Hogwash and Bullshit

IMG_9037The internet has reached a point of being predictable. At least, in the comments sections of every website. I saw a post today regarding a huge storm about to hit Hong Kong, and I don’t need to read the comments. The same species of lame humour attempts will fill up most of the space, next to a few sporadic attempts to correct what was wrong with the original article, and maybe one or two hapless “oh, those poor people” posts. For the most part the comments are all going to be various attempts at being the class clown. Used to be one in every class, now it’s everyone in class.

With martial artists, the new class clown is the Realism guy. This started with a few small voices in the nineties gaining prominence in the martial arts magazines. It was refreshing to hear people call out some obvious bullshit that was showing up, and demand some more realistic approaches to displaying what our arts are capable of. Before this creak of reason starting squeaking the doors, the usual technique article was a bad guy throwing a punch, followed by the good guy retaliating with a blizzard of technique…all while the bad guy stood obediently still.

I’d like to say it’s better, but it’s not. It still happens. The bad guys are still one-shot-and-pause cardboard cutouts, and the good guy still throws a series of shots. Realism of technique is now judged based on how close it seems to feel to the viewer compared to the “Tactical” fashion overlay that is currently trendy. Something is considered good or cool if it’s shot well, fashioned as if it has some air of old-boy backroom realism to it, or is done by one of the what have become accepted masters…especially in the HEMA world..just add a dose of “historical!” to the realism mix.

The realism guy got his internet warrior spurs courtesy of the Bullshido forum. A site that started out as a place to expose quackery in the martial arts with an attempt at amateur journalism combined with humour, it descended into knee-jerk bullying of any martial arts style or school that didn’t fit within a narrow spectrum of approved MMA types. “Is this real, or bullshido?” is one of the first things someone will ask online when they are investigating a potential new school to train at, or wanting an opinion on a video clip or something they found online.

It’s sunk in enough that now online martial artists are quick to judge things they see as bullshit. It gets under my skin a lot. I’ve written about it before, and I’ll probably write about it again. Someone sees a technique that’s outside the body of what they know, and calls it bullshit. Or they see something that they’ve been told time and time again by an authority figure is bullshit. Bullshido goes hand-in-hand with Ameri-do-te.  To confidently decry a martial arts technique as bullshit is to make a claim to superior knowledge that few people have.

The wisdom of realism is that spinning attacks don’t work. Up until very recently, any kind of spinning attack being taught was a prime example of bullshido in action. Obviously any attempt to use a spin attack for real will get you killed. Intentionally turning your back on an opponent? Losing sight of what they are doing? Giving up forward pressure and dominance of your opponent? Obviously mystical kung-fu bullshit that would never work for real. Obviously.

Aikido as a martial art is obviously pure bullshit. None of that crap will work on a non-compliant opponent. Fancy wrist locks don’t work in the heat of combat. Certainly not in a noisy smelly bar against someone way larger than you who’s drunk and can’t feel pain. Which is why I imagined dragging that big lunk out by his dislocated wrist. It was all in my head, because Aikido is obviously bullshit.

Just about any online martial artist will tell you that a swan-lock is a bullshit fantasy move that is way to complex to apply for real. The Vancouver Police Department ERT instructor agreed…which is why when I took the weekend tactical force certification course back in the nineties, he insisted on it being applied in less than a quarter of a second…starting by facing your opponent, an arms length away. It’s pretty amazing what you can do with the right training.

I used to believe that kicking a knife out of someone’s hand was bullshit. I’m sure as hell not going to teach someone to do it, or tell them too…but that’s not the same thing as saying it’s impossible. Or even implausible. I’ve done it sparring against some very, very good knife fighters who weren’t being the least bit compliant. I was a smidge more surprised than they were.

I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say there are no bullshit techniques in martial arts. There are some beautiful exceptions, obviously. The real difference between a good and bad technique is training. With poor training, nothing works. With good training, anything can work. Good training is training with an open mind and a lot of testing. You have to have the mind of a scientist when training in this art. Experiment in the safe confines of the training hall, test your ideas, test your beliefs. Take nothing for granted, especially your own assumptions.

9 thoughts on “Hogwash and Bullshit

  1. happycrow

    I freely admit I’ve got a thing about aikido – I don’t think it’s an art for beginners. The only guys I’ve ever seen able to actually apply it are all guys who came from something else first, picked it up, and suddenly got a hell of a lot more dangerous.

    But spinning attacks? Not my fav. Against multiple opponents, though? omg are they handy, because they help you play space. real-world vs gym sports, maybe. I encountered all kinds of “that could never happen” on bullshido, stuff that isn’t even difficult (like blending with a kick to throw a guy by his leg), and got that “that’s impossible” business.

    But responding with “find a better teacher” didn’t make me popular. 🙂

    1. David R. Packer Post author

      Yeah…my first Aikido class? I walked in with a decade of martial arts training behind me. I was still the f-ing noob amongst the white belts. Everyone else had multiple black belts. I never recommend it to new folks, but I always recommend it to people who are ready for it. And damned if they don’t all look at me like I’m daft for mentioning it. Someday someone will take me up on it and be pleased with what they learn. Nasty art in the right hands.

      Spinning attacks are something I’m opening myself up to practising. There is a particular Thai boxing elbow strike that twists the body and loops up over the head to strike with a rear elbow from above. Tricksy and a wonder to throw, it comes out of nowhere. Spending some time with Capoiera opened ny eyes up to the deceptive possibilities of rotational movements. Made no sense to my Shotokan eyes, but once I learned what to look for…damn. Some truth there.

      1. Borislav Krustev

        I would agrer and disagree. I started Aikido when I was 8, it was my first martial art, and I moved on to other stuff after about 7 years. Aikido has alway been my base, I feelhow my stance,my balance, my footwork in anything I train today is affected by it. It is sortof my core, obviously because I was a kid and it has affected me when my system of movement was just being developed.

        On the other hand, I understood and applied many of Aikido’s principles and certain technowues in real situations and sparring only after I stopped training in it, and started woth other stuff. In a way, boxing, fencing, jujutsu and wing chun have taugh me more about Aiki than Aikido itselc.

  2. Stu

    Rubbish martial arts come down to pressure testing. If you test your stuff against someone genuinely trying to attack you with realistic distance, timing and motion, then the rubbish will separate itself.

    I had an aikido guy turn up at my gym and try and apply his twisty wrist catch stuff to my chaps without success. We broke down what he was doing, rebuilt it off proper wrestling holds and were able to do it back to him.

    Why were we able where he wasn’t with his own technique? Pressure testing creates delivery systems that work. Delivery systems that work enable more intricate techniques.

    Catching wrists out of the air isn’t really going to happen but clinching and catching a wrist out of a 2 on 1 works just fine.

    There’s a reason why most arts look like kickboxing, wrestling or jacket wrestling in sparring. This is because these systems work against non compliant and well trained opponents.

    1. David R. Packer Post author

      It really depends on how you train. I look at a lot of guys in the UFC today and think…you could teach those guys some of the real crazy stuff, they could probably pull it off.

      My Aikido training was immediately practical, but my teacher was a former USMC golden gloves champ.

      I used to think catching a fist in your hand was bullshit…til I did it once. Not gonna train for it or practice it, but there is something that happens once you’ve been ingrained with…well, let’s call it “real” martial arts sensibilities. Once you get the right hard-nosed background, you find a way to make things happen when they need to. It becomes a habit.

      It’s kinda sad that so many people fake having the right mindset and training, and people lap it up. And then they teach and carry it on.

      But for my money, start out with wrestling. Build a martial art around that fine practice and testing, and good people come out of classes.

  3. Maija

    Most everything is ‘true’ within certain parameters … After all the Earth IS flat … for all intents and purposes …. if I never leave my valley …. And by the same token, also ‘false’.

    The ‘How’ the ‘When’ and the ‘Why’ define these parameters in martial arts. Personally I like my parameters to be appropriate for the job that needs doing, but still there are many ‘Whens’ that I have never faced or ‘Hows’ that I have trained to pull off, so there is always room for expansion if the ‘Why’ makes sense.

    1. David R. Packer Post author

      I occasionally need to dust off my perceptions and have a new look at them. usually when a student does something I know is impossible. Jerks.

  4. Tyler Barnes

    Great article. I’m partial to spinning elbows, backfists etc primarily from TKD training… and having used them in very bar-ish, street-ish settings, I can say that timing/speed/distance/tool are ever-so-important. Mind you, I still prefer falling back on judo and wrestling when pressed… head-butting is so highly under-rated.

  5. Sean Karp

    I never thought a spinning backfist would really work in the SCA till Sir Miles FitzRauf of the West made a career out of doing it well (see “Turned Down For Fist” on Youtube).


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