Recently something was brought to my attention that concerns me. The claims of several very recognizable martial artists are being put to question. Apparently several have been something less than forthcoming in their history. Actually such oversights, exaggerations and downright dishonesty aren’t that unusual in the martial art world. Several controversial individuals are being questioned and a few actually dragged over the coals because of claims they have made or because of questionable qualifications. In some instances that is a shame in that some of those in question are very credible and on a few occasions are excellent martial artists. The credibility I speak of isn’t in the level of technical skill that these individuals have displayed. They are good technicians but their backgrounds are a little shaky.
Transparency in the martial arts is the ideal but translucency and sometime opaqueness is more common. By the way this isn’t limited just to those who are on the outskirts of the martial arts. Many who are pretty much accepted in most martial art circles and are well thought of by the martial art community couldn’t stand up under a microscope.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Most people have a tendency to exaggerate and embellish a little bit when presenting themselves. Some of the greats in martial art history came with some less than sterling creds. If I cared to traumatize some of the more naïve members of the community I could state the questionable credentials of a several founders of what are now considered traditional arts. It would serve no purpose to name names or examine these instances in as much as the arts that they founded have proven to be quite efficient.
I’m not a cynic but I have a tendency to take everything with a grain of salt. There are many individuals today that wear the titles of masters or grandmasters myself included. I have enough sense to realize that I can’t go into the dojo of some master in Okinawa or Japan and expect them to kowtow when I announce my rank. The rank I wear is recognized by my peers and the several organizations I am affiliated with. Very few of the masters in these new arts would be recognized outside of the confines of the U.S.
There are a number of unique American martial arts that have cropped up over the last several decades. Though these arts may claim oriental roots most are strictly American arts that address American needs. All aren’t created equal but some are quite creditable. They serve the purposes of those who create and those that practice them. They require little else to recommend them. They don’t need some dark mysterious past or esoteric roots to be viable. They only need to be viable.
Unfortunately many of the creators and practitioners of these arts feel that they have to exaggerate their backgrounds and their accomplishments to validate themselves or the arts that they teach or study. I tend to evaluate a martial artist according to his ability not his background or history. As long as his skill level is what it should be and his art is sound I don’t worry too much about where he acquired his knowledge. Too often you have to wade through a mile of B.S. to get an inch of truth. I find that path too dark to tread when it’s too easy to just evaluate the person according to his ability.
Transparency is always the best case scenario but I’ve come to expect much of the translucency that describes the average martial artist. I take fantastic claims in stride and look past them to see the person instead. A lot of egotism is tied into the claims of so many martial artists. Many have put their whole lives into their arts, some to the exclusion of all else. Many have all of their eggs in that one basket. The martial arts is the one accomplishment that they can claim. Because of that many present themselves as bigger than life. Even so, some with shaky pasts have grown into really fantastic martial artists, all outlandish claims to the contrary.
I haven’t won any major tournaments. I’m not nor have I ever been that turned on by competition. I learned martial arts for survival. The only claim I can make is that I’ve been involved in the martial arts for most of my life. Most of my fighting has been in the streets or in the military. I’m probably not the best martial artist in the world but I’m fairly knowledgeable and I can hold my own in a nasty situation. I’ve survived the ghettos and inner city streets of Chicago and have lived through actual combat, but I’m not Bruce Lee. I don’t claim to be nor should I have to. My survival is what describes the effectiveness of what I teach. I’ve trained with some really good people and I’ve done more than my share of self training. I don’t feel that I’ve mastered anything. After well over half a century I’m still a student. Still I stand on what I know and what I have learned. I pass that on to those who believe in what I do. I need no other claims. I’m above board and I’m good at what I do. If anything, that’s my claim to fame. I don’t feel I have to be anything more than that. Nor should you.
My brothers let’s just be ourselves. No apologies made nor undue explanations given. In the true martial arts you only need to prove yourself to two people; yourself and the opponent that you may have to face. You don’t have to be more than what you are. You don’t have to be a secret student of Ed Parker, William Chow or Bruce Lee. You just have to be good at what you’re doing. Be transparent and let your knowledge and your ability speak for you. In the end your skill will speak for itself. To the best of our ability let’s be as transparent as possible. In the end that will always serve you best.
Train hard my brethren and go with God.
Rev. Dr. Donald Miskel