Thursday, July 23, 2015

Mistranslations... still there

We've known for a while, those who wanted to hear, that a lot of problems with "traditional" Western understanding of martial arts (very specially karate, but also kendo, Chinese systems...) was a matter of translation, of trying to explain very intimate sensations to people with a different language paradigm. As long as this has been known, it's annoying that it's still there.

For example, Jesse Enkamp's article on the Pinan kata. Or the translation of the 20 precepts of Shotokan. Check both versions.

We've had people fluent in Chinese in most of the West for decades. And yet, no "traditional" karateka thought of digging into that source? Respect to tradition, my ass! Then we have the Nijû kun... My fight with that meaning of sente's been boiling for a while. As a recap, there are two mistakes: one, that sente is no "first strike" but more similar to initiative; the other that if you never have the initiative in an assault, you die. No ifs, no buts. And the way it's become almost a religious mantra (you'll find woodcarvings of that precept far more often than any of the others) is disgusting and dangerous.

But it's not the only one. "Do not think you have to win. Think that you do not have to lose." Bullshit. Wiki translates the second part as "Think, rather, of not losing", which is completely different. The difference between "I will NOT lose!" [ie, I'll reach home safe and sound] and "No one's asking me to lose, after all".

The list of precepts is not wrong. The translations are. The interpretations are a damn disgrace. The blind obedience to that all is sickening.

We have people labelling themselves as "warriors", "fighters", and yet they get all huffy when you point to them that, well, they're demostrably wrong and, even more, wrong in such a way that it cripples them.

We should do skeet shooting with photographs of several scores of MA pioneers.

Take care.

Good ol' trusty monkey dance... and cults

Saw a couple of MDs [*] some days ago; nice examples, each on their own. Once of them was, basically, an extremely tired parent who was physically hurt by his also tired child and burst. Reigned it very fast, but there was certainly a point of "status" fight in the answer. And that person loves the kid dearly, but being tired robs us of empathy... and lots other things. The more tired you are, the less person; do you take that into account when training for night troubles?

The other was on a website. An industry with a lot of freelancing got shown the main points of a 10-year contract. It escalated quickly. And, besides the escalation itself, it was interesting to watch the behaviour of both sides. In Spain, right wing is usually more boisterous, way more, when "defending" from "attack", while the left tends to go "whatever" and go its own way. That "whatever" IS still an MD: you're dismissing your opponent. For some reason, it looks like the opposite is true in the States. The "left" is more boisterous and the (classic) right [+] tends to retreat back to its own values and stay there.

While reading it, however, something else came out. The Bitch Patrol. Suddenly, it appeared like any discussion about the contract was insulting the freelancer, who'd been dissing the discussion... on twitter. Words stopped having their standard meaning and had context-specific meanings. Points were selected and dissected without logical standards... Appeals to authority, ad hominem attacks... You name it.

But, no. Oh, no! they were not doing it. Perish the thought.

Thing is, the way the original freelancer is behaving is right out of Marc's standards above. I personally think he's falling into a trap of his own unwilling creation, a blowback, surrounding himself by way too many yes-sayers. Still... The example remains.

Take care.

[*] monkey dance, not medicine doctor

[+] I do differentiate between "classic" right (religious, conservative) and "right" (zealots, neo-cons, and such), the same way I differentiate between left (soup kitchen volunteers, grass-roots unions...) and "left" (tenured union "workers" and their mafias, and the equivalent at "social issues" university departments... or parties).

Teenage-level socialization monkeys

I think I've written before about my friends with kid. Watching him grow, I've sort of realized (some more) how basic some... social interactions are. Tantrums, negotiation... Then, something else happened.

You see, that couple was in contact with a team of nurses (registered nurses; early training in Spain and specialization in the UK) to supplement some treatment they were not comfortable with the level the government provided. New tests indicated a glitch in normality (not, according to the MDs, a problem; just something unusual that, not so long ago, wouldn't have been noticed). The whole team of RNs freaked out, lashed away to distance from their customers and cut all ties after a cursory internet search (in two hours they did all that, plus a meeting and dinner). One of the parents is a teacher; if one of her pupils did that kind of research for a high school job, he'd spend the whole semester making up for it.

But they were adult pros. The don't fall into such elementary mistakes, do they?

The other was at a training group. The instructor couldn't come for a couple of days. So the 3rd senpai decided to push for a roll call in social media. No queries, no questions. Roll call, military style. Not even asking if any of his senpai was coming or if it was the right way to do things. I knew he was rigid, this way is the True Way [TM], but I didn't know he rolled this way. Live and learn.

Neither event is any more complex than a kindergarten brawl. Adults or no, professionals or no. But it does look that "adulthood" sort of blinds people to the fact that they can fall in this kind of behaviour, too. Which reinforces Rory's assertions about how often (very little) the human rational part is in charge.

Now, imagine all that under violence.

Take care.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


External martial arts (because I don't know squat about internal) are all about geometry. No matter if it's karate (Goju-ryû, or Kyokushinkai), or savate, or... Deflection is geometry, footwork is geometry, even punching.

Which is why a lot of discussions on martial arts are plain dumb. Part of it is in the explanation. Martial arts are full of sentences that make no sense. "Do that without any strength, at all" At all? How can I stand upright, then? Yes, yes, obvious... until the example is not quite as clear. "Do X in a straight line" But... er... it's an arch.

And then it starts. And you get people who don't SEE anything beyond the name. People who don't see arches or circles, who watch you warily when you mention those, as if you were trying to mislead them.

Now, granted, some geometries are very small, subtle, difficult to perceive. Others are pretty large. And they could be taught. but teaching geometry goes against the grain of martial artists. Unless they go to structured extremes, where shapes are just this wide and just that size. Which is not, can't be, real: shapes will ultimately depend on the situation, opponent, your own body type and your mechanics. But the commonalities will be there. You'll have an arch, or a triangle. And the arch will be wider or shorter, the triangle will be squat or longish. But the mechanics of an arch don't deliver properly is you use a triangle instead. And counterwise.

And teaching that way would be more universal, less prone to sects and cliques, and...

Which is another reason it's not done, of course.

Take care.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Martial arts are social

They've been for several decades, with some very specific exceptions. This means that they're subject to the same constrains and bumps as other social interactions. Three examples:

The current economical crisis has led several in our group to work in foreign lands. So far, they're going home, but I think that's mostly anecdotic. And you'd have to add a couple of local changes of location that, nonetheless, put people well outside the practical distance to attend training regularly. While it's been sad, the first one to go is now second "in command" of a pretty established dojo. Another is looking for a training gym to start a group. One of the more local ones is also on that path... And so a system grows.

And yesterday, at the end of semester dinner, we were looking at the way quite a bunch of people had left our organization. Specially the last bunch, but in general; those last 40 years. And there were two constants: full time instructors and shelving the past. People who'll not acknowledge who they learned the style with, and will later try to obscure the issue. It's almost as if they were scared people would point at them because of it and, by denying, they manage to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And, related to that last, cliquism. Being sure of your own training is good. Disregarding anything else, even nuances... I mentioned it last year in a post that's gone dark, people dissing an instructor and his kali when he'd been invited by the guy doing the seminar AND was better at both styles than those making the fuss. The head instructor wanted them to learn that, but they decided they were above those games. This extends from small things (this way of punching vs. that one, both within the same style) and to bigger ones (the resistance of some people to getting acquainted with Keysi, the local --not as hormonal-- branch, is almost funny).

But learning is social. Teaching is also social. How do you deal with martial arts long term unless you deal with the social part?

Take care.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Don't bring a ... to a gunfight

The sentence is usually parsed "don't bring a knife to a gunfight", but it's not a matter of the specific weapon. In certain ways, also, it can be reversed: don't bring a gun to a knifefight. Every weapon has an optimal range, and below 7m (Tueller dixit), it's easier to reach with a knife, which is also a simpler weapon that kills more reliably than a gun (below 1/3 of hits at around 1.5 m, according to the FBI, plus lesser lethality per hit). Not that you're going to to see the Marines turn their backs to the rifle and become spear throwers.

Every situation has the most adequate weapon. Recognizing that is part of the overarching common theme. The most important weapon you have is between your ears. If you focus in the physical weapon, you go into a talisman thinking mindset that might work for a while (you'll be more confident, and muggers try not to attack confident people, just in case)... until it meets someone who calls your bluff. And who doesn't warn you about it. He does have both weapons: the one in his mind is going to control the situation...

The one in his hand, your life (I suggest you mute it; it's distracting).

Same kind of weapon, already out, but those high school punks didn't even get to point it. The predator met the wannabe, the yappy dog with delusions of wolf. Oops.

Don't bring less than your best to a survival fight. Beware of idiocy turning a stunt into a survival fight while you jerk off.

Take care.