We all have our biases which dictate the way we perceive the world; this generally means how we experience something would largely be unique to ourselves. With this in mind, talking about the perceptions people have of Martial Arts could quite easily be a dissertation and still only scratch the surface. That said, this blog post is going to primarily focus on a few ‘observations’ and questions people have put to me, things people have said to Martial Artists that I know, and my own perceptions of Martial Arts.
I live in a suburban town, in a particularly rural county in a reasonably safe country. Yes, there is crime around me, I have very intimate knowledge of this, and I hear constantly that knife attacks and gun crime are on the rise; however, there is no societal need for young men and women to train as warriors to defend their land from foreign invasion, and we don’t have bands of barbarian bandits threatening to rape and pillage the local hamlet. We have law enforcement agencies and the military to mostly keep us feeling safe in our homes. Because of this, I acknowledge that studying a Martial Art could be an unnecessary and alien concept to some. Why put yourself through all the bother of being punched in the face several times a week? Just join a five a side football team to keep fit and call the Police or security if a baddie turns up at the village jam tasting competition. Being a victim is essentially a ‘bad lottery’, most people won’t experience it and being randomly victimised in suburban England by a violent attacker is uncommon and usually avoidable (domestic incidents being an exception to this). This is a common theme I pick up on when in conversation with ‘muggles’, and quite often goes unsaid, but I can see it in the apathy of their distant glare as I answer the question “so what’s Jujutsu?”, the whole time they’re thinking about this weekend’s visit to the model village. It’s fine, I get it, joking aside I don’t judge people for not being interested, but I damn sure try to encourage people to get on to the tatami at every opportunity I get! I’m one step away from going door to door on a Tuesday morning, dressed in a conservative suit, asking “Hello sir, have you got a moment to talk about Jujutsu?”.
Of all the things, a muggle could find peculiar about my Martial Arts training, one thing in particular often seems to foster hysteria. My partner, the lovely Eve, is also my Martial Arts training partner. I feel like a tremendously lucky guy to have the opportunity to share my Martial Arts journey with the person I love; if nothing else it is extremely practical and helpful to live with the person I train with! I get a bunch of extra hours training at home, I don’t get in trouble for spending too much time watching Jiu Jitsu videos on YouTube and she probably watches more UFC repeats on FightPass than I do! I don’t intend on discussing sexism; however, the following examples have some humorous disparities. Quite often I’ll talk about my training with muggle friends, they know I train with Eve and regularly I mention being particularly proud of her for doing well; meaning she has choked me out, or got me good in sparring. This is usually a great source of entertainment as we joke about a tall Martial Arts enthusiast being beat on by his girlfriend. Eve, on the other hand, has quite a different tale to tell. When she discusses her training with muggle friends and colleagues she is subject to horror and gasps as they probe her with questions like “and Ash lets him hit you!?!” (referring to Eve sparring with other guys), or a personal favourite of mine:
Muggle: How did you get that bruise on your face?
Eve: A guy got me in sparring! Haha
Muggle: *gasp* Did Ash punch him back for you?
Eve: … No, I punched him back
I suppose one of the great things about the UFC introducing women’s divisions and creating superstars like Rousey will hopefully help improve the perception that girls can be bad ass fuckers too, not just delicate flowers who play netball and do crochet. I’d love to see more women turn up at Martial Arts classes!
Aside from those with absolutely no interest in fighting, I also find myself often in conversation with people who do have interests in combat, but not necessarily Martial Arts. Two recent conversations come to mind; firstly, a few months ago I found myself having a ‘bit of banter’ with someone about my chosen Martial Arts pursuit. The conversation was with a friend who has a history of ‘brawling’ and eventually it went down the lines of “yeah, you could probably take me in the ring. But, I’d win in my arena, the pub”. He may be right, I don’t know; however, I think back to before I started my training, I was a fit and healthy guy, I’d wrestled a bit with my mates and had taken and thrown a few punches in my time (mostly taken). I clearly remember starting in Martial Arts thinking to myself that although I had some room for improvement, I should be able to handle myself. I’ve had some failures, but being a Martial Artist is the single most humbling experience of my life. Never count anyone out until you’ve tested them, and as the wise master Qui-Gon Jinn once said, “there’s always a bigger fish”. Secondly, not long ago I was watching UFC 214 with some friends, some are themselves Martial Artists, others are casual spectators of MMA. One friend is currently recovering from a nasty ankle operation and going to the gym to keep fit; on several occasions, including this night, a few of us had tried to convince him to take up Martial Arts once he has recovered, whether through MMA or Jiu Jitsu. Although he was interested in MMA, it was fairly turned down as he didn’t want to find himself back under the knife due to nasty ankle lock. I expected Jiu Jitsu to have been turned down for the same reason; however, he said “I have no interest in learning an ancient art”. I later thought about this statement and drew a link towards something I have often felt; which leads me on to my own perception of Martial Arts and how this has changed.
I previously discussed my long absence from Martial Arts due to negative experiences of training at a Jiu Jitsu school which, from my perspective at the time, wasn’t training skilled fighters. I eventually got back in to training, but this time at a self-defence school; for a long time throughout this period I refused to train if it meant needing to undergo any formal grading or belt system. As far as I was concerned grading systems were only used to inflate the egos of black belts and con people out of money; this opinion came from training at a school that refused to teach techniques above the student’s grade and additionally from my experience in beating higher grades in competition. During this period, I too would likely have said “I have no interest in learning an ancient art”. It is my strongly held perception that decades of westernised ‘traditional’ Martial Arts schools that are rigid in their learning and don’t use pressure testing or sparring have fostered a reputation for their art being impractical. Conversely, MMA and BJJ schools/practitioners have a certain confidence about them and mostly receive a degree of respect; as far as I am concerned they earned it because they have been tested and proven. I feel particularly lucky to currently train at Martial Arts schools that pride themselves on being practical, continuously test themselves and look to evolve and learn, rather than relying on the colour of their belts to prove their worth. I hope that through the increased popularity of ‘modernising’ Martial Arts, other styles will also begin to claw back some reputation!
Next: In my next article I am going to discuss cross training and mushin – no mind.