Being a gentle martial artist without being a "Pooh Bear"

Posted on: Sun, 07/02/2006 - 14:55 By: Tom Swiss

Post to the Sabaki list in response to "A School Full of Pooh Bears", an excerpt from John Gradens new book, The Truth About the Martial Arts Business

To paraphrase Tom Hanks in the movie A League of Their Own, there_s no crying as a black belt!

Shoot. Ok, then, where do I turn mine in? Hell, I've been known to cry at episodes of The Simpsons...

Its important to be OK with the fact that martial arts can't be all things to all people. The very term martial means military. Military relates to matters of war.

It's often a bad idea to try to define what something is, by going to word origins. "Tragedy" comes from roots meaning "goat song", after all. Some martial arts - karate, for example - were not created for the battlefield, but for personal self-defense or for civil law and order enforcement. But we still call them "martial" arts.

This doesn't mean each class is devoted to killing or war tactics; it means that our foundation is one of peace through superior firepower.

The problem, of course, is that superior firepower doesn't bring peace (as my country is demonstrating in Iraq for all to see).

"Superior firepower" may be a useful tool, sure. When I step into a confrontational situation, as I've done on occasion, I'm confident enough to try to work for peace because I know that if all else fails, I've got a decent change of putting an elbow or a palm-heel into a soft part of their body to make an opening so I can run away. But smacking people around doesn't lead to peace.

Yes, it is sad if the idea "we don't just teach punching and kicking" becomes a cop out for not teaching decent self-defense. But there's a difference between "we don't teach punching and kicking" and "we don't *just* teach punching and kicking" (and throwing and locking and falling and...)

The whole way in which budo works as a path of spiritual development is because it brings you up against life-and-death. If you don't have strong self-defense in your budo, you've got no foundation for spiritual development either.

But as far as Graden's claim that the idea that a belt promotion that includes time spent blindfolded so participants can gain understanding of the situation of the blind is "reality challenged"...well, when I took my yondan promotion a few months ago, they led us, blindfolded, from the Seido honbu up the street to take class at our special program for the blind. It was a deeply moving experience. And I don't think doing Sanchin kata blindfold with someone pounding on your belly, or one-step sparring where you can't see your partner, is a path to Pooh-ness.

I've seen some of those blind students and it looks like they hit pretty hard.