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Thursday, December 15, 2011


Wandering around the Internets, I came across some folks who were heavily, heavily critical of an instructor who is popular in certain circles interested in self-defense. Yes, I am being purposefully vague; I don't really feel like getting roped into the digital poo-flinging.

What I did think was interesting was during one of these "conversations", the question was raised "Have you ever actually trained with this guy? You might feel differently if you got some hands-on time with him."

To which the critic responded (paraphrasing here), "Why would I need to? I've got his writing, I've got his video, and I am no rank newbie. What I read and see looks like shit. That's enough for me."

As I said, I'm not interested in the digital poo-flinging. I am interested in the question of judgment.

On the one hand; I've seen people judge instructors or systems based on nothing more than a video clip and rumor, and it pisses me off. I've seen this happen a lot with Tony Blauer and his system, and even with Kru Mark Dellagrotte once or twice. People see a clip, read a piece of an article, and read a post that says "well, I heard from my brother that he heard that so-and-so was a pompous ass" and decide that the instructor in question has nothing to offer.

Which annoys me. Even if you take out the name calling, it's still annoying, and it supports my belief that, when in doubt, it's good to go experience something first hand. Experience is a great teacher, and a better judge than anything else.

Of course, the flip side of that is two-fold.

1. How much experience is enough? You can't possibly learn an entire system from a three, five, or eight hour seminar. Does spending a few hours doing a system you've never done qualify you to judge it? Or do you need to spend months, or even years, training it before you decide? I remember a practitioner of a particular Okinawan system telling me that if I only studied his art for 15 years, I would realize that it contained the same things the SPEAR did. I decided that 15 years was a little too long for me to spend on an art that would teach me something I already knew, so I declined. But the point remains.

2. At what point can you legitimately say "you know what, I know enough about this, I think I can make judgement on my own without working with this guy."? I'm not the world's greatest Nak Muay, for example, but I think I know shit Muay Thai if I see it. Likewise, there is a point at which something is so clearly ludicrous that experiencing it in person seems unnecessary (Yellow Bamboo, anyone)?

I generally try to err on the side of giving folks the benefit of the doubt, but sometimes, that's really tough. I can recognize when I'm being judgmental without experience, but sometimes, that's a really tough line to walk.


Maija said...

Apart from the material itself, what is also present, and variable, in ANY critique is point of view, and context.
Say there's a video of some guy dressed in black pjs and tapis hiding behind a curtain ready to jump on his foe. If it's a serious martial arts teaching video obviously it is ridiculous, if it is a joke video someone made then it's probably funny, if it's a video about how not to go about ambush, then it might be just pointless, so the context, which is sometimes apparent but sometimes not, makes a difference to the criticism of it.
Then there's point of view. Absolutely agree that levels of competence give you better judgement. However I would say that we cannot deny that we all see out of our own limited experience, even experts in a field. As an example, art critics, highly respected experts in their field, for the longest time ignored the work of quilters, mostly because they were women, poor, and quilting was seen as a craft, not true 'art'. Now, there are exhibitions at the finest museums. The very existence of the possibility of viewing quilt as modern art had not even occurred to them until someone decided it did.

From "Quit Art' wikipedia:
"Although many quilts made and displayed prior to the 1970s can now be defined as art, the form was most importantly recognized as legitimate art in the 1971 Whitney exhibit, Abstract Design in American quilts. That exhibit of pieced quilts from the 19th and early 20th centuries, organized by Jonathan Holstein, presented the quilts on stark white walls with simple gallery labels. Holstein organized the exhibit so that each piece could "be seen both as an isolated object and as part of a balanced flow of objects." This type of visual presentation marked a break from the traditional crowded hanging of quilts in county fairs and guild shows that had predominated throughout earlier displays. The exhibit was widely reviewed, including a glowing report by the New York Times art critic, Hilton Kramer.[6]

The presentation of pieced quilts, with their emphasis on color and geometric forms, fit perfectly into the art modes of the time. The abstract expressionists, like Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, who used large swaths of color on canvas, had had their moment in the 1950s. They were followed in the 1960s by such hard edge abstractionists as Frank Stella. Thus the public had already been prepared for highly colored abstract art work; the pieced quilts in the Whitney exhibit fit into the current art scene. The Whitney's pieced art exhibit toured the country and was followed by a quilt craze, which reached a culmination in the Bicentennial events of 1976. Many quilts were made for that event and a revival of interest in quilting techniques and materials started giving artists expanded work potential. In addition the feminist movement of the late 60s and 70s produced a new interest in women who worked in the arts as well as formerly neglected women's work that could now be seen as art. Quilts, exhibited in galleries and museums, fit into the country's cultural and social concerns."

Jake said...


Yeah, context is critical.

The thing about the quilts is interesting. Part of me wants to say that defining "art" is a lot more subjective than defining good combatives training, but then I look at the various systems out there, and the hullabaloo that goes on between them, and I'm not so sure.

Maija said...

Hah! I was hoping you might bring that up, and I'm glad the comparison has struck you as not so far off the mark as it originally might seem. That's why it chose it :-)
I agree that there are certain properties of physics and physiology that are constants between truths, and there is certainly a difference between fact and fiction, but if violence is indeed a big ocean, and what works and what does not is partly down to timing, luck, personality, etc etc. You might be able to say - your stuff does not look like my stuff, but you can't say definitively 'my stuff works and your stuff does not', there are too many variables.