Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Martial arts forums, talk, and such

The place where questions
 are answered.
Why is everyone so damned polite on the Internet? Is it because of a cultural tidal wave of political correctness that we have forgotten how to be critical without ad hominem attacks? Wouldn't the martial arts benefit from some critical analysis, from some peer review? I watch videos on YouTube of people demonstrating kata that are down right horrendous and no one can say anything other than "nice" things. And these aren't beginners. I could understand if it were beginners, but I'm talking about people who have supposedly been training for years. Is it because of a recent case where someone was hit with a libel suit because they had written a scathing review of a business on their blog site? I suppose that would be chilling. Who's to blame? Is society to blame? Or the people with the hubris to put themselves up on YouTube?  Or the teachers who masquerade as experts?

Not the dreaded ridge-hand
at the end of Saifa kata.
And I'm not even talking about bunkai! There's some pretty silly stuff out there. I know it's been said before--and I do think the Interent has the potential to be a wonderful resource--but there's no filter on it. Perhaps the problem is that there are many many karate practitioners out there who subscribe to the view that there are many applications to every move in kata. Or as it says over and over again in Kane and Wilder's book, The Way of Kata, "more than one proper application exists for any given movement of any given kata....Anyone who says differently simply does not understand what he or she is talking about." Of course there is some ambiguity here. What do we mean by "proper application?" But, for example, do we mean that the final technique in Saifa--the mawashi uke if you will--can be used to break someone's double-handed grab? Or as a push? Or as a ridge hand attack to the opponent's ribs? Sure you can use it in any of these ways, but is that what was originally intended? 

This sort of view is only a small step--a little sliding step if you will because it's a slippery slope--from the notion that a technique can mean anything. And it's not too hard in the confines of the dojo--with a compliant junior student--to make anything work. Or to change certain aspects of the technique shown in kata and say that you're showing variations or hidden techniques or oyo bunkai or the more advanced levels of this that and the other. People say all manner of things when pushed into a corner. But whatever the bunkai, it should be logical, lethal, and conform to the principles of martial movement. It's easy to dismiss bunkai that isn't based on sound martial principles.

And to some degree, the same thing applies to kata. You can "see" the bunkai in a good performance of kata. I would argue that some of the performance kata one sees on the Internet may be appealing to the eye of the inexperienced--excessive use of dynamic tension, moves that are held too long, overly large and sweeping arm movements--but they only underscore the lack of any real understanding of bunkai on the part of the demonstrators. Okinawan karate, if done properly, is probably not very pretty to look at--certainly not very stylish or flamboyant--but it is effective.

So rant aside, what I am suggesting is that martial arts needs some critical rather than polite discourse. We need to argue with each other and scrutinize. We need to debate and defend and be a little less thin-skinned or politically correct. I think everyone would benefit from more open discourse.


  1. Certainly...but how to accomplish this?

    The 'seniors' don't post, and the ones that do are usually interested in self-promotion...not in contributing to a larger body without attribution. (After all...doesn't everyone think their XXX is the best one?)

    Self-interest being what it is, 'being polite' in a public forum is the lesser of two evils. But private, invite only forums, suffer from insularity and at times the whimsy of owner dictatorship. 'No holds barred' seems to be the preference...and civility a casualty in these back rooms.

  2. Narda has some good points but there are those with experience and seniority out there that do post and have no expectations of dictatorship, hinderance due to insularity (is this really a word?), and without civility.

    I have posted over the years and I have practiced, trained and studied for about thirty-six years. I know of others as well.

    I have membership in the Talk Isshinryu Forum where the discussions are lively, open and honest. It is not often you find these traits in such on-line forums but they do exist.

    The others are:

    The Classic Budoka
    Martial View
    Shinseidokan Dojo
    Mokuren Dojo
    My Journey to Black Belt
    Wim Demeeres Blog

    and more .... just gotta be persistent.