Thursday, May 24, 2007

Karate is Deadly, but ...

Last Year's Sera Plinck Seminar

I've been having an interesting email discussion with a former silat player who has moved into other martial arts. This man was once a student at a different branch of the same art that I study. Nice guy, good interchange, he's knowledgeable about martial arts, and I am enjoying our talk

He, as did many of the senior students of this not-gonna-name-it-branch, got disgusted and left because he wasn't getting what he signed up to get. Lotta sizzle, not much steak.

What I find interesting is that what he learned in his years there seems to be considerably different than what I am learning. Yes, we have the same basic drills, called djurus; his teacher and mine trained under the same guru; and yet, some of what seems to be so basic and at the heart of what I do, he never heard from his instructor.

Some of this is different terminlogy -- each teacher develops his own shorthand. But some of it is a matter of knowlege that just didn't get transmitted.

Maybe this is like people going to a book club and having discussions. They've read the same novel, but they are getting different things from it, because they interpreted what they read based on who they are and what they brought with them.

Or maybe his teacher didn't really understand it. There's a great quote from George Turner, in A Pursuit of Miracles: "A thing can be told simply if the teller understands it properly."

(That one is pinned to my bulletin board, next to the last words of Union General John Sedgewick, at the Battle of Spotsylvania. The Confederate lines were eight or nine hundred yards away, and Sedgewick was irritated at his men, who kept ducking every time a shot was fired. "I'm ashamed of you men!" he reportedly said. "What are jumping and dodging around for? They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance!"

Whereupon, of course, Sedgewick was instantly shot dead, a miniball to the face, just under his eye. Bad idea to tempt Fate that way ...)

In martial arts circles, tribalism is rampant. My system is better than yours, my style better than yours, my teacher can whip yours, yadda yadda, yadda, you hear this all the time. Sometimes you even say it ...

But, even allowing for the feeling that what you do is intrinsically better than what somebody else does when it ain't necessarily so, sometimes you see evidence that indicates you aren't altogether wrong. I have seen several of this -- um, other teacher's senior students up close and personal. For years, these folks were quick to point out that what we up in the Pacific Northwest did was inferior, silat-lite, as it were. And yet, these adepts of a superior style, when dancing in fun, couldn't demonstrate any particular superiority.

I'm old and slow and not particularly adept, and won't live long enough to get really good at silat Sera, and yet, skipping the false modesty, I not only could keep up with these younger, better-art-than-mine guys, I believe that if push came to shove, I could give them plenty to worry about.

Oh, hell, let's just say it: I could kick their asses. No question, hands down, that's the name of that tune ...

Talk is cheap, of course -- well, except that as a writer, mine pays pretty well some days -- and maybe I'm am deluding myself; then again, if you cross hands with somebody and you can routinely take their center? That does tell you something ...


Anonymous said...

Don't tell anyone I said this, but I've always had this niggling, heretical suspicion that it's the practitioner and not the style.

When people rice bowl guard or wave their silat e-peens, it always (always always) means that they're compensating for something. So much the worse if they have martial puissance, because in that case they paid for it.

Paid dearly in other aspects of their lives.

Steve Perry said...

I believe this is largely true. However, no matter how good a leathersmith you are, you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Different arts offer different platforms, and some are better than others. If you want to learn how to use a knife, you don't take karate lessons; if you want to learn how to shoot a bow and arrow, you get into kyudo, not kendo ...

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's the other problem. 99% of everything is some rotten kim chee. Especially silat, where in the US, charlatans can get away with passing off an inferior article as reality.

Steve Perry said...

Problem with an uneducated populace -- it's hard to separate the wheat from the chaff if you don't know what they one or the other is supposed to look like.

Because there is so little silat in the U.S. compared to a lot of other arts, most people don't have a clue as to what it is supposed to be or do, and generally can't tell hung gar from the hokey-pokey.

It has always been that way here in the states. When karate and TKD showed up, there were Judo guys who all of a sudden were experts in the new stuff.

When Kung-Fu aired on TV, all of a weekend, a lot of karate school signs got painted over with the yin-yang circle and we had scores of Quai Chang Caine clones.

Every time a new art arrives on the scene, people crawl out from under their rocks and claim it, whether they know it or not. No reason silat should be any different.

Sometimes they are outright frauds, sometimes they take a few lessons, and then distill the essence of the art from all that jumble stuff into the Real Deal (tm).

Then again, there are some oily characters in the old country, too, who are willing to give you a fancy certificate with lots of stamps and artwork proclaiming you an instant Pendekar if you show up, do a form, and then fork over a nice bit of change.

I suppose it is possible that they can see it in you, but one tends to look askance at such things.

We here in the states don't have a monopoly on charlatans ...