Token Resistance

No secret that people like to talk about my blog posts, and not so surprising that some people really dislike them. Recently, in a discussion elsewhere about one of my posts, someone wrote an off-hand comment that I assumed was directed at me, to the effect that people shouldn’t listen to someone who chooses to write blog posts instead of actually training. I assumed it was written with me in mind, since I do write a lot, and post some of it. It doesn’t matter to me so much, because my hope is that there will be other people writing as much as me in the future. But thinking about those other writers, and what such comments mean, got me thinking.

We, as WMA/HEMA/SMA(Superior Martial Arts) practitioners, are supposed to look down on such atrocities as modern sport fencing. It is obviously wrong, and opposed to all that we stand for. It’s important that we take a stand, that we resist any bit of our precious bodily fluids noble art being corrupted by any influence from the dark side.

Or on the flip side (bear with me while I jump around) the advent of the UFC has proven that traditional martial arts are all bullshit, smoke and mirrors. They teach useless fantasy techniques that have no bearing in the real world, and evaporate under any realistic test.

Of course, my traditional martial art, which I learned from the 13th generation grandmaster and direct descendant of all the previous grandmasters…the purest lineage…is full of secret teachings that are far to deadly to be used in the ring. My art is only meant for the street, where there are no rules.

But I’m not sure why people waste time on all that nonsense. They need to let go of all the aggression and misplaced maternalistic longing for mother earth, and learn to channel the subtle energies of healing. Sure, it takes a long time to get results, but you can learn to overcome any aggression by blending with misguided people and making them one with your sphere.

I’m sure you can fill in your own little statement for a particular aspect that bugs you the most.

When I was an avid student of Zen, one of my favourite little puzzle bits started out with a tale. A samurai goes up to a priest, and asks him to explain heaven and hell. The priest looks at the samurai with a sneer, and starts insulting him in a brutal fashion. The samurai only has to listen to a bit of this, and whips his sword out to cleave the disgusting little man in two. The priest holds up a hand and stops the samurai…looks him in the eye, and says “You’ve opened the gates of hell.” Well, dammit. The samurai nods, and starts to put his sword away. The priest smiles, and says “Now you walk the path of heaven.”

The stoics were a little more direct about it. Marcus Aurelius, or one of the others, said that opinion was the only thing we needed to get rid of to be happy in life. Opinion gives us the ability to reduce people to tokens, to stamp them irrevocably with a template that lets us skip the complex task of understanding them, or of seeing them as human beings. Hell starts when we think of us and them. Takuan Soho writes about a sword that takes life, and a sword that gives life. It’s not a single action or thing, but a process we embrace throughout life.

Philosophy aside, we can consider the practical aspects. In the first shiny excitement of the early UFC, traditional karate, the Shotokan style I trained in, looked to be a dead thing with no value. Any style that utilized spinning attacks was derided as being fluff, not fit for real fighting. Looking to the modern UFC, things have changed. One of the top fighters is a high-ranked Shotokan stylist. Spinning techniques aren’t regarded as fluff, but dangerous techniques to be wary of, lest you become highlight-reel fodder for someone else. Traditional martial arts fail in the ring only because a particular school doesn’t train for ring fighting, not because the techniques are poor. A top-notch fighter can make the craziest thing work if they want it to.

The gentle, peace-loving arts tend to have the most brutal techniques. Taijichuan was the Brazilian Jujutsu of it’s day, for good reason. That hippy talking peace and love to you just might be the veteran of more violence that you’ve ever dreamed existed. And I quit a full-time job to work part time, so that I would have time to write, fence, and spend time with my wife. It costs me about $20 000 a year to write, without much exaggeration.

I don’t have a lot of patience with smug superiority. Every few years that go by seems to breed a new crop of people convinced that their school is the center of the WMA universe, that their teacher holds the secret key that makes them better than everyone else. Pervasive bullshit. Most of the community is learning to move beyond it, through the simple act of getting up and away from the keyboard. We make the effort to go and spar…fight, not talk…with other students, with other schools. We open ourselves up a bit, we learn and we teach. We build a community, not isolate ourselves.

Taming your opinion isn’t something you can just do. It’s the work of a lifetime, you have to practice it as an aspect of your swordplay. You can’t practice it behind a keyboard, or only amongst those you train with. It’s too easy to sit around the pub after training and talk about how much better you are than everyone else. Disdain creeps in easily, and it’s a simple thing to mock the obvious fools…other schools, LARP’ers, the SCA, EMA’s, Olympic fencers, or whatever other group is handy in the moment.

You have to beat that tendency by training. Get out and train with other schools, fight with them, drink with them. Build your community. It will only make your swordplay better.

3 Comments

  1. Amazing post as always.

  2. Alex Putnam0Spreier

    Amen.

  3. Whoever wrote that obviously doesn’t read your blogs, or look at your videos, It is clear that you train far more than you write. And if people didn’t write but just trained, then we wouldn’t have the manuals we all strive to understand.

    Keep doing what you are doing please.

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