in his Killer Commando Kung fu
ultimate fighting system they're going to kick ass if they "ever have to use
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Reality of violence
As someone who has been in "real" fights, I can tell you that the "secret" of fighting is real simple. Be a total fucking asshole. I was, that is why I got involved in so many fights. I refused to put a filter on my mouth or curb my actions -- no matter how much it pissed off, hurt or offended other people. My head was so far up my ass as to why "I was right and the world was wrong" that I had people just lining up to fight me. To absolutely guarantee that I found myself in fights all the time I did all sorts of rude and obnoxious things. Selfish and hurtful things that guaranteed that even the most mild-mannered person would feel compelled to stand up and get in my face about what I had done. Is it any wonder that the shit really got ugly when equally selfish and violent people took umbrage at my words and actions -- and took extreme measures to show me how much they disapproved of my conduct?
Getting in fights all the time is easy, just walk around with a chip on your shoulder all the time. And don't do it in a nice safe places while holding down a nice office job. I mean live in shitty neighborhoods, go out to dive bars and work a blue collar job. Don't just visit...live there. Do and say whatever you please and don't give a damn about other people's feelings. Don't respect them, their boundaries, their property or any relationships that they have. Fuck people's wives/girlfriends, rip them off in drug deals and don't give a shit about anybody else. Make it all about you and what you want.
In other words, have no courtesy, respect, manners, self-discipline, be bullying, obnoxious, self-righteous, rude selfish, verbally, emotionally and physically violent -- and do it in places where there are lots of like- minded people around. Not in some safe middle class neighborhood or dojo/academy You'll get more violence than you could possibly dream of coming your way.
I want you to look at what these idiots preach about "traditional martial arts not being good for fighting" this perspective.
They're right, it's not. While traditional MA could be used for self-defense, they definitely suck for fighting -- because they instill self-discipline! The very thing that will keep you out of a "fight."
The question isn't if the traditional MA work or don't work for fighting, but rather is it more along the lines of: Are the people who reject them, rejecting the traditional art's teachings of self-control, courtesy, self-discipline and -- dare I say it -- self-respect?
The whole argument takes on a new perspective when looked at from that point doesn't it?
I want you to think about the internet trolls, the flame wars, the "My guru is god" arguments and all the badmouthing, 'dissin' and such things that you have encountered. And then ask yourself: Is this how someone with self-discipline and courtesy acts?
Or is it more how a bully who is looking to start a fight acts? And in a place where he knows his ass won't have to cover checks his mouth writes?
In other words, in a place where he knows he is safe?
Without claiming to possess them, what I can tell you is that there are indeed incredible "truths" to be discovered through the martial arts. By nature, these revelations are more along the lines of self-improvement.
But now for a little reality break... these revelations aren't through any guru, master, expert or style. These "truths" are far more personal than that. It is through your own understanding, learning, depth and growth that you will discover these truths about yourself and who you are. That puts the onus of thinking and understanding on you. You don't have to "find" what works, but rather through hard work, practice and skull sweat create within yourself something that works. That is how you "master" something: By making it part of you and your awareness. Until you make it part of you, and with your particular understanding, manifest it in your own way, all you are doing is imitating someone else. No matter how proficient your mimicry, until you take this step for yourself, all you are doing is aping your teacher.
In short, which art, your lineage or who your teacher is doesn't matter.... because it is not about those things. It is about you, what you do and who you are.
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My grateful thanks to the Animal List members who helped me formulate my thoughts on this subject and supplied much of the information provided here.
2) "Tae Kwon Do: A historical apprasial" by Dr. Robert Dohrenwend. Dragon Times vol 22-23, 2003. Return to text
3)"Abandon Ship: The Saga of the U.S.S. Indianapolis" by Richard F Newcomb. 1958/2001 return to text
4) For the record, this includes Donn Draeger in his book the Weapons and Fighting Arts of Indonesia (which is the book I have handy). But, as I remember, his texts commonly referred to "fighting arts," names of specific systems and budo/bujutsu -- although not necessarily the "martial arts." The term "martial arts" began to appear in the titles of his books after his death in the early 80s. return to text
5) "Unarmed combat does not seem to be preparation for war, but the study of unarmed combat makes your body used to action. So in fact, it is the basis for further training" General Qi Ji Kwang in "New book of Effective Military Techniques" (1584). And Huang Go Nien's " Xing Yi: Fist and Weapon Instruction" (1928). But both of these individuals had limited impact on how wars were fought after their time. Return to text
6) With all the research I have done I have never found any clear reference to Mushashi actually commanding men. And although he never mentioned any military service in his Book of Five Rings, his "army" experience is unreliably stated as between one to six times (depending on who you ask). That six count is really suspect. There is solid, external documentation of him being on the general staff of the Kokura forces during the Shimabara rebellion. But they weren't in the thick of it nor is it clear what position he held. As for his experience in warfare, the one "battle" that is pretty consistent in all accounts of his life is that he was on the losing side at Seki ga Hara. But that source comes from what his adopted son carved on his shrine and no where else. In short, when it comes down to the claim of "six battles," history doesn't bear that claim out. As such, while no one is contesting his individual prowess, when it comes to his grasp of the "Art of War," it sounds a whole lot like a guy on the loading dock pontificating about how the company should be run. Return to text
7) Kirisute gomen "the right to cross." When the Tokugawa Shogunate ended this practice was outlawed. return to text
8) The straw man fallacy is when you misrepresent someone else's position so that it can be attacked more easily, knock down that misrepresented position, then conclude that the original position has been demolished. It's a fallacy because it fails to deal with the actual arguments that have been made. From Logical Fallacies. Return to text
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