Here is a classic problem that every martial artist will run into sooner or later. If you’ve experienced it already, you probably cringed just reading the title of this post. If you haven’t…well let’s say you have something to look forward to.
There is a strange biological occurrence that happens in people when they initially find out that you do a martial art. First, they will give you a quick look up and down. This is a flash of assessment that basically leads them to think one of two things:
1. Ohh great, this crazy is gonna punch a hole in my wall or something.
2. THAT guy/girl does karate? Haha yea right.
Of course this occurs very quickly and is promptly covered up with a pleasantry, such as: “ohh wow, cool.” or “ohh like Jackie Chan. Sure, sure.”
You, the martial artist, will find this moment awkward. Luckily these brief exchanges are usually filled with a nervous, complimentary energy. The person is trying to get on your good side just in case you’re a death touch ninja.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely to end there. If the ‘friend’ who has just found out about your training is a bold, forthcoming individual, they will meet you with skepticism very shortly after the pleasantries have subsided. People with average temperament will wait until the evening has worn on, or even until you’ve hung out a couple of times. Sooner or later, they will remark:
“Hey! Show me something karate!”
And they will demand it with this look on their face:
They’ve seen plenty of kung fu movies after all, and they are pretty sure you can’t do the stuff they’ve seen. Now you’re put into a bad spot. You’ve probably been taught over and over again that you should never use your abilities unless it is absolutely necessary. Chauvinistic displays only serve to stroke egos and intimidate innocent people.
But then, on the other hand, you don’t want to be prodded and snickered at every time you see this person. And in a lot of cases (close friends, family members, coworkers, etc.), you are GOING to be seeing this person again.
What to do?
I’ll give you the three escape routes that I have developed that coincide with martial arts theory, and leave your assailant satisfied (at least to a degree).
Option 1: Excuse Yourself From the Situation
This is the most temporary solution, but still works for the short term. You can excuse yourself from demonstrating your abilities with a legitimate concern. For example, if you are in the workplace, you can very easily suggest that such activity would be inappropriate for the office and you fear repercussions from the boss.
If you are in your home, or someone else’s home, you can use the excuse of tight quarters for fear of breaking something. Most people will begrudgingly accept this, although if it’s a nice day, you’ll have to be ready for the ‘let’s just go outside’ suggestion.
A good catch-all excuse is injury. Cite sore shoulders or a tweaked knee. If you’ve got a real injury story, launch right into it. This will probably take the conversation away from karate and into different topics thereafter.
Option 2: Make It A Lesson
This is a pretty good option. If you’ve got the time, take your questioner’s challenge as a chance to enlighten him/her. This works especially well if there are a few people around. Start off by using your questioner as uke for a few self defense techniques. Do it at a fairly speedy pace at first otherwise you’ll just get more skepticism about “that fancy stuff not actually working.” After you’ve shown it work for real, gather everyone in a little closer and begin to explain WHY it works. Most people will be really interested and entertained.
Once you’ve hooked everyone’s attention, let them try the technique on you. People have a natural comfort zone that they don’t like crossed, which is why going around and doing your technique on people is a bad idea. Instead, put them in the driver’s seat. Reassure them that you won’t be hitting them or fighting back, and that they can simply try the technique on you. Make sure you don’t resist too hard as it will shatter their trust.
Once everyone is interested, laughing, and feeling surprised by their new found technique, let them pair up with each other and try it out some more, very slowly. By the end of this impromptu class, people will be happy to know that you know karate and will begin to ask you earnest questions with little sense of incredulity.
Option 3: Everything I Do Is Karate
This is the hardest one to pull off actually, but for veterans of getting asked to do awkward demos, it can be the most fun. What you do is explain the reality of what karate is all about (sounds simple, right?)
Karate, when practiced with your full heart, seeps into every movement you make. The way you walk, the way you breath, the way you think, all becomes extensions of your martial art. Furthermore, your martial art becomes an extension of you. In the dojo, you’re no longer doing kata by the textbook. You are doing your kata, even though an impartial observer wouldn’t recognize the significant difference.
When someone asks you to do something karate, you simply respond that everything you do is karate. Standing in front of them. Talking to them. The distance you are standing away from them and the angle your body has adopted in regards to their centerline. The timing in the sway of their stance. The look in their eye.
You’ve assessed it all and needn’t even think about how to respond because the outcome has been predetermined, like surrounding your opponent’s king in chess.
If your questioner is brazen and continues to push the issue, you can prompt him/her to throw any technique they like, and you simply respond with a controlled counter (hint: heads up for a right punch). This small example of effectiveness + technique will likely quiet any further concerns they might have.
Once again, only use option three if one and two seem out of the question…or if you feel like hearing yourself wax poetic about martial arts philosophy.
Not that I do, of course.
Read More / Comment
Hi all. I hope everyone had an enjoyable weekend. I just wanted to post quickly about a book review I did recently on Chris Thompson’s Black Belt Karate. I’m one of the “critics” over at BBMReview (Black Belt Mama’s pet project) and did a little write up for it.
I’m no end-all-be-all authority on these books and I actually admire the author’s accomplishments, both in the realm of martial arts and publication. But, I feel like I gave it a pretty unbiased review. Check it out here.
Read More / Comment
Special thanks goes out to Lizzie for inspiring this post. In the comments section of my last entry, George Alexander Interview Part 2, Lizzie asked a very simple question: Do you believe in Chi?
Interesting. Both the question and the wording.
Most people have heard of Chi, even if they have only the faintest familiarity with the martial arts. Shows like Kung Fu, combined with slews of low budget martial arts movies, have made Chi a household concept. Supposedly, Chi is that magical power that causes Shaolin monks to levitate and smash concrete with their bare hands.
Kung Fu with David Carradine
Of course, the question wasn’t “what is Chi?”, but “do you believe in Chi?” And I would like to answer that directly – I don’t think Chi is something that needs to be ‘believed in.’ Chi being “mystical” is a bit of a western manifestation of something they was initially misunderstood. This mysticism has persisted because it translates well into movies is perpetuated by charlatans who know they can make a quick buck.
Chi (or ki) is mostly just an eastern explanation of the natural energy we all have. A more modern term is biokinetics. Your ability to apply force on an object or to move your body is all powered by Chi. Further, Chi can be focused. When you contract your muscles and well up your energy for a sharp punch, you’ve essentially focused your Chi.
We all know energy exists. If you watch a fire, you see heat and light energy being emitted from the chemical reaction taking place. When we eat a good meal, we feel revitalized because the body is replenished with the natural chemicals it needs to create the energy that fuels our body. It’s not mystical…it’s just life!
Therefore, you can say I do believe in Chi…in the traditional sense.
This leads us to the bigger question, the Chi elephant in the room – do I believe in the miraculous abilities espoused by “Chi Masters.”
No. For the most part. 95% of Chi manipulation I have encountered involves gaijin pretending like they are David Carradine. It occurs often. There is nothing mystical about striking someone in the temple and watching them get knocked out. There is also nothing mystical about striking two vital points that cause an electrical disruption to the brain. There is ALSO nothing mystical about temporarily cutting off bloodflow to the brain.
These are just effective techniques. You can use a light ‘Chi’ touch because a compliant partner in a calm state is very receptive to disruptions in his/her body. In other words, kyusho isn’t mystical. It just takes tons and tons of practice.
Chi That I Don’t Buy Into
As I mentioned earlier, some people use the myth of Chi for their own personal gain. Somewhere along the line, “the no touch knockout” started to make an appearance. This baffles me. In all the old texts I have read (think bubishi), there is never a mention of the no touch knockout. If this is such an astounding technique, wouldn’t the Okinawans have at least hinted at it in their most important martial text?
Maybe it was too secret…who knows. But none of the senior instructors I have ever trained with have claimed to know this technique, nor have they ever seen it done by the Okinawan masters of the previous generation. Nor are there any tales handed down through the generations of Okinawans about this technique being used. Yet…here it is:
I’m not here to make any judgments about the character of this instructor or the students; I’m merely suggesting that this technique works on the students for reason other than the myth of Chi.
Consider this: hypnosis is a voluntary state of mind. People willingly interact with a hypnotist in order to cure small ailments or unveil buried parts of their psyche. The mind is a powerful tool, and when combined with will, can be affected dramatically.
If you were told over and over again that you’re feeling Chi energy from your instructor, and all your peers are telling you you feel it, and you really want to feel it…guess what…you’re going to feel it.
Why is this dangerous? Because it turns into this:
This was just a sporting event. Those Chi students could be in for a lot worse in real life.
Chi That I Won’t Discount Right Away
I’m a skeptic, it’s true. But that certainly doesn’t mean I’m closed minded. We are far from unlocking all the little mysteries that make up the human mind. The first kind of Chi that I do not discount is physical conditioning plus trained willpower.
Shaolin Monks do, in fact, break cement slabs. They lay on beds of nails and endure spear thrusts without any puncture wounds. These feats are truly impressive, but they come from years of rigorous physical training and learning how to control the energy in the body. Think of it this way: if you are just standing around and someone sucker punches you in the gut, you are bound to go down in a heap. But if you tense all your abdominal strength and focus your entire being into absorbing that blow…you’ll be ok (assuming you’ve done adequate physical training). These kinds of dynamic feats are impressive and serve to show the adaptability of the human body.
The other kind of Chi I don’t readily discount is healing. Acupuncture, Qigong, Tai Chi, and others all claim to have healing properties. These arts use the Chinese meridian theory of Chi flow in the body. Much like Kyusho can be used to disrupt electrical/blood flow, so can healing be used to promote it.
These healing arts get very complex, utilizing different times of day, meridians, vital points, and more. How much is myth and superstition vs how much promotes health I couldn’t possibly say. All I’m saying is that this is Chi that seems feasible to me.
I’d like to leave you with something that blurs the lines. At first when you watch this, you’ll be inclined to disbelieve. I know I was. But by the end I was left scratching my chin. How much of this is Chi fluff…how much is real? I’ll let you decide.
Special thanks to everyone for reading and commenting. Feel free to ask questions the way Lizzie did!
Read More / Comment