Vote and Rate Jamie Clubb's articles and reviews

Friday, 27 March 2009

Running Scared from Religion: A Review of "Foreskin's Lament"

Cover of "Foreskin's Lament: A Memoir"Cover of Foreskin's Lament: A Memoir

At roughly two thirds through Shalom Auslander’s “Foreskin’s Lament” the author explains in a letter he is trying to write to his unborn son:

“I know it doesn’t make sense. I know I shouldn’t believe it. I know, and I know, and I know, but I just can’t seem to get this Character out of my head. I’ve tried to forget, I’ve tried to reframe Him, to rewrite Him, to move on. I read Sam Harris. I read Richard Dawkins. It all makes sense, but none of it helps. Maybe I am beyond help”.

This really is the crux of book. One man’s battle with the ultraconservative religious conditioning he received growing up as an Orthodox Jew in Spring Valley, New York. However, don’t expect a complete overt ridiculing of religion - although it is far from respectful – this is a battle that is set to end one way: in negotiations.

This is a continuation of the theme Auslander began in his debut book, “Beware of God” and uses the same very humorous commentary style. It is this particular style that makes the whole book reads more like a therapy session than a biographical work with the author shifting between the impending birth of his first child and his experiences growing up in Spring Valley; his time spent studying in Israel, his work as a “shomer” (a watcher of dead bodies) and his eventual casting out of his community. There are plenty of times when you read the work tongue-in-cheek; wondering if this is really the work of an atheist putting across an irreverently satirical idea. The repression and hypocrisies of his family juxtaposed with their holier than thou veneers comes across as classic irreligious farce. It is arguable that Auslander uses God as a disguised metaphor for the very nature of his family and his particular community.

However, Auslander’s discussions, particularly with his wife, Orli, who regularly remarks “They really did a number on you”, are very convincing. You genuinely feel for the idea of a person fighting against his early programming through over devotion then rebellion, a return to devotion and finally an acceptance of a type compromise outside his cultural group.

“Foreskin’s Lament” is very amusing from start to finish - full of quotable lines that would move even the staunchest theologian – and despite the word “irreverent” popping up in the majority of reviews I did not find any intentional malice directed at anyone, not even God.

Don't forget to check out Jamie Clubb's main blog
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Martial Arts Scepticism: Martial Appeals

Minoan youths boxing, Knossos fresco. Earliest...Image via Wikipedia

“There's a mighty big difference between good, sound reasons and reasons that sound good.
- William E. Vaughan

The world of martial arts is full of arguments based on irrelevant appeals. From advertising campaigns that argue their style of martial art is the best because it is practiced by a certain country’s elite military to teaching techniques a certain way because this is the way they have been taught for centuries. They are arguments that do not provide evidence to support their claims, but instead use information designed to make you feel inadequate in your questioning. I shall now take you through some examples of the way appeals arguments, “Martial Appeals” if you like, are used as a method of one-upmanship from one martial arts stylist to another, as a form of persuasive marketing or to simply keep control of the way a student thinks.

Appeals to Antiquity or Tradition

The age and durability of an idea is not always an accurate indicator of its value. However, it is very common for a martial artist to somehow connect the antiquity of their system or style with practical efficiency. The reasoning goes something like this: if these moves or practices didn’t work then they wouldn’t have survived. This is nonsense. There are plenty of reasons why impractical and illogical practices are still being carried out today. Many people cling to rituals out of a sense of national or cultural pride. Traditions are often kept so that people feel they have a link to the past. Some people even have their own personal rituals and in extreme cases these can be strong indications of different types of mental and neurodevelopmental disorders. People also fear change, as it presents the prospect of the unknown. Tradition and the illusion of not changing make us feel safe.

An example I once saw was the historical evidence that martial arts have often been linked to magic. This is not surprising, studies have shown that the closer people come to the presence of death the more superstitious they become. In this particular example, the argument was made that even the most sceptical person must concede that there must be something practical in this connection since there is such a long tradition of it happening. This is a classic example of a jump from one set of information - valid historical evidence linking the belief in magic with martial arts practices – to another – therefore it is possible that magic is a part of martial arts. The first set of information does not provide evidence for the latter. There are very long traditions of the belief in monsters found in most cultures, and fairly often different and completely unrelated cultures come up with very similar monsters. This is not evidence that the monsters existed, but probably has more to do with the limitations of human imagination and common innate fears and the superstitions we create around those fears.

The age of a martial arts system is often held in disproportionately high regard despite the obvious advancements made in combat technology. We know old ideas are not always good ideas otherwise we wouldn’t have any progress. In a relatively short amount of time there have been major advancements in what we know about human anatomy, the way the human brain functions, human behaviour and human potential. We also have the hindsight of history to determine how an old idea might not work. It is far more productive and sensible to question why an old idea has persisted than to make positive assumptions about its validity.

Appeals to Authority

As one would expect those who often use the appeal to antiquity or tradition are those in positions of authority. However, often a person of authority is presented as the actual justification for an argument: Hanshi so-and-so said this is the deadliest of all martial arts therefore this must be true. Like the appeal to antiquity or tradition argument, if we just took the words of experts as gospel we would make no progress. Science constantly questions and advances the work of its great innovators understanding that their work needs updating. It is also worth keeping in mind that someone might have more knowledge on a certain subject than their critic, but their method for applying that knowledge might be deeply flawed.

The other issue regarding appeals to authority is when the authority is not an authority on the topic of the argument. For a long period it was common for most martial arts schools to specialize and, even with the advent of more liberal and open dojos, dojangs, kwoons and gyms most schools still do. However, I recall seeing a journalist asking a boxing coach’s “expert” opinion on a mixed martial arts bout. Unsurprisingly the coach’s response was negative and despite the bout being regulated by strict rules, clearly watched over by an experienced referee and a medical team on hand, the boxing coach compared it to a street-fight. Nevertheless, this authority was a respected and qualified boxing coach running a high performing boxing club. His validity for teaching his sport is not in question, however, his opinion on something that he had little knowledge on had about as much relevance as an ice skating coach discussing the form of a champion skier. Now, if the person being consulted on the mixed martial arts bout was an experienced doorman who had seen thousands of street-brawls and made the same comparison that would have been a different matter.

Appeal to Popularity

By the time the 1980s started the “Kung Fu Boom” was over, however, martial arts had clearly taken root in the public consciousness and a corporate side slowly began to emerge. As this spread and more organizations and governing bodies began to pop up all over Europe and the USA, the marketing machines picked up pace. This was more than a few clubs being affiliated to a foreign authority now; whole associations broke away in the western world and grew into their own entities. It wasn’t long before this corporate image was used as part of the advertising gimmick and, as always, size mattered. Clubs, instructors and individual students were encouraged to join the association with the most members. Popularity has a strong appeal. In military and political thinking we can see an obvious advantage of being on the side with the biggest numbers. Popularity is also at the heart of fashion and retail. However, just because an idea is popular it doesn’t mean it is right.

Popular opinion can, and often is, swayed by charismatic and persuasive personalities. History has certainly told us this many times. In martial arts we have seen many trends promising much and often delivering little. Talk to any long term martial arts magazine editor and they will tell you plenty about the various phases and sub-phases of martial arts. In hindsight a craze in a certain martial art often had little to do with the art’s efficiency, but rather the way it was being sold to the general public.

Appeal to Novelty

The opposite of the appeal to antiquity or tradition is the appeal to novelty. The newness of an idea does not automatically make it the superior of what has gone before. There are many new martial arts systems springing up all the time. Not everyone likes to cling to tradition or popular systems, many like the idea of being up-to-date or being different.

One argument here is that this martial art is new therefore it will provide me with information more applicable to the modern world. Just because the system is new it doesn’t make it better suited for the modern world. It could endorse pseudoscience or have no proper basis on efficient training methods whatsoever. There are plenty of new bogus martial arts popping up all over the place, often promoted by the technology that is synonymous with our era: the internet.

Another argument is that a certain martial art is different and therefore better than more conventional martial arts. A key appeal of the oriental martial arts in the western world was their sheer exoticness. Therefore it should be no surprise that within the martial arts world there is always a strong attraction towards more unusual martial arts. However, many previously unheard of martial arts have little historical evidence to back up their lineage or even their validity. There are some societies that are unashamedly resurrecting extinct martial arts and honestly doing their best to interpret these old training methods out of historical interest. There is nothing wrong with these practices. However, there are still others that exploit the gullibility of enthusiastic martial arts tourists and those members of martial arts subculture who have a natural disposition towards learning something that is marketed as being “forbidden” or “forgotten” or simply out of the mainstream.

There is no rational basis in arguing that just because something is new or different that it is any better than what is old or commonplace. In fact, in all rational fact-finding disciplines from science to history the burden of proof is always placed squarely on the shoulders of the new or unusual idea.

In conclusion, if we are to get the best out of the martial arts we can do better than appeal to irrelevant information. By recognizing these types of arguments not only in others but also in ourselves we can focus more on addressing a problem or question than trying to win a debate or live in denial. Don't forget to check out Jamie Clubb's main blog
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Martial Arts Scepticism: Philosophy and Ancient Wisdom

'CoverCover via Amazon

“Prior to the end of the Qing Dynasty, Chinese martial arts had one goal, pure and simple: winning confrontations through intimidation, the use of weapons, or the use of one’s fists…Chinese martial arts were considered to be a physical skill, a manual skill; they were not linked to any esoteric philosophy, nor were they viewed as a from of character development, religious practice, or spiritual development”.
- “Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals: A Historical Survey”, Brian Kennedy and Elizabeth Guo

Philosophy and martial arts have been associated with each other since… well, not really as long as we would like to think. As much as we want to believe that all the great warriors of old were virtuous and wise sages, it seems highly unlikely. Systems of truly efficient combat are developed by, or derived from, the methods of those who are truly proficient at violence. It is as simple and straightforward as that. The martial artists who have made the biggest tremors in the martial arts community are those who have tested and applied their skills in real life violence or, at least, those who have trained under others who have this level of experience. The true roots of martial arts are found in fighters, be they soldiers, pugilists, street brawlers or people involved in security, who passed their knowledge onto others. The philosophy came later and the esoteric and “character building” stuff came much later.

If we look back further than the twentieth century it is difficult to find many texts that see philosophy as an integral part of physical martial arts training. There is nothing, at least on the surface, that proves that famous literature like Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” or Miyamoto Musashi’s “The Book of Five Rings” is about anything else other than efficient combat strategy.

Tzu’s work, as the title implies, is a treatise on waging war, perhaps the oldest in existence, where he states his most famous sentence, “All warfare is based on deception.” That early line, which is the eighteenth paragraph of chapter one in most translations, should have been a dead giveaway: this is not a discussion on the virtues of love and peace.

Likewise the proof that Musashi was a great philosopher is not found in his most famous text, “The Book of Five Rings”. Like Tzu’s work this treatise deals with combat in an efficient, pragmatic and, arguably, amoral manner. It is a book that describes the best strategies Musashi found worked in the practice of Kenjutsu, Japanese sword-fighting. Musashi apparently was also a keen calligrapher. So what? Hitler liked to paint and it didn’t mean he was a peaceful or “spiritual” person. Musashi, it would appear, was anything but a peaceful person. From an early age he wanted to fight, and throughout his life he would use any means necessary to win, most of which involved outright deception. ome historians have regarded him more as a bully than the archetypical figure of samurai virtue. Before his death Musashi wrote “Dokkodo”, which is perhaps the closest we have to his life philosophy. However, don’t expect to find a text that speaks deeply about loving your fellow human beings or attaining spiritual enlightenment. The 21 precepts for self-discipline contained within the text are more in line with the selfish ideologies of Ayn Rand or Friedrich Nietzsche than an altruistic code of ethics.

It is fair to argue that the principles contained within both “The Art of War” and “The Book of Five Rings” has stood the test of time, but there is always the danger of reading too deep into what has been written or, as is too often the case, twisting the meanings and principles in the text to correspond with one’s own beliefs and ideas. This is avoided when you keep in mind the clear reasons why both texts were written; their historical context and their target readership. In short: why, when and for whom. So, Musashi’s seventeenth century manual on Japanese sword fighting strategies for pupils of his samurai school might share some interesting parallels with the ruthless attitude taken by a 1980s yuppie when he attacked the stock market, but I don’t think it is the best text for advising an early twenty-first century suburbanite how to contribute towards a more caring community.

Readership, now that’s another point worth remembering when we consult ancient texts. Widespread literacy is a modern phenomenon and this brings us onto the reason why we have great historical philosophical martial arts writers. Philosophers were learned people. They could write. Therefore it is not surprising that their interpretations of the martial arts are the most numerous. They could leave a legacy where their illiterate contemporaries could not. It has only been since the early 1990s that the “True Crime” subgenre of factual books has spawned dozens of ghost-written autobiographies that detail the “philosophies” of real fighters. Such biographies vary from earlier works where violent men were seemingly repentant about their violent lives to those who see violence as a type of celebratory culture.

There are modern exceptions to the rule, perhaps even pioneers, like the realistic martial artist/doorman Geoff Thompson, who is also a legitimate writer and motivational philosopher. Geoff Thompson, in many ways, is a link to all these sides of the martial arts and gives us a glimpse of what the scholarly martial arts pioneers were like and how they developed in their respective journeys. He was a martial artist first who decided to test his skills in a real-life environment. He became a doorman, a person who would face the realities of fighting. The lessons he learnt were brought back to his martial arts classes. However, once the “fight outside of a chip shop” area was covered thoroughly and the physical limitations were established, it was only natural for the great martial artist to pursue other attributes that had been developed as bi-products through his intensive training experiments. These attributes moved further away from the visceral area of last resort civilian self-defence and more into developing character. Although Geoff Thompson has maintained his roots in “hard skills” it also important to remember that he always had a literate soul. He wrote plays at home and he wrote his autobiography “sitting on the toilet” when he worked at a factory. He worked as a nightclub bouncer, but even in those “blood and snot” days, as he gradually went from a martial arts denier to martial arts sceptic, he couldn’t help but notice the poetry in the language of the door and the culture of the door. With this in mind, it is little surprising that as Geoff Thompson changed there were certain principles, deep within him, that were always going to emerge.

However, it is with an early twentieth century example of the fighting philosopher that historians like Brian Kennedy and Elizabeth Guo say that “for better or worse” our ideas relating to martial arts religious philosophy have been shaped.

Sun Lu Tang was both a highly respected martial arts fighter and an esteemed scholar. He was also a follower of Taoism and was able to synergise his knowledge of the three great schools of internal martial arts training with his religious and philosophical training. Sun had a thorough education in philosophy and taught it alongside the martial arts. His books made links between the martial arts and Taoist cosmology. Furthermore, as China entered a new more open and modern phase that would make martial arts more accessible to the general public, Sun promoted the concept of practicing martial arts for health reasons rather than combat.

This gave birth to the modern idea of Tai Chi Chuan, Pakua and Hsing-I being the “new age” systems for wellbeing, often reinforced with pseudoscientific and superstitious ideas relating to the cultivation of mystical energy. There is no empirical historical evidence to prove that Tai Chi Chuan or any of the other internal arts have their roots in anything more mystical than straightforward combat efficiency.

There are many different reasons why the Asian martial arts became entwined with religion and philosophy, but a major factor has to be China and Japan’s conscious decision to modernize. This modernization, representative of the Japanese change to “Do” from “Jutsu” in their martial arts, meant throwing off the old image of their feudalistic past. The arts’ central message, one that would be embraced by the west throughout the twentieth century, would be about spirituality, health and other non-combat activities. Such areas were the zone of philosophy, and it was the philosophers who pushed it. Sun Lu Tang in China and Ueshiba Morhei, the founder of Aikido, in Japan, lead these efforts. It was no coincidence that Judo was founded by a man who had a high ranking career in the Japanese education system. Education was the way to ensure martial arts survival. If you could prove that martial arts would be helpful to motivate and discipline the subjects of a government then you could rely on the support instead of the oppression of that government. Martial academics led the way for better and for worse, for just as martial arts became more accessible, their objectives became obscure and it let mysticism, showmanship and outright charlatanism through the backdoor.

A point I have tried to make with this essay is that great martial arts masters weren’t also great scholars and philosophers and vice versa, it just so happened that the most influential martial arts teachers in the last one hundred years or so were also scholars and philosophers. By way of a more modern comparison the most famous martial artists in the latter part of the twentieth century and today also happen to be actors. It is just as ludicrous to say that being a good actor is integral to being a proficient martial artist or fighter. In both examples we can see why the philosopher and actor have become successful martial artists. They are influential. They can appeal to a wider audience through their ability to articulate or perform. They might well be good martial artists, and this is in no way a slight on their technical ability, but what has helped keep them noticed is their ability to work another skill set.

Nevertheless, the philosophical martial artist belief persists to this day. This belief is at the root of something I have come to call the “By-Product Myth”. It is of no surprise that fictional martial arts media is the natural conveyor of this idea - after all it was a martial arts novel that started it all in the first place. Stanley E. Henning writes in his article “Politically Correct Treatment of Myths in Chinese Martial Arts” that the idea Chinese martial arts that descended from the Shaolin Temple came from a novel written between 1904 and 1907 entitled “Travels of Lao Can”. Henning remarks that “there is no indication that it was ever a part of an earlier oral tradition”. After the novel there came the book “Secrets of Shaolin Temple Boxing” written in 1915 by an unnamed author. This book is often cited as the main source for the pseudo-historic belief in the Shaolin Temple’s high level of importance in pre-twentieth century Chinese martial arts. It didn’t take long for this myth to be completely debunked by an outspoken native Chinese martial artist and historian called Tang Hao, but it still spread to the West and via popular media was repeated enough times for whole schools of martial arts to consider it a fact.

In conclusion, martial arts survived in the East due to the fact that they became recognised by those who taught and practiced them as a part of their cultural identity. This was also something oppressive governments and occupying powers recognised and it is the reason why they suppressed them. They survived through adaption and taking advantage of the changing times. Those teachers who had skills outside of martial arts used these skills to ensure the survival of their arts, their legacy and, in many instances, their livelihood. This is an understandable reason why the philosophical martial artist became popular. However, there is something else more fundamental than this. In times of peace martial arts teachers realise the limitations inherent in violence. Furthermore, when their students don’t have the short term of goal of having to face violence, as a soldier would, they become more preoccupied with other less tangible battles. Martial arts are then turned into a positive activity. And with positive activity comes a human desire to explore positive thinking. Philosophy is a natural strategy for those who fight intangible battles. With this in mind, I do not believe it is wrong for a martial arts teacher to not only teach philosophy as part of his methodology, but to also use martial arts analogies. After all it makes for good and intelligent writing. However, what is imperative is to understand where the two might not co-exist and also where the analogies and metaphors end. Some argue “Why stay in the forge?” Why indeed, but when you have first looked to martial arts as a means for self-protection it is important to make sure you go through that forge in the first place.
Don't forget to check out Jamie Clubb's main blog
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Martial Arts Scepticism: A Manifesto

Benjamin DisraeliImage via Wikipedia

"The fool wonders, the wise man asks." - Benjamin Disraeli

Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism and other religious and philosophical ideas have been melded with the practice of martial arts in modern times. However, I would like to suggest that we apply another so-called philosophy. It has some very ancient and respectable roots in the philosophers of ancient Greece and its process is the very definition of objective philosophy. What I am describing is something I believe underlies the thinking of some of the greatest shakers in martial arts history. It is the process of questioning and testing. The philosophy is unique in the respect that it owes no allegiance to any culture and it doesn’t subscribe to the beliefs of a single or group of individuals. In fact, this particular philosophy prompts debate within its advocates and especially within the individual. The philosophy I am describing is scepticism and this article makes the case for its inclusion in the teaching of martial arts.

Modern scepticism is generally recognised as a science-based movement that has come to popular attention through its opposition to virtually anything or anyone that has not provided sufficient proof or evidence to support its or their claims. However, it is important to note that it is not just scientists and those with a penchant for science that support scepticism. At the other end of the academic world serious historians have also been attracted to scepticism. At the heart of scepticism is an approach known as critical thinking. This means looking at a subject objectively with a view to testing unproven claims. It is easy for those of us who see the value in imagination and positivity to mistake scepticism for cynicism. Cynicism just means thinking the worst of everything. The cynic has already made his mind up about something and does not seek evidence. In this respect the cynic is just as blinkered as the gullible person. Scepticism is about questioning, seeking answers and making progress. The sceptic never deals in absolutes. Even so-called facts are accepted as temporary conclusions that are up for reasoned review. To make analogy in self-defence coaching terms, cynicism is as far removed from scepticism as paranoia is from awareness.

Scepticism took the western world out of the dark ages and just as new waves of mysticism wash new fads up onto our hi-tech shores, a steady yet accelerating movement in critical thinking is there to examine, test and debunk where necessary. The world of martial arts presents us with a tangled mixture of claims and ideas that are ripe for sceptical investigation. Leaders and founders of martial arts often become venerated to the point where they are not questioned no matter how far they stray from their original purpose. Concepts and principles then develop into dogma and rituals. Within these subcultures terminology is developed, which further serves to separate the martial artists from the rest of society, along with strict hierarchies and methods used to tie students to their clubs. In extreme examples we have seen full blown martial arts cults develop whereas many others take on more subtle resemblances. Some clubs are simply run by the naïve and the deluded whereas others are run by conmen and charlatans. Martial arts histories become distorted, folk tales, myths and complete fiction become accepted as facts.

In his book for Marshall Cavendish, “The Way to the Martial Arts”, the respected martial arts journalist Peter Lewis describes the evolution of martial arts in a positive light: “Slowly and gradually, mostly through trial and error, fighting became more of an exact science rather than a pure animal instinct”. If only this were true of today. The modern world of martial arts has often allied itself with pseudoscience, pseudohistory, superstition, paranoia, New Age beliefs, religious dogma, fakir tricks, outright fraud and outright lies that have all been passed onto naïve students as facts.

Pseudoscience comes up a lot in martial arts and in different ways. Some pseudoscience is fairly straightforward. This is when claims are made by martial artists that fly in the face of the accepted laws of science. Often the use of the chi (qi) or ki energy falls into this category. The exact definition and western translation of this type of energy is still a matter of cultural and linguistic debate. The cultural part is a separate issue, it is when there are claims being made that it has a direct and measurable effect on physical objects that the sceptic needs to firmly step into the discussion and ask questions and demand empirical evidence.

However, there is another type of pseudoscience in the martial arts world that is less easy to confront. Science is sometimes used as a marketing tool. There are plenty of clubs being taught by coaches who have qualifications in sports science, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that their approach to martial arts is logical and reasoned. Likewise context means everything when a technique is being explained in scientific terms. For example, you can explain the effectiveness of virtually any technique that makes direct contact with the human body, but its efficiency is another matter. It is an old logical dictum to recognise that just because something is not impossible it doesn’t mean it isn’t improbable. Furthermore, scientific terminology and jargon, something we have seen increase in martial arts ever since the culture married the business motivational movement, does replace scientific evidence or methodology.

Pseudohistory in martial arts has helped to give us the numerous prejudices, red herrings and cult-like features that plague the commercial practice of martial arts the world over. Personally I love myths, legends and fables. In the correct context they are inspirational forms of entertainment that can educate and motivate. There is nothing quite like watching a film of or reading a story about a fictional hero overcoming adversity when you are feeling down or ill. An allegorical tale, as opposed to a factual account of real life events, can often be a very useful tool for prompting people to think deeply about certain subjects and issues rather than responding a superficial way. The essence of good stories helps colour our language with metaphors and analogies, but we need mature reasoning to separate the literal from the figurative. Most of all, however, we need simple honesty and a desire to question what seems highly improbable. Pseudohistory is responsible for the over importance placed on martial arts lineages and the propagation of incredible unverifiable claims made about martial arts founders. Even the purposes of martial arts have been distorted through the fictionalization or misinterpretation of history.

Another derivative from pseudohistory is a category loosely termed as “Conspiracy Theory”. This type of thinking outside the martial arts world has seen some preposterous alternative ideas being presented by dramatic and tragic events in history. Because it is a fact that the practice of martial arts in many countries and cultures were overtly suppressed and therefore covertly practiced, some martial arts teachers today like to claim that certain “deadly moves” are banned and hidden. This can vary from secret techniques being locked away inside the art to the belief that all pressure points are banned from Mixed Martial Arts competition.

However, it is not just misguided and the manipulative mystics of the martial arts world that are the focus of scepticism. The so-called “Reality” world of martial arts, an area one would consider was the natural home of martial arts sceptics, are also responsible for making outrageous claims and, furthermore, fuelling misinformation. Many people involved in the “Reality-Based Self-Defence” world have fallen into the same trap as the “Traditionalists” and now exhibit similar features. Superstition is replaced by paranoia, mystical or flowery fighting techniques are replaced by a type of “ultra-reality” combative pornography, where sadism seems to eclipse efficiency.

I propose that martial artists should be sceptics and should encourage scepticism. We may not necessarily be scientists, but we should apply a reasoned and logical approach to their training and teaching. The highest regard we can pay to any great person in marital arts history is not to worship them as infallible sources of wisdom, but to carry on the spirit of innovation that made them great in the first place. They stood out from other martial artists because they challenged the order of the day. We must always be sceptical of coaches who discourage criticism or do not promote truly individual research. The job of the coach is to provide students with experiences where they can draw their own conclusions. By all means the coach should use his own experiences as a valid reference point, but one thing that should be acknowledged is that martial arts is very much an individualized activity and therefore the methods applied by the coach in a certain experience aren’t necessarily the best methods for an individual student to apply.

At this stage it is worth pointing out that I do not advocate a “Criticism for criticism’s sake” attitude. There are certain robust areas we can meet a consensus on, certain martial arts or self-defence facts or laws if you like. They are constantly up for review, of course, but proving them should not be too difficult to do through case studies and in practical activity and providing the correct context is applied.

Despite the “Party pooper” reputation it receives, I argue that Scepticism is a positive approach to martial arts training. No one is above criticism and by adopting a “Find the flaw” attitude when you train you will quickly learn not to rest on your training laurels. It also means that you and your students are being as honest about your training as possible. This is what good progress is all about and this is what has been behind the continued intelligent development of the martial arts.

Don't forget to check out Jamie Clubb's main blog
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Objective History/Conspiracist/Pseudo-history Trilogy

Image of the human head with the brain. The ar...Image via Wikipedia

The following are three articles I posted on my main blog. They very well-suited here. My intention initially was to interview a respected friend and historian, Dr Heather Vallance regarding reasoned historical research versus the pulp non-fiction conspiracy theory type that litter our airports and clutter many a dinner/pub conversation. I then wrote up some follow up information regarding the psychology of the conspiracist and the alarming popularity of pseudo-history.

"Can History be Objective? A Conversation with Heather Vallance"

"The Psychology of Conspiracism"

"Pseudoscepticism and Pseudo-history"

Don't forget to check out Jamie Clubb's main blog
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Remembering EWW Parts I-IV

I guess the past is as good a place to start as anywhere for my first post on this new blog. Controversy was certainly the name of the game during my time co-promoting and performing in Britain's first extreme professional wrestling promotion from 1998 to 2001 called Extreme World Warfare. It all started when I was approached to put on a martial arts demonstration. I was then talked into putting on a five minute version of a Gothic martial arts/dance act - the first and only I know of - that I had created originally for the Edinburgh Festival and shelved a year previously. We ended up creating a professional wrestling promotion and becoming part of a new movement going under the moniker "New British Wrestling". It would get us attention from the police and the Jerry Spring Show!
So far I have written four parts, which cover most of our first year and up to our first show "Extreme World Warfare: The Declaration". These articles, no doubt, need some serious editing, but for the time being I am very grateful to the official EWW website who agreed to publish them online in their current form:

Don't forget to check out Jamie Clubb's main blog