Friday, 3 February 2012

Martial Arts are full of myths.

Take the legends that swirl around old masters. This one could kill a bird with his kiai, that one could defeat whole armies and that one could actually fly.

Of course those are exaggerations...a bit like the stories of masters.

Yes I’m sure they were excellent martial artists and had profound knowledge of their subject.  But as I’ve yet to see a master of today actually fly or be employed as a country’s secret weapon (although maybe he exists as I wouldn’t know it being secret!). Nor have I ever read of one that could defeat armies in any other periodical other than Captain America.

Although they might have more knowledge I think the past master would often struggle against modern fighters simply because of modern training methods. They were, after all, only humans...

But that is not the only kind of mythology that is present in martial arts. For example, displays and exhibitions of martial arts abound with myths that are played out of the public. Take breaking boards and bricks and things. Yes you do need good technique, correct stature and that jazz, but essentially its good body mechanics combined with the willingness to go through enough of the object to set off a chain reaction of stress...

But it’s not a super human feat.

It’s the same with bending spears on parts of the body. Wouldn’t like to try it myself, so hats off for the pain-tolerance display, but have you seen how long the spear poles are? And how relatively thin they are compared to their length?
It looks impressive - and it is - but it’s not outside the laws of physics.

We create myth with our systems, styles and schools as well. This one’s the ultimate that one’s the bee’s knees as well as the dog’s bollocks. Need I say more?

And we turn ordinary people into heroes because of their sporting prowess or expertise, only to find usually that they have feet of clay. There is always danger in turning people into myths, especially living myths because the subject may start believing it themselves. I personally pity those instructors who act with regal majesty when amongst their adoring students down at the scout hut...

Is it really fair to Joe Public to weave these and other myths that surround martial arts?

Well, the public are sort of complicit in the mythologizing themselves. They want to believe, to a degree, that myths are real, that humans are capable of great feats and deeds etc, but essentially they know there’s a lot of hyperbole going on.

But is this true of kids? After all, most children, one suspects, join martial arts classes because they want to be ninja spies when they grow up. Is it a right to infect them with myths about what they do in martial arts classes or is really quite harmless at the end of the day? I mean, to find out later on in life that you are not destined to be a ninja spy but an office worker or a shop assistant could be quite damaging psychologically.  I never got over it.

Will the myths disappear? I doubt it as it seems to be an innate part of being human to exaggerate events and put people on pedestals.

And, as a method to attract students, it has stood the test of time as a recruiting tool among the gullible...   

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