Fighting is Fighting

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Fighting is Fighting

Postby Captain America » Fri Apr 22, 2011 3:56 pm

Just wanted to pass on some food for thought for your consideration...

Some Myths Surrounding Japanese Martial Arts and Western Martial Arts (by Charlie Kondek) - 02-06-2003, 01:04 PM

Growing up in North America or Europe, you probably got the idea at some point from TV, movies, comic books and other media that Asian countries had cornered the market on tough. That kung fu or karate was the only way to kick butt. That the Japanese samurai sword was the best sword used by the best swordsman, ever.

Unfortunately, that's not correct. Any experience in martial arts of any kind will tell you that it's not the system but the people that makes the art great.

But anyway, why wouldn't you get that idea? Movies like "Highlander" or "Enter the Dragon" or countless anime films that have slipped into our western consciousness are filled with dazzling displays of prowess with weapons, fist and feet. Surely, we might think, there's nothing like that in our own western, martial traditions! A karate fighter could take on any western boxer or street fighter - dozens of them - and leave them laying in heaps at his or her feet.

Wrong again. And that's where it starts to get interesting.

Even textbooks on medieval European history reinforce the notion that the European knight - the Japanese samurai's counterpart - was a big, dumb, lumbering ox with crude weapons that could hardly move around in his armor. Nothing could be further from the truth. To get an idea of what both systems are like, you'd have to see a demonstration of the arts in question or study those arts, and you might be pretty amazed at what you'd find - namely, that the techniques are, in fact, quite similar. They had similar goals, desired similar results, and though they were developed under different conditions, they corresponded to some basic facts of biology and physics - there's only so many ways to effectively utilize three feet of steel against an opponent also wielding three feet of steel. There's only so many ways to dump a guy on the ground and make him submit.

Let's take an example. You know that judo or jujutsu has very impressive throwing, twisting and choking skills, right? Would you be surprised to find that some of the same skills are involved in good ol' American folkstyle wrestling? And folkstyle wrestling traditions come all the way from ancient Greece, through Rome and, you guessed it, medieval Europe, the same way judo or contemporary jujutsu is the current incarnation of medieval Japanese grappling arts.

That's just one example. Another is that movements from each culture's arts must move along the same human physiological guidelines for example. The same movement an American wrestler would call a "chicken wing." A Japanese judo student would call ude garami, "bent arm lock." Think kicking is only isolated to karate? Then clearly you haven't seen French savate, a European art that incorporates kicking. Or read Fiore de Liberi, a Renaissance scholar, who gives advice on how to put the boot to someone's knee. Knife disarms in both Japanese jujutsu or aikido and medieval grappling are incredibly similar.

Likewise with swordsmanship. First of all, you should probably know that the swordsmanship you see in most "chambara" (samurai) movies or wuxia/kung fu films, while based in reality and performed by talented and skillful individuals, has been exaggerated or changed for the camera, to "sell" the fight to the audience and make it more dramatic. If a samurai had a long, swords clanging against one another-type duel like that at the epic climax of "Highlander," he'd think he was doing something wrong. It isn't supposed to take that long!

Real Asian swordsmanship is, generally speaking, pretty, but also pragmatic. "One cut, one kill" is the idea. At the same time, we have notions of western swordsmanship as being basic and obtuse - not so. Somewhere in the middle is more the truth; the Japanese swordsmanship that Connor MacLeod reveres is less flashy than his mentor Ramirez makes it out to be; the medieval and Renaissance method of sword fighting we think of as like wielding a club against a guy in a tin-can suit actually involves a lot of finesse and sophistication. Both have methods of getting around the other's wards and rhythms, of disarming the opponent, and meshing into takedowns and strikes with the pommel, handle, or other body parts. Different times, different conditions for fighting, lead to different - but similar - methods of fighting.

And while we're on the subject, let's also discount the idea that Japanese smiths were superior to western smiths when it came to forging superior weapons. The Japanese katana is not the ultimate weapon, as some sources have claimed (even educational public television has reinforced this notion). Fact is, smiths on both sides of the world and everywhere in between developed incredibly sophisticated ways of treating steel and creating weapons. An Italian hand-and-a-half sword is just as capable as the katana, and neither of them could cut through iron cannon barrels, as some legends claim. As was mentioned earlier, there are no superior weapons, only superior fighters.

The best way to prove these things to yourself is to flip through some of the texts on display at web sites of modern western martial arts students.


Am fear nach gheidh na h-airm 'nam na sìth, Cha bhi iad aige 'n am a chogaidh"( "Who keeps not his arms in time of peace, will have no arms in time of war")

--Gaelic Proverb

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