If two English professors argued over the meaning of Xanadu in Kubla Khan by Coleridge they might throw a disparaging remark or they might debate with frenetic energy while they flail their leather patched arms in large, garish gesticulations. They would not however throw a spin hook kick at each other’s face. That would be both preposterous and awesome. However with martial artists it is quite possible that an argument, even a simple one, could lead to testosterone fueled rage punching or spinning hook kicks. The martial arts is inherently violent and practicing any of them brings a certain familiarity to violence. I’m not saying practicing makes you want to punch people all the time (but it might solve an issue or two) but that getting hit or hitting others doesn’t seem as alien once you’ve been in the environment.
A problem with martial arts that leads to the possibility on dangerous entanglements and ego flaring is the often convoluted and obfuscated backgrounds of differing styles. Just with Kempo alone there are multiple splits and schisms. This history is muddy and confusing. Unsurprising for an art that migrated from China to Okinawa to Japan to Hawaii to the West Coast then finally to the East Coast. Differing version of the art stayed in each of those spots. You’ll see the Shaolin monks practicing something completely alien techniques with a few very familiar move sets. Even in the same regions you’ll see differences; even dojo to dojo or instructor to instructor. Kempo is just one of many arts where there are splits and arguments. Then there is the whole my style is better arguments. Or my style is more accurate or this the best way to throw or this the best way to hit. Everything is up for debate. And it isn’t something so easily discovered. You can’t simply say that way’s bullshit mine is better. You have to know both techniques or movements of principles or what have you. And not simple know it on the surface but truly grasp it. There are things I’ve been studying for five years with the art that I’m only now getting a real appreciation for. Imagine twenty more years. Then imagine some brat telling me he knows a better way. It’s a fine line to walk. Humility should reside within the soul of every martial artist but it isn’t always there as strong as it should be. Humility is integral. Growth is stunted without it, you can’t listen and learn if you think you know everything, and having an understanding of how to inflict copious amounts damage is not something to be taken lightly.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject as I’ve been exposed to quite a few different dojos and several different martial styles thanks to some wonderful friends and martial teachers I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. My understanding and appreciation for the arts has grown considerably. I’ve been thrown around by people who do things that seem like witchcraft and appear to the untrained eye preposterous. Not that there aren’t frauds out but I can guarantee the pain I felt was not fake. Quick aside, the worst pain in my martial career involve a lock applied that actually made me think my whole arm might simple unravel, give up and never quite work right again – it was fine afterwards, mostly. One of the things that strike me as interesting is the view set for martial artists varies much more than I’d think. There really are places like the Cobra Kai from The Karate Kid. Some dojos take fighting way too seriously and injury at these places isn’t an if it’s a when. This seems unnecessary to me. But the reason these people are studying is different from mine. I’m quite content to hit softer or to intentionally miss my partner during application of technique. Both are in wrong in a sense for training how to deal with a situation in the street but both let me remain working with my partner. This is part of the root of the problem or at least one of them.
The dojo is a constructed environment. You have a person attack in a prescribed way you both agree on some technique can be done. This is of course totally unrealistic. The guy in street can’t be predicted. They might punch in a big ugly haymaker, which is likely and preferable (preferable in that I takes a long time to swing those and it gives me a whole bunch of time to react, of course that’s if I see it) or they might be high school athletes and try to wrestle or tackle me to the ground (much less preferable, their buddy might be around who could kick me for one, two ground is dangerous period). But this prescribed way lets you understand the technique and it’s principles. Once you get it you can deconstruct it. Figure out why it works. Then apply it to other situations. That is often missing from some of the classical martial training. Its often twenty different move set to be remembered per type of attack. The bloating of material can be a bad thing as your plan only works before you get hit or if the arm bar is slightly more to the left.
But each dojo is its own little culture. I’m reminded of this every time I enter someone else’s place of study. I often remind myself as I tend to have mouth that spurts out thought before it passes through a filter. This is bad when you are a guest and worse when you are surrounded by people who train to fight. Fortunately I’ve been polite and humble even when I’ve been weirded out or uncomfortable at places. It might be normal at one places to train hard and focus on fitness. Another place is obsessed with realistic street training but not the spiritual or historical significance. Another still might be a McDojo. Those are universally reviled within the community. Quite a few sprang up after The Karate Kid as every parent decided maybe their little guy might need some wizened sensei to straighten out their kid. Meanwhile the kids haze dreams of tournaments and jumping side kicks. The teachers simple have a desire to cash checks. They pass on just enough knowledge to be slightly credible and produce belt factories. The kids keep getting to next level and they show some progress but mostly its ego stroking. They don’t produce legitimate black belts. The legitimacy of black belts is a big point of controversy. Some styles mandate set amounts of years beside having material before achieving rank, regardless of talent. I don’t disagree with the practice I simply don’t prescribe.
There are whole articles on what constitutes a McDojo and what constitutes real martial arts. I find some of it laughable. Simply because these people often come from a very specific mindset. They need a set of knowledge for grappling, striking and ground work. But they slop varying style together haphazardly. There is a reason boxers fight the way they do. Boxers are great gifted fighters. I wouldn’t want to fight one. But if I did I would kick the shit out of their shins and knees. Why? Because they don’t train to the handle that. Plus getting punch from a boxer sound very unappetizing. You keep throwing up these what if and the style has to morph and change and be muddied. You don’t just take a kick from one style and punch from another. Picking and choosing doesn’t work. There is a foundation of knowledge and understanding the leads somewhere. That style moves a certain way and that’s why they kick like that. You take the kick but not the movement you lose the reasoning behind it.
There tends to be this idea that the best fighting style is the best style. I don’t believe that. I’m not learning simply to be able to defend myself. I’m learning to kick ass in tournaments. I’m not learning to show off or make money. I’m learning because I enjoy it and it has made me be a better person. My martial journey has been about improvement. In part it’s about crafting technique but it’s a also about bettering me. That is the reason why martial arguments seem petty to me. That’s why I simply listen when people argue about legitimacy. Yes, I’ll sometimes get swept away and say people are not where they need to be for rank or that I think certain techniques are useless. But I try not to do that. I’ve only been studying for five years and every day I learn that I really have only scratched the surface of understanding. The better I get the more I see that I can’t do. Every time I think I perfect a stance or a punch or a movement something new pops up.
So I’ll try to stay out of argument about which style is better and what attitude is correct because the reason I chose to study might not the right one for others. All I know is that I know only a fraction and that I’ll never be done learning. So who am I to say one style is better or that one kind of punch is best?