A No BS Introduction to Bullshido
Originally published January 2006.
A No BS Introduction to Bullshido
For about four years now, Bullshido has been the Internet’s version of a baseball bat swung at the heads of people who exploit the Martial Arts for profit while providing dangerously inadequate and unrealistic training.
If you’ve never happened upon our little corner of the web, you’re either in for a treat, or you’re in for an aneurism from having your blood pressure skyrocket. That’s the thing though; we don’t normally get a middle-of-the-road reaction from folks. This is because you either immediately grasp the concept of the Martial Arts being about training to become an effective fighter, or you’ve been suckered into thinking they’re about playing dress up and living out your Saturday morning Kung Fu Theater fantasies and resent any such assertion.
With the steady progress the sport of MMA has made in getting public attention, we, at Bullshido, hope the message starts to sink into the public consciousness that the Martial Arts are above everything else, about fighting. After all, punching and kicking have no other purpose but to hurt someone, whether in defense of yourself and your loved ones, or in sport competition such as Boxing, Kickboxing, or MMA (all considered “combat sports). Either you can fight, or you can’t, and no amount of board breaking, flashy uniforms, or glow-in-the-dark nunchucks will change this simple truth.
However, at Bullshido we do spend a lot of time treating the symptoms and not the problem. This is because the real problem is well beyond the scope of what we can realistically accomplish on a website, no matter how devoted we may be to doing so. The real problem, as we see it, is a character flaw in many people that attracts them to the Martial Arts in the first place. They want to feel they’re something more than just Larry Schmo, gas station attendant living a boring life. By dressing up in silk pajamas and learning how to prance around like a crane, or putting on combat fatigues and running around in the woods, they’re playing out their fantasies of being something greater than themselves. We’ll go into more detail on what we call “Martial Arts Roleplaying” in the next few months.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to better yourself or to strive for an ideal. But the problem comes when someone has such a burning desire to achieve his or her goal, that they need to sacrifice critical thinking and delude themselves into believing they’ve accomplished it; instead of actually accomplishing that goal. Most people are not going to be Jet Li, no matter how hard they train or how much money they shell out for belt testing at their neighborhood strip mall McDojo. Jet Li, for one, is a small Chinese guy who’s been doing WuShu, which is a demonstration-only version of Chinese Martial Arts, almost all of his life. Secondly, the very reason you know of Jet Li is because he’s phenomenal at what he does: performing over-the-top displays of Martial choreography. If everyone could do it, it wouldn’t be special, and you wouldn’t care about trying to be him in the first place.
People want to not only look up to heroes, but to be heroes. I’d like to think it was a product of the 80’s pop culture which told us Rambo could fire an M-60 machine gun one-handed (my 260 lb platoon sergeant couldn’t), and a malnourished-looking teenager could win a Karate point tournament by pretending to be a bird. Realistically though, I know that it’s simply something that’s been within each of us since we first started telling stories around the Cro-Magnon campfires, and can’t be blamed on Hollywood. But an unfortunately large number of people don’t seem to make the connection on that important subconscious level that you don’t have to be the comic book superhero, or in our case, the super Ninja assassin of the mists, to have a valid sense of worth in society.
These people seek out fantasy, and are preyed upon by those willing to sell it to them. This is the core of the “bullshido” phenomenon; people suspending disbelief in order to be the image of what they want to be, and those who sell the myths and fantasies to them for profit.
Think of this initial column of mine as an introduction to what we do on Bullshido. To many people, it’s a slap in the face. Nobody wants to be told they’ve wasted several years and thousands of dollars on garbage. And even fewer want to change their behavior after being confronted with this reality. People want to be deceived. It’s called the “Barnum Effect”, after P.T. Barnum the circus mogul who said that “there’s a sucker born every minute”. For a lot of people, it’s easier to continue believing that beating up on innocent lumber will keep them from being stuffed into lockers in gym class, or allow them to take down (if only in their daydreams) the big jock who kicks sand in their face on the beach and goes home with their girlfriend.
What we do is try to strip away the BS and expose others to the reality of what they’re accomplishing (or failing to accomplish) in their Martial Arts training. And the good news is that it’s easy to do: it’s called sparring. The best way to find out if what you’re doing works is to try it on someone who sincerely doesn’t want it to work. Nearly everyone that trains for MMA competition spars, and does it full contact at least on a semi-regular basis. That’s because sport fighters need to have a realistic understanding of their skill level; not only to improve on those skills, but so they can avoid the consequences of overestimating them (which is often getting severely beaten in front of a large crowd of people).
The problem lies in finding ways to coax/cajole/force/shame non-MMA Martial Artists into testing their skills by sparring. Of course, if you shelter yourself from any such test of skills, you never have to prove them. As is often the case with those who have delusions, they will go to nearly any lengths to safeguard them from any and all criticism. On Bullshido, we’ve seen just about every argument against having to spar realistically.
These arguments include the infamous “our techniques are too deadly to use in sparring”, which would be correct if we were talking about sparring with .45 caliber handguns or swords. Fortunately, the human body is not as frail as McDojo instructors would like us to think. And with a minimal amount of safety equipment, one can take a pretty good beating without any serious injury. The corollary of that is the excuse, “we don’t train to fight, we train to kill”. Yeah, right Sparky. Baby steps… You’re not going to be killing attackers if you’re busy getting stomped into the ground because you’ve never tried any of that stuff in a real fight.
We also often run into people who say that sparring should only be done at the black belt level or higher for various reasons including a “greater amount of control” at that level. This is a lot like saying you should never actually practice driving until you have your license. Yeah, that’s pretty idiotic by common sense standards. First, unless you’re completely uncoordinated or are intentionally being a prick, it’s not too hard to stop short of murdering your sparring partner. In either case, you’ll probably just earn a serious beating by someone who’s much better than you next time around. Secondly, it makes no sense that you can somehow learn greater control of your techniques by not doing them on resisting opponents.
In the coming months we’ll go over excuses like these and more as we wade neck-deep into the BS in the Martial Arts. Remember, the best way to fight BS is to be honest with yourself and those around you.
Neal “Phrost” Fletcher is the co-founder and Site Director for Bullshido.com and an amateur MMA fighter with a self-described “laughable” 0-1 fight record. He feels the best lessons are the most painful ones, and the world would be a better place if everyone, on occasion, got punched in the face.