Elite Fighting Styles – October 13, 2013, Kim Taylor, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph, Nanadan

Sunday morning at the cabin and we’re listening to CBC where Micheal Enright is doing a story on rudeness at classical music concerts, you know, those horrid people who cough, unwrap candies and get the stinkeye from other audience members if they clap between movements.

My daughter Lauren went ballistic. She is in her second year at Laurier for music and would very much like to make a living when she graduates. Get over yourselves she said of the high powered performers on the show, after pointing out that if we want classical music audiences in the future we’re going to need cup holders in the seats. She pointed out that at the time the music was written audiences threw rotten fruit at the stage if it was bad, what’s changed now?

Well what’s changed is money, as a student she can’t afford to go to the performances she’s not playing. Classical music is the realm of the rich and that isn’t going to change any time soon without some adjustments in attitude, but then again, why would the elites want to change anything? “You’re chasing my audience away” says my girl, and yes, they are. It isn’t elite if the common folk are there.

But that’s the audience, and those complaining on the radio are the performers so what’s that about? Well says Lauren, they figure they’re “entitled” to their respectful silence.

Mind you, this is a girl who laughes in concerts while the rest of the audience is doing their silent respect thing. She hears a progression the composer put down on paper to chuckles at the thought of pulling the wool over the audience’s eyes and she laughs at his joke. The elites? They don’t get it any more than the common folk do.

To be fair, she points out that a symphony isn’t miked up and halls can only project so much volume, if you’re not somewhat quiet you won’t hear the music and if you’re not there to listen you’re only there to be there.

The point? Budo is as full of elitism as any classical music crowd in the hall.

You need an audience in any art, our budo included, and you as a performer are not there if they are not. Yes we do have performances, demonstrations are important to what we do, they give us a way to test ourselves, to attract students and to interact with our fellow budoka. Much more civilized than “dojo storming”.

Silence in a performance? I remember a demonstration years ago in Ottawa where my teacher was asked to teach at a jujutsu seminar. The final public show was in an arena and it was loud. Or loud for every other music-filled enthusiastically jumping and kicking demo out there, but when we came up with no explanation, no music, just quiet concentration and swords swinging, the place went silent. It was actually a bit disturbing to realize that the audience was in fact, paying attention. They went silent because the performance asked for quiet and they were loud when the performance was exuberantly loud.

Earn your silence. Of course it does require an audience with some knowledge of what’s going on, if they are there only because that’s what rich folk do (patronize the symphony) you might be wasting your effort but who wants an audience like that?

But are we so non-elitist? Hah. I think at times we want to reserve our old schools for ourselves only and never mind if there is another generation coming along. You have to go to Japan to learn this stuff, you have to absorb the Japanese culture, including learning ancient Japanese so you can read the original documents in the original. You have to make sure only the right sort get into the school… you get the picture. If we go on with that where’s the audience for the next generation of teachers? Where are their students?

Classical music isn’t all that interesting to the general public, it takes some serious effort in the age of Lady Gaga and Justin Beleiber to understand those progressions that Lauren laughs at and there are few enough that want to put in the effort without chasing them away with “rules of behaviour” in a concert.

Classical budo is similarly uninteresting to the general public who figure the UFC is the ultimate test of martial arts ability. Why would we want to chase away the “samurai wannabes” the “anime kids” the “video game victims” and all the other scornful names we use for our potential future teachers? It’s hard enough to get into the mindset of our art, few enough make it in with encouragement, why would we try to chase away the interested?

Go thou forth and demonstrate to the masses whenever you get the offer. See if you can get them shouting and see if you can make them silent. At the end sign up the kids in the goofy outfits (ours aren’t?) and see if we can get the arts through the next 20 years.

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