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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Perception, Reality, and Oral History

Got an interesting insight into how oral history really messes up the facts in the martial arts.  Not the kind of deliberate deception practiced by some charlatans and hucksters, but the innocent passing on of information that turns out to be completely wrong.

Here's the setup:

I'm teaching a private Muay Thai lesson to M. The session is winding down, and there are people floating around getting ready for the next class.

One of the other coaches decides to have some fun, sneaks up behind me, and starts to put me in rear naked strangle (Hadaka Jime, Mata leão, etc.). I flinch, and then start to counter, because I've worked on defenses to this before. I break the choke, the other instructor and I goof around for a second.

The other instructor laughs, and says "Shit, of course. Halfway through doing that, I remember, duh, this guy trains self-defense. Of course he knows how to counter that. Plus the Judo."

M says "yeah, weren't you a competitive Judo player too?"

Now, here's the thing. In the most literal sense, M is right. I was a Judo player, an I competed.

However, I was a yellow belt (one step above white, and mostly an indication that I didn't need to be shown which way to face when I bow onto the mat), and I was hardly a force to be reckoned with in any of my competitions. I mean, yes, I competed, but no one was watching saying "damn, this guy is going places."

Rick Hawn, an MMA fighter who once served as an alternate for the Olympics in Judo, was a competitive Judo player. Me? I was a guy who did Judo for a bit before life got in the way.

But this is how stuff happens. I mean, really, I was not that fantastic a Judoka, but at least one student was building a legend about me in his mind. ME. How shocking is it, then, that the truly skilled or well-known instructors of the past have had crazy legends built by their students and followers. If one student can turn me into a "competitive Judo player", is it any wonder we have tales about masters who could dodge bullets or knock people out without touching them?

Oral history is damn unreliable.

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