Tenth Dan In Bul Shi Tsu
Absurd Claims and Martial Efficacy
Can a martial art with a fabricated history or lineage be effective?
How should we react when confronted with practitioners selling the latest "ultimate" or "most efficient" art, something so secret and so powerful that it has only recently been made available to the public?
Should you believe marketing that claims, for two hundred dollars and a video tape series, that you will "fear no man" or "defeat any attacker?"
The martial arts world is rife with absurd claims. More common, if slightly less hyperbolic than claims of Ultimate Best Super Efficiency, are the assertions within established arts whose official histories are shaky at best -- and completely manufactured at worst. Should these arts be shunned, dismissed, derided, or otherwise avoided?
There are two components one must consider when evaluating a martial art or combatives system: history and technique. History includes any and all marketing claims and background associated with the art. Technique, obviously, is the actual physical efficacy of the art's theory and application.
The two have no relationship to each other -- except for the insight the history offers into the mind and ethics of the individual making claims about the technique.
When you encounter someone claiming to teach the martial art of the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs' fry cooks or foot soldiers, demand that he or she attempt to substantiate this rather odd claim. We know precious little about ancient Egyptian society in comparison to the totality of it. Can anyone alive today tell you for certain how the ancient Egyptians even pronounced their name for themselves? Does it stand to reason that specific techniques would be handed down from generation to generation to the present day?
If an instructor tells you his videotapes are hot stuff because he teaches the ancient combative art of Roman gladiatorial janitors, ask yourself seriously just how possible it is that these techniques have managed to travel from the blood-soaked Coliseum floor to your VCR through the mists of time. If you're being asked to believe that the cost of shipping and handling is all that separates you from the explosive power of vampire gypsy acrobat ninja from the steppes of Romania, be skeptical.
While you're being skeptical, however, ask yourself this: Why is this instructor trying to sell me on this? Why, if his art is worth learning, should he feel it is necessary to snow me with absurd and unverifiable pretense? Does this instructor know that the lineage or history of her art cannot be verified? If not, what excuse is there for ignorance of this type? If so, why is she lying to me?
There are a lot of earnest instructors out there who lean hard on marketing hype. Usually, they'll be honest about what they're doing. They're business people and they need to sell themselves. It's unfortunate that the hard sell often looks just like the absurd claims made by charlatans, but when you examine teachers like this more closely, you'll generally see them for what they are.
If, however, your examination reveals someone who surrounds himself with ridiculous claims of history and lineage, you're dealing with someone who desperately wants the dubious credibility such affections provide. Be wary of this. Even if that Romanian-death-ninja-vampire-acrobat-Gymkata style is superbly effective on the street, the foundation of all good teaching is trust. Can you trust someone who would knowingly lie to you?
"Fear no man!"
"The most effective art of all time!"
"Learn to defeat any attacker in fifteen minutes!"
The surest way to spot a questionable art is to be confronted with unbelievable marketing. The more fraudulent the system, the more outlandish the assertion. You've seen the web sites and the full-page advertisements in Black Belt. Be extremely suspicious of anyone claiming to offer the "ultimate" anything, and run fast and far from anyone who thinks you'll be a black-belt-thrashing terror after a half hour of video "courses."
When you see this sort of business, question it. Here's a tip, too: testimonials aren't proof. No matter how whacky the system, there will always be rubes who fall for it. Their glowing recommendations are simply their means of combating cognitive dissonance, that discomfort caused by the conflict between reality and our contrary desires and actions. Demand proof. The burden of proof rests with those who make grand assertions.
Keeping these warning signs in mind, you may decide you wish to check into a questionable art for yourself. If you have the time and the resources, by all means, do so. And don't be swayed when the marketer in question becomes indignant or otherwise outraged, demanding to know who you are to question him.
You see, fraudulent histories combined with outrageous claims of technique are the two-pronged attack that Virtual Tough Guys ( http://philelmore.com/profiling/vtg.htm ) use to create and defend their delusional architectures. When you question these, you are attacking their fragile self-images. Wouldn't you become angry and defensive when your self-worth as so challenged? When pressed, such people will trot out long lists of credentials. This Appeal to Authority is designed to stop your substantive criticisms before they begin. While those confident in their abilities and secure in their personalities don't often trouble themselves over questions of paper certifications, those who are terribly concerned that you see them as they wish to be seen rely on these. Remember that the truth or falsehood of a statement is not found in the resume of the speaker. Words stand on their own.
DOES IT MATTER?
The martial arts are a lot like religion. There are true believers who can be dissuaded by nothing, regardless of the tenuous nature of their beliefs. And there are solid individuals whose conduct and knowledge are impeccable -- even if one doubts the veracity of the very foundations of that knowledge.
Much as a religion invented wholesale centuries ago can attain credibility and legitimacy over time, even arts with fabricated histories can be effective. Given enough time, these arts can even become worthy of respect, as the assumed credibility of historical assertions gives way to the real credibility earned through application of the art.
The key is in the approach of the individual practitioner or instructor. An instructor who clings to dubious assertions about her art's background, who becomes angry and defensive when questioned about them, should not be trusted. A teacher who claims to know devastating ultimate secrets only recently made available to the public, who cloaks himself in an aura of SpecOps BlackBag mystery, should not be taken seriously. Even if the individual in question is capable of taking on all challengers, whipping Bruce Lee's ghost, picking up a tree and killing legions of ninja assassins, or poking holes through cinder blocks with his index finger, you cannot afford to trust those who place such a high value on pretense.
Edited by - Sharp Phil on August 13 2002 07:53:48
I completely Agree. Good material, the VTG link is pretty good, they thrash on Ashida Kim just as much as me.