Friday, October 16, 2009

En Garde!

This is not another broadside in the ship-to-ship cannonades of the silat wars, but a general observation demonstrating the truth of something that Chas Clements used to use as the closing to his Usenet postings -- I'll get back to that in a minute.

I have among my small circle of friends two men who are dedicated martial artists. They are adept and long-time players. Different styles, different parts of the country. We don't always agree on all things all the time, but that is no barrier to the level of respect in which I hold them.

Both of these men are embroiled in disagreements with other martial arts folks, and these differences arise from that most heinous aspect of the arts, politics.

At the simplest level, this comes out as "My art is better than yours." Variations on this are "My teacher is better than yours." Or "I am better than you."

We have the One True Path™ and since you a) left the path or b) weren't ever on it, why, then, you must be on the wrong road ...

Since martial arts histories for many eastern disciplines, especially those in SE Asia, tend to be somewhat spotty when it comes to documentation, these things also get called into question and debate quite often. Oral history is very colorful, but sometimes accuracy suffers in the retelling. Myths and campfire stories transmute into Real Truth™, and evidence often amounts to "Well, that's what my teacher said and I believe him!"

You tell the tale for what it is worth, but you don't get attached to the notion that it is absolutely so, because you can't prove it. Was my art begun by a one-armed, club-footed man who, despite these handicaps, mastered a vast range of fighting arts, came from a village where nobody interacted with the outside world, and lived to be over a hundred? It's a great story. I got bupkis for evidence.

I confess that I have allowed myself to get sucked into these debates at times when I should have let them sail on by. Part of that is because I hate to see things I see as fancy get passed off as fact. Part of it is because I don't mind wading into a debate and having a fine ole wrangle. You hone your abilities to make your case against the stones of the opposition.

But while debate has rules, and can be good clean fun, once the stuff gets personal and the name-calling starts -- "You suck, you lying liar!" -- then it ain't debate any more, and it gets tiresome in a hurry.

Had that thrown at me a time or two. Then it comes down to the show-me aspect, and I've made that offer to a few folks. If you say your horse is faster than mine, there's an easy way to see ...

Um. Anyway, my two friends have gotten a lot of undeserved flak when they were minding their own business. Both have responded to it. I think it's a shame they've gotten crap slung at them, but that seems to be how human nature works, and they are allowed to defend themselves against it.

The Clements's line: A bunch of martial artists get together and a fight breaks out? What a surprise ...

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