Thursday, November 29, 2007

All Show and No Go


Back in my younger years I had a friend who owned a 67 Chevelle. In those days the Chevelle was considered the muscle car, a real street machine. Just one small problem: my friend's car only had an inline-six cylinder engine under the hood. Those sixes were good on gas but pretty lousy in the horsepower department. Yet people were afraid to drag race with this guy. Why? Because he had cool looking Cragar wheels all around, a header exhaust for his measly 250 cu. inch motor (which gave it a formidable growl when he hit the throttle), and a badass hood scoop. But on the strip this car was in a league with a Volkswagen. So the perception was that this car was an all-out racer, but the reality was that it had the performance of a scooter. Looks can always be deceiving.

Has anyone ever seen these exhibitions of extreme or tricking martial arts on TV? I'm referring to the choreographed acrobatic stunts that masquerade as traditional forms or kata. Every time I see someone twirling a bo like a baton at a hundred miles an hour I think of my buddy's pseudo racing machine. On some level it's impressive, it may look good, but hardly any of it is useful in a combative sense. I'd like to see some bunkai (realistic applications) for some of these moves. Black Belt Mama's article on The Great Kata Debate was one of her finest, and it includes a video of a youngster performing kata that's interspersed with more kiai (spirit shouts) than you would find in most Bruce Lee flicks. Very annoying. His parents must be stocked up on earplugs when he's practicing at home. They should've bought this kid a set of drums instead of karate lessons.

Admittedly, some arts are more demonstrable than others. Tae kwon do certainly comes to mind with its flashy kicking arsenal. Africans enslaved in Brazil during the 17th century developed capoeira which today incorporates movements that resemble a cross between gymnastics and breakdancing. Mind you, I'm not knocking either one of these styles. They're difficult to learn and probably impossible to master unless you're a certain body type. Both systems began as combative arts, but modern tae kwon do has for the most part been relegated to sport. Capoeira routines are typically set to music and chanting. No-contact "matches" between capoeira practitioners are always a crowd pleaser, but generally don't arouse much interest from the traditional martial arts camp.

There's a memorable scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones is accosted by a sword fighter. The would-be killer puts on a little show as he demonstrates his skill with some taunting air swipes only to be summarily blown away by Jones' trusty sidearm. Never bring a sword to a gunfight. As for my friend's prized Chevelle - he ended up wrecking it. Apparently he caved and tried racing somebody when he lost control of his vehicle and hit a tree. Miraculously he wasn't hurt, but he learned a hard lesson: It doesn't pay to show off.

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9 Comments:

Blogger Miss Chris said...

I think the same thing when I see those martial arts exhibitions on t.v.. Yeah it all looks cool but could they really defend themselves like that? Probably not. I like to keep it simple.

3:36 PM  
Anonymous Black Belt Mama said...

Great post John, and I'm not just saying that because you threw me a compliment and a link. You really need to read the book I just started reading by Maj. William Hayes. The introduction alone would have provided ample quoting material for your post here.

5:05 PM  
Blogger Bob Patterson said...

It's one thing to state at a tournament you are demonstrating a "tournament" weapons form or kata. It's quite another to try and pass it off for anything other than that.

I'm still working on a nunchuka kata that is at least 60% tournament flash. However, if and when I roll it out I'm stating exactly that in front of the judges.

My issue is not so much the tourney flash as it is people who think it's the real-deal, or don't know any better.

Sadly, there is a lot of that in the martial arts world

6:27 PM  
Blogger frotoe said...

I agree with Bob. I think its important to know the difference between a demonstration kata and a real kata and to know their place. We have a great demo team at my dojo, but I have seen some of them at tournaments competing using a demo-type kata. Complete with all the frou-frou and blood curdling-inapropriately placed kiai's. That annoys me to no end. And unfortunately, some judges are swayed by all the fancy stuff leaving the students who keep it "real" to receive lower scores. Knowing the difference is crucial.

6:09 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I train in a traditional style. I don't now what it is those people are doing, but it's not what I'm doing and I'm not interested in it.

8:04 AM  
Blogger supergroup7 said...

"Never bring a sword to a gunfight."

Oh my gosh.. that's the smartest, and funniest quote that I've ever seen!! I guess that's because the reference to the Indiana Jone's movie clip was still in my mind when I read that.

By the way, you can see the clip here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iORmi46dowo

Harrison Ford mentions that this "moment" wasn't really part of the script. It was a hot day, Mr. Ford wasn't feeling well. He asked if the scene could be shortened. Mr. Spielberg said the only way he could shorten it was if Indy pulled out his gun and just shot the guy. So That's what happened.

I love this posting. I really admire people who can spin their Bo around themselves, and toss it in the air and catch it again. That kind of skill, and precision with a piece of wood that big, and heavy is wonderful. However, I always ask myself how intelligent it would be for me to toss my weapon up in the air when I'm fighting an opponent? I usually end up trying to keep both hands securely on my Bo.

11:30 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Miss Chris:

Yeah it all looks cool but could they really defend themselves like that?

Only in the movies.
; )
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Thanks BBM:

You really need to read the book I just started reading by Maj. William Hayes. The introduction alone would have provided ample quoting material for your post here.

I intend to. I just told my wife I want My Journey with the Grandmaster for Xmas. I'm looking forward to reading it.
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Bob:

I'm still working on a nunchuka kata that is at least 60% tournament flash. However, if and when I roll it out I'm stating exactly that in front of the judges.

Actually it's hard to get away from the flashy aspect of something like nunchaku, IMO. Anyway, good luck with that form.
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Frotoe:

And unfortunately, some judges are swayed by all the fancy stuff leaving the students who keep it "real" to receive lower scores.

That's a shame. To tell you the truth, I've seen some of that myself. Some judges would rather be entertained than to judge objectively.
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Rick:

I train in a traditional style. I don't know what it is those people are doing...

They're just trying to turn martial arts into a sideshow. And for the ones who go for that sort of thing, they're doing a bang up job. I suppose there isn't enough bling in the traditional ways to get the same airtime.
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Thanks Mireille:

Harrison Ford mentions that this "moment" wasn't really part of the script. It was a hot day, Mr. Ford wasn't feeling well. He asked if the scene could be shortened. Mr. Spielberg said the only way he could shorten it was if Indy pulled out his gun and just shot the guy. So that's what happened.

You know it's funny, after watching that clip again it really does look like Harrison was fed up or feeling disgusted about something. That's method acting for you. Thanks much for providing that link, it's been a while since I've seen it.

8:41 PM  
Blogger Perpetual Beginner said...

I heard a slightly different version of the Indiana Jones scene, though they're both similar in essence. The scene was originally scripted as a big sword/whip fight, but the choreography was difficult and there was take after take after take. After the umpteenth take, hot, tired and feeling horrible, Harrison Ford got to the flourish the whip part and simply pulled out the gun instead. I.e. the weary disgust on his face is completely genuine, as is the shock on the bystanders faces.

I don't know which version is more accurate, though.

11:47 AM  
Blogger [Mat] said...

All show and No Go.

Funny, if you speak to MMA people, they say that traditionnal arts are all show and no go.

The bigger point, as you very well mentionned, is perception and how we can play with it.

Are our senses deceiving us?

9:34 AM  

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