Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Are All Fighting Systems 'Martial Arts'?

When I was a kid, the term martial arts meant fighting forms designed for self-defense that had distinct Far Eastern roots. We all came to know that judo, karate and kung fu were martial arts. In time, non-Eastern forms would be included, such as Krav Maga, Sambo, and Capoeira. Recently, a thread on reddit asks if Mike Tyson was one of the top martial artists of the last century. It really begs the question: Is boxing a martial art? For some, this broadens the definition of martial arts too much.

Of course, some martial-art styles don't engage in contests. Iaido, a Japanese sword-drawing art that utilizes pre-arranged solo forms, is one. Others such as Aikido is strictly defensive in nature. Traditional Aikidoka do not engage in contests like in sport Jiu-jitsu or Judo. In Karate, point-style matches are scored where strikes — particularly punches and kicks to the head — do not make full contact. Adherents would be foolish to think that training exclusively this way would prepare you for the real thing. It would be like thinking that playing flag football could get you ready for the NFL.

Bruce Lee, Miyamoto Musashi, et al., have said that in the martial arts the way you train is how it happens in real life. Musashi was a 17th century duelist who faced over sixty men in his life. Lee, who died in 1973, had a combat resume that's a bit sketchy. Joe Lewis, one of the great full-contact fighters who briefly studied with Lee, said in an interview that while Lee was a great teacher with a wealth of knowledge, he was not a fighter. Lewis is using the term fighter in the same way you would call a boxer a fighter. Lewis himself was a fighter of course, as was Bill "Superfoot" Wallace and Benny Urquidez, other karatemen who later became full-contact kickboxers.

So should all fighting systems be regarded as "martial arts"? Martial arts have roots in militarism. Are members of US Navy SEALs and Special Forces martial artists? Indeed, the Marine Corps has created a martial arts program dubbed the Ethical Marine Warrior, which has a philosophical core of honor, courage, and respect. Certainly, these are virtues that are consistent in the Japanese budo, the traditional martial arts and ways.

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Sunday, December 23, 2018

Cannabis Infused Jiu-Jitsu

Jiu-jitsu competitors have found a new way to get smashed on the mat — a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament where getting high on pot is a requirement. With recreational marijuana sweeping the nation state by state, it was only a matter of time for the next step in sportive martial arts events to happen. This is not a joke or a lark.

From the promoters' blog:

High Rollerz hosted a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competition where fighters must smoke marijuana before grappling up. The winner took home a pound of weed.

While we know athletes from various sports smoke marijuana, whether using CBD to treat ailments or to reduce pain after a tough match, perhaps nowhere is marijuana usage more prevalent than in MMA. As UFC commentator Joe Rogan has said, “A tremendous amount of UFC fighters smoke pot. A massive amount. […] More UFC fighters smoke pot than don’t smoke pot.”

But it’s still surprising to learn that High Rollerz hosted a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competition where fighters must smoke marijuana before grappling up. Organizers estimated about half the tournament was “pro fighters.” And the prize? A pound of weed, which is an estimated worth between $4,000-5,000.

Marijuana has some interesting affects on the central nervous system of users, none of which seem conducive (at least to me) to being an effective fighter. Unlike alcohol which loosens inhibitions such as aggression, pot (and other cannabis derivatives) is a drug of peace inducement. But according to proponents of these BJJ weed-smoking tournaments, marijuana has transcendent properties that help enhance focus, the ability to relax, and being in the "zone" where executing techniques happen spontaneously and effortlessly.

All kinds of positive research have been done on the medical benefits of marijuana. But I think you would be hard pressed to find a competitive fighter from another art who would extol the virtues of weed. Not all BJJ practitioners are on board with smoking dope before a match, as illicit drugs (including true enhancers, such as steroids) are antithetical to the spirit of martial arts, where practitioners are obliged to be good citizens and role models to look up to.

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Legalize It

Nunchucks are back!

Well, they never really went anywhere. But if you happen to live in New York, you are now legally cleared to carry them. New Yorkers are no longer prohibited from possessing the time-honored Okinawan weapons, courtesy of a ruling rendered by a federal judge on December 14, 2018. The story goes that in 1981 a martial arts trainee, Jim M. Maloney, was arrested in New York City following a public demo with the dreaded nunchucks. Unbeknownst to Maloney, nunchucks (or 'chuka sticks') have been banned in New York since 1974. After graduating from law school years later, Maloney began to draft a challenge to the now-decades long New York state ban on nunchucks.

Cops in various municipalities have included nunchaku (Japanese, lit. 'twin sticks') for years as part of their restraining arsenal. A while back I posted about a nunchucks certification program offered for police in California. Nunchucks are currently banned in several states.

Following the kung-fu movie craze of the 70s, nunchucks fever swept the land, with users brutalizing themselves on more than one occasion. I can't blame lawmakers for regarding them as a problem at the time, but times change. With the ban lifted, I don't see an army of nunchaku wielding maniacs tearing up the countryside. It's an interesting ruling in an era of the politicizing of citizens' rights to keep and bear arms of various stripes.

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Sunday, September 23, 2018

One Way To Win A Fight

Do nothing which is of no use. — Miyamoto Musashi

Capoeira guy acts like a clown and, well, doesn't give a very good account of himself. His mestre (master) will not be happy. At any rate, Capoeira is not a "fighting" art.

Enough said.

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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Anthony Bourdain: Profile Of An Enigma

Anthony Bourdain, a celebrity chef and martial artist, has left this realm by his own hand. His death hits me hard, I suppose, because he was from my generation. But also the senselessness of it. A culinary savant and a de facto anthropologist, he traveled the world treating his television audience to exotic cuisines and cultures. I wasn't a huge fan, but the few times I caught his show, Parts Unknown, it left me invariably hungry. Bourdain took equal pleasure in watching the creation of a fine meal as he did in eating it in front of us.

He began studying jiu-jitsu when he was 58. He called it "physical chess", and the idea of being a beginner at something and learning a new skill at his age enthralled him. He competed in his art.

A down-to-earth, affable guy, he struck me as someone who wasn't overtly alpha, but not shy to speak his mind. He was famous, admired and charismatic. He was a gifted writer. What more could a man want?

He leaves a young daughter and a legion of fans. Anthony Bourdain — gone at 61. For reasons unknown.

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Saturday, May 26, 2018

A Study In Real Violence

Human Violence By Category is a website that covers every imaginable scenario dealing with physical aggression and assault. The subtext "Violence categorised by type, technique, tactic, weapon and profession" pretty much sums up what this blog is about. Each category comes replete with a series of short-clip videos, all of which are accompanied by written explanations and commentary. Everything from road rage scenes, police and military interventions, bouncers doing their thing, and mentally ill assailants are given due consideration.

DISCLAIMER: Some of the video clips featured on this site are not appropriate for everyone. Please view with discretion and an open mind.

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Strike First!

The title of this post comes from part of the motto of the Cobra Kai school from The Karate Kid movie. Cobra Kai is now a series on YouTube.* Yes, after 34 years, Daniel-san and bad guy Johnny ("Sweep The Leg") are back! These guys are in their fifties now, and they're still at it. Fifty is the new thirty-five. I'm pretty sure Johnny is still hawking "Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy" at his new Cobra Kai school. This idea is diametrically opposed, deliberately I assume, to one of the most fundamental tenets found in karate, among other styles. But the Cobra Kai "Strike First" stance takes no prisoners. "Strike Hard" is a no-brainer, I suppose. "Mercy is for the weak" is dysfunctional; roles can be reversed. What goes around, comes around.

In 1938, Gichin Funakoshi put forth 20 precepts for karate students to train and live by. His Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate contains the famous excerpt karate ni sente nashi, or "There is no first strike in karate." This basically implies that you don't provoke a fight; it does not mean that in the midst of what looks like a potential altercation — after all other options have failed — you wait to get laid out on the sidewalk. Deescalation isn't always available. Unprovoked attacks and sucker punches happen. If you're lucky enough to factor in time and distance, then reading intent or energy (shin or ki) is possible.

In traditional karate, there are two basic strategies in dealing with an aggressor:

  • Go no sen. This means "after the attack." A basic example would be an aggressor steps in with a punch, you block and counter with a strike.
  • Sen no sen. This is "before the attack." An aggressor announces he wants to kill you, and without hesitation you strike. This is like the old military aphorism "The best defense is a good offense."

It's easy to see how both of these concepts can be misconstrued. Waiting for an attack with the sole purpose for a counter and strike is a recipe for disaster. And the legal ramifications of kicking someone in the head because he flips you off should be obvious.

These concepts are not exclusive to karate, and there are more no sen principles in other arts, such as Kendo and Aikido. These strategies go into much greater depth than I describe. For a deeper study into these principles dealing with situational assessment in actual combat, check out The Book of Five Rings by the Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi (c. 1645).

* This is only on YouTube's new "premium" channel. So yes, that means it ain't free. It's either a monthly rate, or pay-per-view.

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Sunday, May 06, 2018

The Role of the Instructor: Learning by Teaching

One day many years ago my sensei was giving a lesson when he got an emergency call to leave. Being the senior at the time, he asked me to finish leading the class, and off he went. I winged it, and I liked being in charge more than I could've imagined. Afterwards I came to the realization that doing and teaching something are worlds apart. I've never owned a school, but through the years I've taught and help prepare dozens of students for advancement that has equally benefited me. Give, and you will receive, goes the verse.

Learning is enhanced through teaching others; it sheds light on the subject matter from a different perspective. In one study, researchers tested the theory that learning by instructing others is viable because

...it compels the teacher to retrieve what they’ve previously studied. In other words, they believe the learning benefit of teaching is simply another manifestation of the well-known “testing effect” – the way that bringing to mind what we’ve previously studied leads to deeper and longer-lasting acquisition of that information than more time spent passively re-studying.

In the martial arts, teachers and seniors are expected to be role models for ethical behavior. The behavior of both the instructor and higher ranking students in a school can be very revealing. Newbies tend to be diffident, but they notice things. In an article for Black Belt magazine (August 1995), Dave Lowry writes,

The senior must also remember that, just as he evaluates the juniors in class, they are watching him. They will notice whether a male senior rushes to help an attractive female junior while ignoring male beginners. They will be observant of the senior's attendance habits and will notice whether he is frequently absent. They will notice whether the senior shows respect for his instructor and his dojo. And they will notice whether the senior lives the precept of his art, and whether its values are translated into his actions, both in and out of the training hall.

In addition to altruism and self-realization, it has been said that teaching in the martial arts is also a way of fulfilling one's giri, or obligation to the previous teacher(s), and to the art itself.

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