Patches, Black Jelly Beans,
and Oral Traditions:
Why WMA will neither
teach you to fence nor fight.
New Age: What? Why not? Won't it make you a warrior?
Practical: You wanna be a warrior, you go to
one of the Academies...
New Age: huh?
Scholastic: despite all the BS you hear in the
martial arts, Warrior means man of war, and today that means a military
Troll: Hunh? Marine sergeant not warrior?
Tinker: <nods to Troll> or enlisted....
Scholastic: True. But someone trained to wage
war, not to wave a silly stick around.. But definitely not a civilian...
Tinker: and even
a lot of the military is also not warriors but support,
though some of that seems to be going away...
Traditional: Talking to a friend today, he
commented that transitions were the key in looking at someone's understanding of
their martial arts. That the transferring yourself from one good posture to
another revealed things about your level of skill that were not obvious in
static ways. While this is relatively well known in certain arts, I realized
that the implications of it were not known in the Western Martial Arts, or if
known, ignored. Why is this important? Because as the proverb says "the Devil
(or God, depending on the version) is hidden in the details" and transitions are
the details. And to be honest, most people in Western Martial Arts can't see
Western Martial Arts, in many ways, represents
the ultimate expression of the Bruce Lee Mythos. We have a large quantity of
manuscripts with nice still pictures, a bunch of people who for various reasons
are unsuccessful at sport fencing and/or eastern martial arts, a smaller bunch
of dreamers who wish the world was different, and a fair number of con
Practical: Sprinkle this
in with one or two guys it's probably unfair to pick on yet, too early.
People seem to drift into western martial arts
for several reasons and from several sources. Generally they are incompletely
trained in whatever they studied before, and a vast majority of them have
absorbed the fucked up "absorb what is useful" approach as an excuse for their
laziness. For example, when I first started running into WMAs someone who is now
the leader of a fairly decent sized cult (and btw then claimed all titles were
bunk) told me a certain rapier technique was trash. A bit later, I ran into two
young fellows who told me how it worked, when it worked, and that it took them 2
years to figure it out.
Tinker: See? Two years
to understand a single technique? They can't ALL be bad...
Practical: Yeah, but out of how many that think ten reps is training. We got
kids training harder than that...And if you drop Traditional into a tequila
bottle, he'll admit he likes those two guys too...
Similarly I know from my own experience the
concept of "lies to idiots" is alive and well in the martial arts. The concept
of limiting a beginner's information until he's able to understand is still
done. Until you reach a certain level, you can't use the information and often
it makes you do damn stupid shit.
Does anyone with a functional forebrain think
that these manuscripts were used to train people? That beginners were taught the
theory first and then let fence? Shit, they don't train anyone like that in any
craft. Until you can do something at least a bit, theory is nothing but a form
of self-abuse. And since most of these people become masters, scholars,
maestros and demand to be so treated and addressed, no one who hangs around them
is going to say: Excuse me, Traditional, but is your guard supposed to look like
something out of Single Palm Change?" Mainly because anyone with those kind of
critical skills is going to walk away from the reeking pile of shit which
qualifies as methodology for most of these self-appointed experts.
This problem exists in the Eastern Martial
Arts, too. I know lots of self-proclaimed masters and to be honest, it's not
totally their fault. I have a friend who teaches Hsing Yi and some of his
students nag him to take the title of Sifu. He refuses because he knows he
doesn't know enough. Heck, his teacher doesn't use it. From their vantage point,
they can see what the beginners can't: the distance between them and a true
Since we don't have living traditions in many
of the WMA, or even bastard traditions like boxing from pugilism, a western
martial artist can look at a manuscript and masturbate himself a system. Often
the gaps are filled in with pure shit taken from half-learned lessons in arnis,
real combat, fencing, ninpo, or kenjutsu. This isn't to knock any of those arts,
but a lot of people have been there first. In the 60s in the SCA, it was kendo
and karate. The problem isn't the art; it's the "half-learned." And if they
learned it well, it can be worse, because the movements have become deeply
reflexive. So you get assholes who look at the pictures (because they can't or
don't bother to translate, or they work from a private translation...shades of
the baishi ritual) and then go from one pose to another by using a
fucked-up half-learned transition from an eastern art. And they wonder why
people out of living traditions are puking in the corners.... Unless you can
actually shift from one pose to another with the proper body motions, you're
just screwing the dog.
The transitions are key. Unless the transitions
are correct, someone with skill will see that the postures and the moments don't
gell. At best it looks funny. At worst, you get a guy who's full of himself
because he's a "swordsman" who studies the "period masters," but who will get
his ass kicked by an entry-level SCA fighter dressed like a Hobbit.
The other part of lacking the oral or living
tradition is that we end up with a black jelly bean problem. Someone once
compared the "absorb what is useful" approach to having a large bag of jelly
beans. I like red ones: Tinker likes black, Practical likes yellow . But if we
were to pick only the black ones out and keep only those, and some hottie roach
with slick wings offers a blowjob for some green, we're sleeping alone. Systems
are like that. If you only pick the techniques you like, you limit what you can
do and you limit your growth. I know many martial artists who today can do what
they would have considered impossible 5 years ago. Another analogy is spices. If
you decide that garlic is really cool and everything else is a recipe for ice
cream, the mix may not work. The techniques in a system depend on the underlying
logic and principles of the system, and they make not work if they're pulled
out. So you get abominations, like the toe kick mixed into traditional karate.
The point is a system has an internal logic that helps you learn it. Does this
mean it has weaknesses? Yes. An example is Kuntao, which is what happened to
Chinese arts when they ran into Silat. However, you can still see the roots.
Parts were not just taken and added....things tend to end up in martial systems
for a reason, like they kept you alive.
Looking at the recreated arts, the manuscripts
say we have so many of a certain type of jelly bean-shaped objects. What is
missing is the context, the little things like "Tinker, no, move this way as you
do that", the body adjustments that come from a teacher. Also missing is the
"muscle memory" that comes from a teacher making you do hundreds on hundreds of
repetitions, all the while screaming at you to keep your form right. I figure I
did over 100,000 repetitions of the core techniques in one system I study before
reaching the black belt level. Easily. Shit, I used to do 100 a day. WMA classes
do what, ten or twenty repetitions, max?
And forget morality. The western arts have none
and appear to never have had any. A knight was supposed to have been noble and
chivalrous, but it wasn't because of his sword training. A gentleman did not
show mercy because the sword guild taught him to do so. These things come from
the Christian culture (yes, New Age, I said Christian, you pagan scum. Read
American Gods and especially Wednesday's rant on modern pagans before you
even consider commenting). When the major proponent of the sword art of
Christian Spain can follow a different faith and denies any mysticism in it,
when born-again Baptists can practice the art of a devout Catholic,
when the people recreating these arts can be neo-pagans or atheists, and their
morality tracks with their faith or philosophy, what morality is being
taught? None. In addition, things get lost. Why the hell do you think Silver
used the expression twyfold mind in his word? All of his contemparies would get
the reference and the implications instantly. The eastern arts at least pay lip
service to the ideal of a moral man: the western arts can't spell moral. Even
though you don't have to buy into a eastern religion to practice, you normally
at least get the talk about the moral responsiblity of a warrior. There are
schools out there that will boot your ass out after a space of time if you can't
instantly recite the master's moral precepts. I believe that's because these
styles worried about what the authorities would do to them. Hell, even modern
"practical" styles talk about the legal implications because they realize you
got to survive the court case too. Not so in traditional western stuff. Why?
Because the morality came from other place, and it suffused the entire
environment in which the trainees lived, to a degree only a cultist would
New Age: Traditional is a
Practical: That's his point you idiot. He sees the symbolism in everything. It's
a ritualized life... That was the world view of the middle ages. Most of these
folks don't get that.
Scholastic: Some people do try, out of respect. I don't think they realize how
what they call respect an insider would call mockery.
But instead of dealing with it, let's pretend
we can extract part of it at no cost. That way we can look at still pictures,
eat our black-only jelly beans, and call ourselves maestros without ever doing
the work of learning.
So if you are going to do western martial arts,
be honest. I know a fair number of people who dress in armor and hack at each
other 'cause its fun. They are good at fighting but they don't claim to teach
historical western martial arts. Necromancy doesn't work, and if you're going to
try to bring something back from the dead, you're going to have to put in a hell
of a lot more work than most folks in WMA seem to be willing to invest.
New-Age: Traditional is
cranky, Traditional is crank-y, nyaa nyaa....
Tinker: Hrm... Traditional, you've got a point there... but on the other hand,
you've got Neo-Traditional Roach on the other side of the kitchen talking to
those SCA guys...
Traditional: He's WHAT? Well, at least its not
those waterbugs again <grumble> Where did I go wrong?
it's taken thirty or forty years , but among
the bashers, there are now several distinct SCA living traditions that have the
same kind of methodological basis that the WMA people need so very badly --
which is hilarious given the routine dissing the WMA people give them . It's
fairly limited, like sport fencing, in order to make sure the judges don't throw
you out, but you gotta give them their due within the sport's own context. I
have spoken to a couple guys, here and there, who do seem to realize that it's
going to take at least that long in order to give birth to any kind of new
tradition based on these old forms, and who are bright enough to realize they're
not involved in some kind of new-age rebirthing ritual.
New Age: Ooh, what a great idea! We can take them through a rebirthing, and
they can learn how you move when you're still full of original chi...
Troll: Shut up or I'll sit on
Tinker: Okay, where was I... yes yes... the problems are very clear: infection
from eastern arts, the black jelly bean syndrome, and footwork that makes SCA
guys look like Fred Astair by comparison. Total lack of quality control in
favor of expanding the student base, and a lack of emphasis on finding some
Practical Roach: And weenies
looking for an ego-stroke. Sorry Tinker, I know you're trying to be nice and
all, but face facts. A lot of those so-called instructors would be much better
if their students felt free to give them shit about their form and footwork. I
bet there's not one in a hundred who's ever bothered doing anything as simple as
thrusting into a target a thousand times a day for two weeks to work point
control and alignment.
Tinker: Okay, okay, you're
right... but pointing out the morons isn't helping anybody.
Troll: Help... anybody? Why?
Fighter fights good, or gets smacked on head. Smacking people in da head is
Tinker: That's true, too, but
it's a fun intellectual exercise, and you win more flies with honey than with
Traditonal: I may not have said this clearly, but there is nothing wrong with
playing around with stuff for fun. It's when you start claiming to be working on
so and so's method, teaching real western arts, that my antenna quiver. It's
like the bowie knife shit... show me one real piece of evidence that bowie was
taught formally as a weapon in the "sword schools of New Orleans" or that Mr.
Bowie had a salle. Chase it back: it is well debunked. It was propaganda to
encourage the troops....
Troll: Flies? Eat flies with
salsa, not honey, dummy.
Tinker: <rolls eyes> Okay, here we go. WMA people don't have footwork for
squat. Problem numero uno, right? We can forget the black jelly bean thing,
that's just a matter of individuals being lazy morons. The guys who are really
trying to do it right are either not going to fall into that trap, or will smack
themselves in the forehead, and pull themselves out. So, I was talking about
Spanish stuff earlier. Instead of doing deadly Spanish Ninja knifework, how
would you go about trying to make a new tradition based on old Spanish stuff?
Well, first and foremost, it wouldn't hurt to watch a bullfight, learn some
flamenco, see how Spaniards actually move. Especially if you can do it
with a period dance, where some dance instructor is going to ride your ass for a
month or six solid on your posture, etcetera...
Practical: And stop right there. Between that, and picking one freaking
treatise to base your new tradition on, instead of pretending to pull the best
from twelve at once and falling prey to the black jelly bean problem, anybody
worth their salt is now admitting to being totally overwhelmed, and is pulling
their wings out trying to figure out how to come up with a decent training
regimen. Traditional roach thinks necromancy is impossible. At the very least,
it's freakishly hard. So judge them by the look of despair in their eyes...
Scholastic Roach: Dolor amicus
meus est, desperatia est domina mea? Gotcha ya.