Oh really? One man’s weed is another man’s cuisine. Take the lowly dandelion. Weed? Flower? Pest or foodstuff? Dandelions are used for food in some cultures. Dandelion greens are nourishing and rich in vitamin C. Wine is made of the flowers and textiles can be woven from the strands of the stalks. So taking that into consideration is a dandelion a weed? Is it worthless? You may not want it to take over your lawn but the lowly weed that is so despised has more value than you may realize. Just because you don’t see it as acceptable doesn’t mean that it has no value.
Wonder where I’m going with this? If you know me you probably have a pretty good idea. Hopefully this is the last time I’ll have to do such an article. Not that I expect to change the minds of those whose minds are already made up, but I hope that those among the ranks of the organizations I am a member and representative of will hear my argument.
The martial arts are too political. There is an imperialistic attitude that some of its factions hold. That same attitude divides the martial art community into factions of inclusion and exclusion. Too many individuals seem to feel that they are martial art aristocracy. Others feel that they are the guardians of the fold. They have and should have a voice amongst their constituency but their voice isn’t universal. They may speak for some but they don’t speak for everyone. They don’t nor should they have the final word in who is accepted and who is rejected.
There are too many levels of training and skill to put under one umbrella. I agree that there are those who exaggerate their backgrounds and accomplishments and even create a persona or alter ego to promote themselves. These individuals don’t let their level of knowledge and expertise speak for them. Instead they fabricate a fantasy to fill in the blanks. This shouldn’t be but to a greater or lesser degree this is too prevalent in the martial arts. Everyone wants to be bigger than life. The danger of this is that some individuals can get so entangled in the web they weave that they become lost in their own self created fantasies. In so doing some really good martial artists damage their own credibility. Actually some of the better known and accepted individuals in the arts wouldn’t fare well if their experience was examined under a microscope. That being said how do we weed out the real martial artists from the fakes? Easier said than done.
In my estimation there are a lot of false claims but those who make them aren’t particularly fake martial artists. Those who train in an art at whatever level they train at are to varying or lesser degrees martial artists. They may not be very good martial artists but they are martial artists nevertheless. It isn’t their backgrounds that disqualify them but their level of skill.
In my organization I tend to look past all of the laims that a martial artist makes and look to his knowledge, skill and ability. If he claims to be an instructor or master I look more at his knowledge and the quality of what he teaches than his credentials. Credentials are cheap. They can be created on a computer, printed up by a printer or bought online. Even if an individual is recognized by some organization or another I still look to his skill set.
That describes a martial artist more accurately than his rank or inclusion in the ranks of some organization or another.
Knowledge can come from many places and be acquired in many different ways. Some people can train with some of the best teachers and still be inept. Others can learn from books or videos and be devastatingly effective in what they do. Lineage doesn’t always translate into perfection.
In times past when a martial artist’s skill could very well mean life or death their knowledge was jealously guarded. Teachers were very secretive of their knowledge sometimes even amongst their own students. That’s why any training manuals were kept out of the hands of possible opposing factions and training was done away from the curious eye of any errant spectator.
I know of one judo sensei who acquired his initial black belt rank after training from a book on the martial art that he studied. No school was available in his area so the book he studied from was his only resource. With the knowledge acquired from the pages of that manual he tested for his black belt and became a legend and AAU champion. How many of us would call him a charlatan by today’s standards? If you judge his rank according to how he acquired his knowledge and who he trained under he might be suspect but if you look at his skill you might have to reassess your opinion.
I tend to look at this argument from several positions. I see it as a martial artist, as a minister and as a psychologist. As a martial artist and the head of a couple of international organizations and a representative of several others I consider background but I weigh skill heavier in the balance. As a minister I call for honesty and transparency in the area of self promotion but I’m realistic about my expectations. As a psychologist or rather as a therapist I look at the psychological implications of these many self created persona that are created for the public and the martial art community. Exclusion and none acceptance can create an exaggerated need to be accepted. Too often those who crave recognition and acceptance from the community they want to be a part of will go to extreme measures to garner acceptance.
Unfortunately this creates a problem in the martial arts. There are inept individuals creating ineffective systems and teaching them to an unsuspecting public. But again by the same token there are traditionally trained individuals that are as inept as their untrained counterparts. In the end if we are going to assess an instructor we should look at his knowledge and skill and look at the ability of his students. That will tell the story and offer an accurate assessment of the person in question.
All martial arts and all martial artists are not created equal. There are classical systems that aren’t worth much as real combat systems but may offer other benefits. On the other hand there are some nontraditional systems that are extremely effective in combat. Either may fulfill the needs of an individual according to his personal needs and his reason for studying. If it serves the need of the practitioner and is efficient in what it is designed to do who am I to criticize it?
Please understand I’m not justifying dishonesty, exaggeration or false claims. That kind of thing is too common in the arts. What I am suggesting is that we reassess the way that we judge those individuals that exist on the fringes of the martial art community. Sometimes they are where they are not because of a lack of knowledge or ability but because of how they acquired their knowledge.
In conclusion I suggest that a teacher or a technician should be judged by his ability if he is judged at all. Likewise a system should be judged by its effectiveness. I believe that none traditional systems should be labeled as such as should eclectic approaches to the arts. Being nontraditional shouldn’t disqualify a system or disqualify a proficient instructor or practitioner. To the nontraditional martial artist I encourage you to be realistic about who you are and be honest about how you came by your knowledge. Let your ability speak for itself. If you are sound in your martial skill you don’t have to apologize for not traveling the traditional road. There is a place for you in the martial arts. You don’t have to be anything other than what you are. Let your ability speak for you.
God bless you my brethren. Train hard and go with God.
Rev. Dr. Donald Miskel