Hunting Under Rocks – Sept 13, 2014, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

As long as I’ve been in the martial arts (since 1980) and even earlier than that according to the old books and magazines I devoured in those early days, folks have been hunting for and exposing fakes and frauds.

Are they more common in the martial arts? Are there no frauds elsewhere? How about your local gym? The fitness industry seems to need government intervention to get rid of the fraud about once each 7-8 years.

I haven’t seen anything in the martial arts world, including the guys who end up in jail for abusing their students, that’s any worse than the local dance academy, the Boy Scouts or the Girl Guides. We aren’t special in any way except possibly because folks expect the martial arts to be somehow more spiritual and moral than the guy next door giving guitar lessons to wannabe rock stars. (We won’t talk about the problems in various religious groups but it bears thinking about if we want to compare spiritual preaching vs practice).

But I’m not talking about that sort of abuse, sure it needs to be addressed, not here, but with the police. If it’s not a criminal affair, if it’s simply “bad form” or “fakes” below the threshold for criminal charges, than you’re into the realm of libel and slander lawsuits. Which is fine if you get worked up about that stuff and don’t mind getting sued. I’ve watched it happen in the budo world and in the local baseball leagues, again it’s not unique to martial arts.

But there’s a level below the fakes and frauds. I refer to the seeming compulsion of folks to discuss the legitimacy of koryu lines they are not involved in, have no knowledge of, or any real business discussing. In fact, even more confusing to me, discussing arts they are not likely ever to get the chance to practice. There’s an element of the witch hunt to this, the blind acceptance of a black and white interpretation of something that is multiple shades of grey. The branding of one side as right and the other as wrong with no actual knowlege of the history or circumstances. A simple minded acceptance of the “common” wisdom with no critical analysis or second thoughts that perhaps all sides in the dispute might have a legitimate point.

I maintain that, just as bringing up old family arguments does not help get the cousins finally re-invited to the wedding next month, bringing up “splits” and suggesting that some lines are “in” and some are “out” is not helpful to the art you’re “trying to help survive”. Far from it, it acts to keep the family divided. It’s especially bad when junior’s new girlfriend brings up the old wounds since now everyone is wondering just how much dirty laundry (and every family has it) is getting aired in public.

It’s just not helpful in any way for strangers to an art to suggest that one group or another is “the legitimate” koryu group. They simply don’t know. They don’t get to vote on it in some external group that declares legitimacy so what’s the point? Idle chatter? Witch hunting (which is always fun but leads to such things as burning at the stake of innocent people)?

My one and only desire is that people think for themselves and not accept things blindly.

I’ve been at the “exposure” game a lot longer than the world wide web has been in existance by the way, but I’ve always found a more useful way to go at it is to shine a light on what’s real rather than go hunting under rocks for what’s fake.

Illegal activity and abuse is for the legal system to solve. Below that, the guys that “make it up” should be exposed yes? Before doing that, have we done the research to distinguish the outright fake from someone we’ve never heard of? We should or we’re no better than the fishwife sharing gossip over the back fence.

What about the guy who learns from his teacher in Japan and that teacher turns out to be a fraud? Where does good faith fit into all this? There’s kids in the second or third generation of a local club who are having fun and getting some exercise but back at the beginning was some serious “making it up”. A problem? Not really, the stuff that didn’t work for them, that was harmful to the knees and dangerous to the trees, seems to have dropped out and the instruction seems no more or less harmful than the local self-certified fitness instructors. After all the fitness industry certification business has only been going for a couple of generations as well, and when it started it certainly wasn’t based on scientific research or government studies was it?

Those potential students who are deeply concerned with being “legitimate” and wanting a lineage 400 years old can easily find such things on the net these days. As long as you don’t look TOO closely your unbroken lineage will be there for you to practice.

Perhaps we can feel easier about the ones we doubt if we just admit to ourselves that it’s not really our concern unless someone makes it so.

Which still leaves me with the most extreme form of legitimacy-doubting. The folks who say about a fellow teacher in their own art “yes he’s got a rank but he really doesn’t deserve it”. This probably happens more than the witch-hunts in other people’s arts simply because most folks are looking inward rather than out. Most folks are zealots about their own arts and ignore the rest of the world.

Do I hear those types of comment from the folks who gave out the rank? No, because those folks are usually not stupid and would not have given the rank to someone undeserving in the first place. The criticism usually comes from someone lower down or to the side of the grading system and the complaint usually amounts to “I don’t like him”. Which would be a much more honest statement, let’s face it.

Have I ever cast doubt on someone’s right to a rank? I hope not. Have I ever pushed someone whose rank seemed a bit inflated? Damned right I have, and I always got immediate and sometimes painful answers to those questions. You’ve got the right to physically question someone’s ability in your art, within the confines of that art, and taking into account differences in rank. You can push a senior rank any way you wish but you test lower ranks to guide them.

But even if the test shows your partner to be a bit lacking in the ability you figure his rank should require, what have you proved to yourself (and this testing should always be private). I’ve seen kids beat the crap out of old men in competitive matches, is this a legitimate test? No, old men are teachers not fighters, go test one of their students who are closer to your physical abilities. You don’t give rank back as you lose your bone and muscle mass so you don’t get the right to doubt that rank.

The fun stuff is when you question rank from a distance and question it for things like “integrity” and “don’t understand the secrets”. That’s the time when your own rank can come into question for the very same critique so you’d better be very careful about who you say such things to.

Think about it, you say about some dude in the next county “he doesn’t get the inner workings and so doesn’t deserve his rank”. Who have you just insulted? Dude might get upset but who gave dude his rank? That’s the guy who is going to be ticked off and that might just be the same guy who gave you your rank. I’ve seen it happen in budo and I’ve seen it happen in business. My advice is not to walk into someone else’s house and tell him his wallpaper is the wrong colour.

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