Saturday, September 15, 2007

More on Martial Arts

Edwin said: "Still, there's a difference between trying to warn potential students off of a bad teacher and what we were discussing.

Looking at the different martial arts in the US, not just silat, do you think this divisiveness is unsolvable then?"

My hit:

Absolutely not ever going to be resolved.

Every art I've ever been around considers itself superior. They might be low-key about it, might not get into somebody's face and brag about it, but they believe it.

Within the art, each branch thinks likewise. It's not just that Japanese karate guys think what they do is better than what the Korean guys do, it's that their particular sensei is better than the sensei down the road.

In Okinawa-te, we lived for the guys from other systems who would drop by to spar with us. Our teacher wanted us to kick their asses to show whose style was better, and generally, we did. Because a TKD guy who had gotten his black belt in eighteen months did not have the experience of our green belts, who typically took three years to get there. Our black belts were all six or seven years in, and we sparred every class. By the time I was a green belt, I could hold my own against our black belts -- I had no choice, it was block or get pasted, and we hit pretty hard.

And yet, we learned the X-block as our first knife defense, and that will get you killed real quick if you try it against anybody who knows which end of the knife does the cutting.

In the big arts, ones with thousands of players, there can be some uniformity -- literally is, in most cases. This is how the kata is done, and everybody has to do it this way to rise in rank. They can make it stick, but even in something like Korean arts, there are so many variants -- old-style, sport-style, Tae Kwon Do, Moo Duk Kwan, Tang Soo Do, Hapkido, Kook Sool, etc. And each of them thinks his is the way to go.

Then you get into street versus dojo, reality versus tourneys, weapons, barehanded ... the ways of splitting the apple are endless. I've had MMA guys tell me they could kick my ass. Twenty-five years old, trains three hours a day, takes steroids and pumps serious iron. And I say, sure, you can, using your rules. Can I bring my knives?

I've had guys say, Yeah, bring 'em. I'll still kick your ass.

How are you going to deal with that kind of brain-lock?

The village arts don't group well. In Java, they tried to come up with a national version of silat. It looks a lot like tournament karate with takedowns and the old guys out in the boonies laugh at it and shake their heads.

As long as there are gurus willing to print up colorful certificates of rank to please rich American players who come by, the instant Pendekars who wave those papers and make claims are going to have trouble convincing real silat players they have any skill, so that gap stays.

A silat player I know, who has been to a Tjimande village several times to train, points out that he did see Wm. Sanders's photograph up on the bulletin board in one of the teacher's houses. He (Sanders) had been there and trained. This player also points out that there was no electricity in that village, so the Pendekar didn't get his certificate printed up there. Editorial Note: The logic would seem to be that they had some of these printed up to have on hand, or they sent somebody into town to get some. Largely in English, if you read it. Why would that be?

To be fair, Sanders does have some skill, has been studying and training for years, so that's not in question. We have had some long email discussions that were, by and large, at least civil, and finally agreed to disagree, mostly since he claims my art doesn't really exist. But that early question of his credentials has dogged him all along, and will continue to do so in some circles. It might be true, but it sounds fishy, given what was known about what he knew then. Old mistakes, especially when you hold them up for public viewing, can come back to haunt you.

Oil and water, they aren't ever going to mix and stay mixed. Me, I'm not interested in tilting at that particular windmill -- it's a no-win situation.

Like Chas Clements says, you get a bunch of martial artists together and a fight breaks out?
What a surprise ...


Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

You should have seen the family fights inside Kajukenbo when Todd was studying it-- and that art was less than a generation old, the original founders were mostly still alive.

Mushtaq Ali said...

While it may never be resolved in a general sense, there are oasis of sanity to be found.

Our (The League of Nonaligned Martial Artist) Twice yearly "Gathering of the Tribes" usually has about 50 people. mostly black belt level from several different schools hanging out and playing together for several days without any friction at all.

The thing to remember is that just because someone has a black belt they don't HAVE to be immature assholes.

Stephen Renico said...

I'm not a silat guy, myself, but someone did show me a cool silat video. Enjoy:

Steve Perry said...

Alas, the oasis of sanity is seldom found in the desert of egotistical obnonxiousnes ...

Good that you try, though, and better to light that one candle ...

Stephen --

Impressively fast hands and feet, those guys. Being somewhat older and heavier, I can't do any of that kind of thing, so if slow and steady won't do it, I'm not gonna get it done ...

Mushtaq Ali said...

Things seem to be getting a bit better I think.

I just got back from the Sulong tournament down in Chicago where my students did a day of really fun full contact competition. This gig was put together by a couple of groups of Karate and FMA players in that area It was a day of hard fighting and good sportsmanship without a single inflated ego.

The trick is just not putting up with bad behavior. The people who like to stir up shit just don't get invited. There is lots of networking going on that helps make this possible. I suspect that we will be seeing more of this in the future and the bad elements will become more and more marginalized.

Of course I am known to be something of a Pollyanna.

Steve Perry said...

Would, Mushtaq, that this were the case. Given my experience in assorted martial arts, it has always seemed that the sense of innate superiority in a given style is part and parcel of the stuff.

Not that I won't smile and nod and work out with somebody from another system. Nor fail to acknowledge that this other art may indeed have value. Or that if it works for you, hey, more power to you -- everybody has got to be some place.

But -- and as honest as I can be here -- in my heart of hearts? It's hard not to believe that my art is a better path ...

Intellectually, I know that isn't true, for so many reasons. There is no perfect art that has all the answers. Every system has flaw, gaps, weaknesses.
There are many paths up the mountain. Shorter ones might be quicker; longer ones offer a better vista.

Monkey-brain knows that.

However, if wired up to a lie detector and with a stress analyzer parsing my words? If asked did I think my system was closer to perfect than all those others and I said, "Why, no." I would likely kick the machines into hoots and hollers like those in a science fiction movie as the computer counts down to total planetary destruction ...


I know, intellectually, that it's the player that matters most. That superb fighters can come from what seem to be ineffective systems, and vice-versa. That most of the fight is under the hat, not the glove.

Most of it. Some of it is the tools. I like the ones I'm learning. Compared to other styles in which I've trained, they are more efficient. They work better. Not a complete sample, but one based on personal experience.

There's no question that this is the best path for *me.* And, of course, if I chose it, then it must be right ...

Rationalization is a powerful force.

Just as I intellectually know that I'm not much of a fighter as these things go, but in my heart, I believe that if push comes to shove, I can dance with anybody and hold my own.

Well, except for Steve Plinck. But even then, I feel I'd get a lick or two in ...

Is that Mr. Ego beating his chest in the woods?
Could be. Or the thing that lives in the cave that has only two choices: Live or die, and the second choice isn't an option ...

And I'm one of the most reasonably fellows around, easy-going, affable, open-minded.
If that's how I see things, what does that say for folks without my humble attitude ... ?

I have had some spirited discussions with men who are reasonable up to a point, and then they lose connection with reality. At best, we get to an agree-to-disagree state, and that's not the same as a peaceful accord ...

Mushtaq Ali said...


The only thing that needs to change is that a person take
"My martial art is the best martial art"
And add
"My martial art is the best martial art for me
To stop being a childish twit and become an adult on the matter.

We both know that there are some seriously damaged human beings in the martial arts, and unfortunately some of them become teachers and pass on their damage to their students. This will always be the case I suspect, given human nature, but it does not have to be the norm.

I drove back from Chicago with my buddy Buzz Smith, who is the senior most instructor of Maharlika Kuntaw (mahaguru, though he never uses the title) Buzz understands that his Kuntaw is the best martial art, for him, just as he understands that my silat is the best martial art, for me.

Because we understand this important distinction we work together well and without friction. Because we have passed this concept to our students, They get along quite well and hold each other in the highest regard.

Buzz's student Bill took first in full contact Stick, I coached him for this tournament. My student Marc came within one point of taking Bill's title and ended up in second place. Bill helped me train Marc while I was training Bill.

I have Buzz work with my students at least twice a year or more because he has a unique perspective, his students come and work with be for the same reason. Everyone I hang out with in the martial arts world holds these values. (and that's a good number of people, growing all the time)

Assholeness in martial arts is a lifestyle choice, not a birth defect (at least in most cases).

One of the big things that I have found to help is competition. I know that this is a very unpopular idea in most Silat here in the States, and I know all the arguments for why competition is "bad" and have found them to be wanting. When my guys (and girls, my single most accomplished fighter is a 13 year old farm girl who fought full contact stick and knife and won against men twice her size and age this weekend)
Go to tournaments and get to fight people who do it differently than they do it provides a healthy reality check, something a lot of martial artists might benefit from.

I don't mean to lessen what you have experienced in the way of negativity in the martial arts. I know what you have put up with since I have been in on some of the discussions. It is just a matter of where you put your energy, and karma works. Look at Vic and his sycophants these days. They made themselves irrelevant through their own actions, shot themselves in their own feet and are pretty much a laughing stock among thinking martial artists everywhere.
(You might have helped just a little with that, which would make you agent of karma) :-)

There are a lot of really good people in all different styles of the martial arts world, let the assholes stew in their own poisons.

Dan Gambiera said...

You can still pass the grownup test by saying "My martial art is the best I can find with the best teacher I can find within the distance I'm willing to travel and the time and money I'm willing to spend." In other words "the best for me at the moment". If our teacher had moved to Texas instead of Washington and Buzz or Cliff Stewart had ended up here or Steve Wilson had been more public about his teaching all these years I'd probably have ended up in one of their orbits. I wouldn't feel like my time had been poorly spent.

The limiting factor wouldn't have been quality of the system or the teacher. It would have been (and is) my ability to absorb it and diligence at practicing. The same can not be said for a number of other teachers and styles.

Sometimes it's a question of personal style. There's a teacher out there whom I consider at least as good at what he does as Guru Plinck is at what he does. In terms of actual fighting experience, the quality of facilities and the collected experience of the people he teaches he's got the edge. But that doesn't mean that his school would be a good fit for me even if it were a few thousand miles closer.

Steve Perry said...

Both Dan and Mushtaq have eloquent points, and I don't disagree with the feelings behind them. I merely point out, given the nature of people as they seem to be, that adult attitudes are in short supply.

One needs look no further than the President of the United States and his Administration to have that brought home in the smoke-belching, gear-grinding uglymobile.

Unilateral adut behavior works if you have command of the children and can administer to them with authority. If not? Well, if you think climbing a rope is hard, try pissing up one ...

It's not that I don't believe most people have the potential to act in a reasonable, adult manner -- I think they do. However, potential is not reality. In the real world, a lot of so-called adults behave like cranky two-year-olds.

Given the population as a whole, I don't see that martial artists are a step up. If anything, their pugnacious nature makes it worse.

Yes, it's all good, but some of it is better, some of it is worse. In my experience.

As you pointed out, Mushtaq, I have fought the good fight against this kind of behavior for a while, and it's a lot like battling a hydra -- lop off one hideous head, another pops up to replace it before the blood congeals.

I didn't say I was gonna stop trying, but I do believe that planning for victory might be less than realistic.

I'm a romantic, I love the lived-happily-ever-after ending. There is a difference twixt wishes and horses, however.

The question was, did I think the generalized contention amongst marital artist was going to be resolved?

The answer is still the same: Nope. I've seen no evidence that it will. The Mushtaq gatherings, alas, seem to be one of the exceptions that proves the rule.

They're all crazy except me and thee, but ... sometimes, thou seems to have a wild-eyed look in thine eyes ...

Bobbe Edmonds said...

I enjoyed the Gathering of the Tribes this year, and admit I was surprised at the level of camaraderie. Nobody got an ego on and started spouting rhetorical nonsense about whose teacher/style/system was better for whatever situation. So much so that I am going to Grand Rapids instead of Indonesia next year. Why not train with people you get along with, no politics?

Dunno how long we can keep the idjits from overrunning the barricades, but it's fun while it lasts.