An irrational fear of dance

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One thing I notice is that the majority of “martial artists” seem to have an irrational fear of the dance or entertainment roots of their arts. While we all like to believe that Kung fu originated in the Shaolin temple under the austere eye and strict tutelage of a high-ranking Zen monk, I think we all know that most of these stories are bunk now.

In fact, it seems that most Kung Fu masters were earning a living as street performers. It’s not as glamourous, is it? If you search back in the lineage of Wing Chun, for example, you soon end up at an Opera company – these were traveling entertainers. In Europe we’d call them a circus. A lot of other Kung Fu styles can trace their origins back to particular rituals and festivals where a martial group put on a demonstration. You still see these sorts of things today with Lion dances at festivals. They are always run by a Kung Fu school.

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And even today, what do most martial arts groups do to attract new students? They put on a stunning demonstration, usually involving breaking something, again another form of entertainment. The martial arts lend themselves to ‘putting on a show’ so very, very easily.

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And don’t forget, these days the most popular martial arts is MMA, which is, after all, a sport done for entertaining large crowds in an arena, in a way that’s very similar to the Roman Gladiator experience.

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How different is this really to the Roman amphitheater?

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But let’s turn it around and look at Europe’s past, not its present. I’m thinking about that killer martial art known as Ballet 🙂

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Our aristocracy’s preferred movement art form came out of its martial art of choice – fencing. The aristocracy was obsessed with fencing, especially to settle disputes. (Is it any wonder our leaders lead us into World War I when this was their preferred method of conflict resolution for centuries?)

But anyway, Ballet, with it’s turned out legs, has clear origins in fencing. As this video shows you:

 

The connection between movement arts like dance and martial arts is deep, and shouldn’t be dismissed because dance is seen as a more feminine expression these days. In 14th century France, Ballet was a very manly occupation.

Remember, Bruce Lee was a dance champion in Hong Kong 🙂 And don’t forget David Branch, a middleweight and light heavyweight champion of the world, swore by ballet classes.

“The first day I went, it was harder than any workout I’ve ever done,” Branch told wsof.com. “I feel it in my balance. I feel it in my overall physical strength. I feel it everywhere. Just in my posture and I feel like when I get into scrambles in a fight or anything fighting wise that involves entanglement and striking, I feel so strong. It’s natural strength, you know?”

Just ask Kate Winslet – she knows:

 

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Sand in your face and sickly children. Martial arts narratives.

At 6.28 in this BJJ promotion video from the early 1950s by Helio and Carlos Gracie, a “skinny guy” gets his girl stolen by bigger, stronger bully.  But don’t worry – he signs up for jiujitsu lessons and wins her back!

Let’s ignore the 1950’s idea of women as property and prize, which jars with modern sensibilities, and look at the marketing message. This narrative around the marketing of jiujitsu is clearly based on this classic advert for the Charles Atlas body building system “The insult that made a man out of Mac”:

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Again, a skinny scrawny guy, discovers the secret information that will turn him into a strong young bull and he has the powers to repel the sand kickers (with unlawful assault this time, but let’s forget about that at for a moment – it was a different age). He goes from being called a “little boy” by his girlfriend to being a “real man”.

In both cases we can see they’ve identified the target audience as the geeks. The skinny, scrawny men who need to gain knowledge and skills to compete with their more athletic contemporaries to win the approval of women.

So many times we hear the narrative that the founder of system x,y,z of martial arts was a sickly child or young man who overcame this using the power of his martial system to defeat not only his opponents but also his own weaknesses.

For example Chen Man Ching “An attack of tuberculosis turned Mr. Cheng’s attention to Tai Chi Chuan, which he credited with restoring his health.”

Bruce Lee “remained a sickly, skinny child throughout his early years”.

Grandmaster Huo Yan Jia (founder of Chin Woo) “frequently became ill and, as a result, was often taken advantage of by the other children”.

Notice that in the older, more conservative, Chinese narratives, there’s very rarely a women involved, unless it is the person’s mother. Sun Lu-tang was “a small and frail seeming child… When Sun’s mother heard that he was studying Kung Fu, She at first objected, afraid that he would hurt himself. Then she saw how much healthier her formerly-sickly child looked and give her blessing to him to continue his studies. ”

Do these stories bear much relation to reality? Sometimes, but often not. Here, for example, is a picture of the weak and sickly Helio Gracie who created Brazilian Jiujitsu by modifying the techniques of Jiujitsu to make them less physical, because he couldn’t use any strength in his techniques due to his frail condition.

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He “was always a very physically frail child. He would run up a flight of stairs and have fainting spells, and no one could figure out why. “

There probably is a lot of truth to sickly or weak people practicing martial arts diligently to improve their health, but the narrative is so often used and so often repeated that I can’t help but think a bit of marketing has slipped in at the same time.

And what’s the modern day equivalent? I suppose that it’s become about marketing martial arts directly to women. Women today don’t need a man to protect them – they can do it themselves!

 

 

Where will it go in the next 10-20 years, I wonder? Classes for men to learn to protect themselves from women? It’s possible….

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with any of these marketing trends, but I think it’s important to see them as trends. As always with martial arts – Caveat emptor “Let the buyer beware!”.

 

 

 

 

 

BBC self defence clip: “I was nearly raped”

An interesting clip popped up on the BBC website today about self defence for women by a woman. Here it is:

Here’s my potentially mansplaining view: She makes 3 quick points at the end – I really agree with her first two, (don’t be afraid to offend and use your voice) but her last one – “widen your stance” – I don’t get. I’d say the opposite – get ready to move! Get up on your toes (mentally, if not always physically) and get ready for movement. If you make a sitting duck of yourself against a man whose’s first move is probably going to be to try and grab you then that’s not good. Equally, if he’s going to strike you then adopting a firm, wide stance is not going to help either.

Watch my previous post about movement for self defence from Rob Poynton to see what I’m talking about.

Either way, I’m glad she made the point that despite all the martial arts techniques on show, the first two points can be done by anyone and are the most effective.

The comments section on that video is interesting too:

“I want to see that viral video of men teaching boys how to fight off the urge to be predatory.”

“But god forbid she be allowed carry a firearm to more effectively defend herself”

“Give her a gun and she’ll be unbeatble”

Learning to hate men!

“Unrealistic sweep, and sloppy arm bar. Train Jiu Jitsu, that will give you more realistic techniques that actually work. The clinch was also poorly done, with no control.”

” I remember reading somewhere that a man was jumped by 2 women. They we’re basically groping him & trying to take his trousers off. They wouldn’t stop & he slapped them. Next day, he had police at his door for common assault.”

There you have it – the great unwashed of the world live in every comments section. Never look below the line 🙂

 

The NHS is broken, and so am I

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Just before Christmas, I accidentally clashed heads with somebody while doing sports so hard that I broke the orbital bone underneath my right eye. This is called a “blowout fracture”. He effectively headbutted my eye. Yes, it hurt. A lot. And bled from my nose. I didn’t know anything was broken at the time, I just thought I’d had a bad knock. But more worrying was the instant double vision, which seemed to return back to normal(ish) very quickly. Even though it was getting better I still had it, so I phoned 111 the next day. Head injury with double vision? “Stay there, we’re sending a paramedic over”.
 
They took me to A&E since my symptoms were an indicator of bleeding on the brain, which is obviously a serious business. The doctor gave me an X-Ray, looked in my eyes and said I was fine. Go home. I had a bit of a black eye, but it didn’t look particularly bad. After Christmas I got a call from the hospital saying they were going over the X-Rays and found something they missed. Could I come in for a CT scan straight away? This sounded serious so I did. The CT scan indicated a fracture under the eye. I was referred to the Maxillo Fascial Unit at the Bristol Eye Hospital. After waiting a bit I went for my appointment with a surgeon who started talking about volumes of liquid in a glass and how mine was now a bigger glass, but the only words I was really taking in were “over time your eye will recede into your head”. So there’s nothing you can do?, I managed to blurt out at one point. “Oh yes, there’s surgery to correct it. We’ll put a metal plate in your head”.
 
Faced with that or my *eye receding into my head* I went with the latter option. I did the pre-op visit the same day and after a few days, I received an appointment at the BRI to have the operation done in a couple of weeks. That seemed a reasonable time to me as it was classed as a non-emergency but “needed doing”.
 
Here’s what happens when you are admitted. First, you have to rearrange your life around the fact that you have to stay in hospital overnight. So you’ve moved things around at work, cancelled things you were going to do, booked time off and generally written off the week for getting over the general anesthetic and pain. You can’t eat or drink anything 7 hours before the op, which is inconvenient. Then you need to get to hospital at 7.15am. The BRI is right in the centre of Bristol so you get dropped off by a helpful friend (thank you, Jonathan).
 
So you do all that. From 6.30am onwards you and your little group of today’s patents gather in the waiting room, with a sense of too early morning doom hanging over you all. You’re all going through your own different personal hells as you wait. Then you are called in.
 
A nurse calls you to a room, does some blood pressure checks and makes sure you haven’t got MRSA or any other major health problems. Once that’s done the anesthetist rolls in. They are full of optimism and joy. They talk you through the anesthetic procedure and how it’s all good to go from their end and there won’t be any problems. Now your spirits are lifted and you’re feeling positive everything is going ahead. Then the surgeon comes in and tells you there’s a 50% chance it won’t happen because there’s no bed for you currently. And since you were last here (yes, this is your *second* attempt at an operation after the first was cancelled because there wasn’t an anesthetist available), “50% of all patients have been sent home without their operation”, so your chances really aren’t good. But wait until the 11 o’clock bed meeting and hopefully one will free up, but it doesn’t usually because you are a lower priority to people having a genuine medical emergency, and your procedure “doesn’t need to be done today”.
 
But after waiting 2 hours there’s some good news! There’s a bed! After another wait, you see the surgeon again and he looks positively relieved “Good news!”, he says, but there are people due to be operated on before you so it won’t be until after 3.30. That’s ok, I’ve got a book and a comfy seat. I can wait.
 
To be fair, the constant state of anxiety about whether it will or won’t happen does take your mind off the fact that a surgeon is going to open up your face with a sharp knife and mess around with your eyeball before putting a metal plate underneath it and screwing it in.
 
You relax and settle down to read. 2 hours later a very nice woman you haven’t seen before turns up and tells you that she’s very sorry but your operation is canceled because they’ve “run out of time”. That’s it. Go home, wait for another appointment in the post. “But this is the second time this has happened!”, you say. “I know, sorry…”, she says. Apparently, the woman due to go before me has only just gone in and hers is a long operation, meaning they won’t be finished before 5.
 
At this point you say FML and look into private health care, wishing you’d done that a month ago. At least they wiped the arrow they’d drawn on my head off this time before they sent me home, unlike last time.
 
I’m lucky that my job comes with private health care (BUPA). I’ve never used it. My NHS surgeon was at great pains to say that if I went private then he couldn’t recommend one hospital over another, but I got some options out of him. I eventually wrestled a ‘consultation authorisation number’ out of BUPA’s corporate team (There’s a £100 excess I need to pay, or something) over the phone and contact a private hospital. They gave me a consultation date of the next day at 9.30am in the morning. “We have our own car park, which you can use”. (Words you will never hear in the NHS.)
 
I still don’t know if my insurance covers me for the op – I have to get a procedure code at the consultation, then phone up and find out if I’m covered for that procedure, or something. I still might not actually be covered. I’ve yet to find out.
 
I’ve used NHS local doctors and dentists all my life. I hadn’t felt the need to go through the hassle of enacting private health insurance because everything seemed to be going smoothly on the NHS. Until it wasn’t. Twice, now. And with no guarantee it will be any different the third time.
 
I love the idea of the NHS. I’ve been paying for it all my working life. I tried to use it, but it’s broken. All the doctors and nurses I met were lovely, but if the system is broken how does that help?
 
If there’s a motto then just don’t get any sort of non-emergency injury in Britain in 2018. Or be rich. I guess that’s the message.
 
Oh and if you live in Britain, then please vote anything other than Conservative at the next election. That would help, thanks.