There is an old essay by Keith Vargo that he did for Black Belt Magazine where he said you could find a lot of weirdness in the martial arts. He went on to share some examples from boxing rings and MMA Octagons. I was reminded of that as I was thinking of what a weird bunch martial artists are.
I’ve been studying martial arts since 1982 when I first trained in Judo. Longer if you go back to the 1970s when I was studying out of Bruce Tegner and Fred Neff books similar to the way Mr. Miyagi found Daniel in the first “Karate Kid” movie. That is quite a bit longer than a lot of people, but not nearly as long as many others. It is, however, long enough to have seen quite a bit of weirdness myself, and definitely enough to conclude that we martial artists can be a weird bunch.
Sure, to those of us that have been involved with martial arts for years or decades, the arts may seem normal, but stop a moment and think about what outsiders see when they look upon us doing our thing in the training hall. (At least I hope they are only seeing you in the training hall, your garage, or maybe basement. Doing martial arts at Wal-Mart or some other similar place, yes you’ve seen it too, just makes martial artists look even weirder.) It’s bad enough that we wear what many consider pajamas, but the doboks and gis have gone from simple white uniforms to a rainbow of colors that must make some giggle and others have flashbacks to their Woodstock days. Not to mention stripes and patches that put NASCAR vehicles to shame. Come on, if you weren’t a martial artist, wouldn’t you think anyone dressed that way looked a little strange if not downright weird? (And even if you are a martial artist, don’t you think some of the uniforms out there embrace weirdness?)
And that’s just looking at our appearance. When we start yelling, jumping around, punching, kicking, and who knows what else, most outsiders can’t tell the difference between a real martial art and Master Ken’s Hurticane. It all looks and sounds funny. Because no matter what we think we look like, we don’t look as cool as Bruce Lee on the silver screen. Not unless we are Chuck Norris that is.
If I remember my Tony Robbins lessons correctly, most people seek pleasure or avoid pain. Makes sense, especially the most people do everything they can do avoid pain part. Isn’t that why they call it pain and not pleasure? We martial artists on the other hand, often hit, kick, throw, joint lock, and choke each other into submission or unconsciousness. We not only knock each other around, we brag about our black eyes and bruises. We share war stories of getting kicked in the groin, stomped in the head, and knocked out cold. We’re a weird bunch.
I’ll even go so far to say that American martial artists are often the weirdest. I say this because of so many Americans that practice Asian martial arts and attempt to out Asian the Asians. We not only go crazy with stripes and patches adorning our uniforms, but we take titles, ranks, and honors to the 10th degree. (Oh, wait, for some 10th isn’t high enough anymore, so we take things to the 15th dan, I mean degree.) Getting into the translation of titles would be an article in itself, so lets just say that I imagine non-martial artists find it weird when martial artists call others (or worse themselves) master, grand master, great grand master, doctor, professor, or a whole slew of Asian titles often used incorrectly. (I once had a well known American martial artist tell me that Koreans where using the Korean language wrong and that his way was correct. Hmmm… Since I was living in Korea at the time, I followed the way the Koreans were using their language.) And I don’t even want to talk about taking Asian words and adding English suffixes to them.
And egos, let me tell you… I don’t know if there is another group with such large egos. Well, maybe doctors or lawyers. Or worse, doctors or lawyers who are also martial artists. Oh wait, I closely resemble that last statement. At least I’m not as bad as a friend who was a doctor before becoming a lawyer and a martial artist through both careers. I’m sure that the movie going public scratch their heads in puzzlement when faced with the egomaniacal tantrums and behaviors of would be Mr. Miyagis and Kwai Chang Caines. There’s a thought. Can you imagine Mr. Miyagi and Kwai Chang Caine getting into an argument? (And if you can’t get over the time travel stuff to get these two together, think of Kwai Chang Caine’s grandson, also named Kwai Chang Caine, from “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.” Either one, they wouldn’t be arguing and bickering like so many martial artists today. Trust me, martial art organizational politics have nothing on big business or governmental politics.
I could get into all the bickering and fighting over which style is best and so on, but that’s not weird, it’s just sad. Because we all know that my style is best. Not “my style” as in “Alain’s style” but rather “my style” as in whoever is saying “my style.” Oh wait, are we back on the ego thing again? Well, sort of. Suffice it to say, I wish this wasn’t a part of martial arts.
Martial artists wear funny clothes, do things normal people don’t and won’t, call each other strange names, act and behave differently than just about any other group around, and display more egos than would be expected from a collection of people that professes the opposite. Yes, we martial artists are a weird group. But you know what? That’s okay. I wouldn’t be any other way.
To all my fellow martial artists, keep kicking for the stars!