Around a decade ago, I attended a seminar with a famous Shanxi Xingyiquan master. Aggressive and direct, Xingyi is one of the few boxing arts known to have been used in preparation for organized warfare. Its emphasis on straightforward practicality was combined with enough subtlety to earn a reputation as one of the original Chinese “internal” martial arts.
After the seminar was over, I bought a T-shirt to commemorate the occasion. According to the text on the back of my new shirt, I was now an unofficial member of “The International Association of Defensive Martial Arts”.
Nevermind that we had spent the last 6 hours eviscerating each other with spears, sabers and bayonets, metaphorically speaking. Nevermind that, according to the principles of Xingyi and all other respectable combat arts, the use of purely defensive techniques is forbidden. Despite all this, in public, we were expected to present ourselves as practitioners of self-defense. Not offense.
After Karate expert Lyoto Machida’s recent win in UFC 98, fans immediately started talking about a comeback for traditional martial arts. Prior to Machida’s victory, the couch potato consensus had written off traditional training methods as superstitious and ineffective. How quickly perceptions change.
Two short weeks later, Brazilian featherweight Jose Aldo won a truly stunning victory against Cub Swanson in WEC 41. Total match time: 5 seconds. Winning technique: crane kick.
Following is a selection from Dave Lowry’s essay collection, The Karate Way.
We have to admit that the popular image of the black belt is inextricably woven into the general perception of these arts we follow. While we may have a more comprehensive view of the belt, we need to see that in the population outside the dojo, in the world at large, it usually means something else. When a black belt is conferred upon a karateka, that has implications in the popular imagination. And we should consider some ramifications that perception and those implications have upon what people think about karate-do.
Ikken Hissatsu, the popular Japanese Karate maxim, is usually translated as “one punch, one kill”. And although you won’t see it in the sporting ring, it does happen in real life. As reported in the Seattle Times,
The July 9 confrontation began while James Paroline was watering plants in the traffic circle, where he set cones on the street to protect his watering hose. Instead of driving around the cones, a group of girls got out of a car and two of them yelled at Paroline.
One of the girls summoned Brian Keith Brown, who was driven to the scene. He hit Paroline once and walked away…
Hans Aschenbach, a friend of Paroline’s for 20 years, said the [cellphone video evidence] proved Brown deserved a long sentence. “The video is shocking and was really an execution with a fist.”
Now, I’m not going to ask whether, with all your Karate training, you could have stopped someone like Brian Brown. That is too easy.
Excerpted from Chris Thompson’s Black Belt Karate:
Karate kata (formal exercises) was the only way karate was taught up until the 1930s. In the kata, all the elements of correct karate practice are stored. The vast majority of kata that are practiced in the dojo today and used on the tournament circuit can be traced right back to China or Okinawa.
They appear to be dance-like drills, constantly repeated by students, yet hidden in these movements are hundreds of kakushi waza (secret techniques). These appear to be one form of technique, but in fact may be doing something completely different.
Reader Rory Miller asks,
“What is the difference between martial artists and BDSM players?”
To minimize any confusion, I have compiled this handy reference chart.
In thousands of halls across our great nation, an archaic manuscript hangs on the wall. Written many decades ago, in a time and place quite foreign to our own, this inscrutable document anchors us to a primitive culture that we would do well to forget. I submit to you that it holds no value to us today; as rational men and women, we should put our sentiments aside and discard this anachronism immediately. Our traditions must not be allowed to stand in the way of progress.
What makes this document so odious? Simply put, it is subjective. Instead of identifying specific behaviors for its reader to follow, it describes general principles and leaves each reader to interpret them as they see fit. These statements are so vague and meaningless that they could conceivably be used to justify anything.
Who decides what this document really means?
Two underappreciated facts about self-defense:
- The time for avoidance is before the fight starts. Once it has started, you should abandon any notions of yielding or appeasement, and focus on not losing the fight. To honor this distinction, you must be able to recognize the seeds of violence before they sprout.
- Statistically speaking, your probable attacker does not care about you. It’s nothing personal, really. If someone else had walked into the wrong place at the wrong time, they would have been assaulted instead.
No martial arts training should be required to appreciate these points, which can be derived from basic human empathy. The worst Karate move I ever learned, however, flagrantly disregards both of them. Before examining that inferior technique—and a superior alternative—let’s briefly consider the context in which it is taught.
10:41 PM. Responding to an assault call, Officer Tim Hoffman takes statements from the two parties involved.
John’s story: “I just came down here to relax, man. So I was sitting at the bar, and I heard this man and woman arguing over there in the corner. I could see the situation was getting out of hand, so I walked over there, and calmly suggested they should lay off. The guy just blows up, gets in my face, starts swearing and threatening me. I knew I’d have to defend myself, right? I got into a defensive stance.
Rewriting History, Wiki Style
Martial arts are systems of codified practices and traditions of training for combat. While they maybe studied for various reasons, martial arts share a single objective: to defeat a person physically or to defend oneself from physical threat.
Wikipedia’s simplistic definition begs the question: martial arts are martial arts. The statement itself is neither true nor untrue—it is a game rule—but it does reflect an ignorance of, or perhaps a malevolence towards historical facts. Taken at face value, it encourages a dismissive, one-dimensional analysis of the arts’ tremendous potential.
To avoid limiting our achievement in the martial arts, we should begin with an honest and dispassionate accounting of the past. What was the real original purpose of various “martial arts”?
The first clues may be found in our forefathers’ own speech and writings.