Combat’s Fading Shadow
“Though always eager to measure swords with the enemy, there was no enemy for the bushi to fight during the long Tokugawa period of peace and stability.” - Donn F. Draeger
I’m always amazed when someone equates fighting and martial arts as one in the same. Especially when they’ve never had the displeasure of slugging it out in the parking lot with someone drunker than yours truly. This fact was brought to my attention again when browsing through a martial arts magazine that offered video rank courses in cane fighting. Now, don’t get me wrong, a cane can be an effective weapon in the hands of an experienced person. It’s just that when I saw the student’s canes and master’s canes sold separately that my B.S. alarm started to ring loudly.
Combat’s fading shadow affects all fighting arts, though some more than others. Usually those least affected are full-contact styles such as MMA, Boxing, Judo, etc. This is because the contestants have clearly defined goals and realistic feedback that allows them to determine what will and what will not work. “Gee Fred, you got your nose broke. Maybe that block doesn’t work after all.”
The ones affected most are those initially designed for combat/self-defense, but which have become obsolete due to advanced weapons, world peace, or being practiced for reasons other than combat. Unfortunately practitioners within this category do actually believe that they are learning how to fight. Why? Simply put there is no realistic feedback, unless of course they have a competent instructor who makes proper distinctions between what goes on inside class and what happens in the parking lot.
The fading shadow effect usually follows a four step progression. In step one combat spurs forth the development of a technique, or weapon. This is when some bright, enterprising individual has survived a harrowing, near death experience and has an epiphany though which they realize that, “Hey, if I’d done this, or had that, I wouldn’t have all these broken bones.”
Step two is when this bright, enterprising individual establishes a teaching syllabus for their newly developed technique/weapon. Take for instance the cane. During the 19th century cane fighting was extremely popular in both France and the United Kingdom. Gentlemen during this period could no longer carry swords for protection so they used the cane instead. Schools were established, many of which were based on western fencing, and the cane became a formidable weapon.
Step three is when our bright, enterprising individual passes on their system to a new generation of students. Hence we’ve gone from first to second generation and the dangers which existed for the first may no longer exist for the second, due to changing social circumstances. However, since the second generation learned from the first their teachings remain unchanged, accurate and reasonably effective.
Step three is when the second generation passes on the style/system to a third generation far removed from the dangers that originally gave birth to their beloved system. And while the third generation pays homage to the first, the third’s reasons for training change. Therefore what originally began as a combative art enters a phase of peace and tranquility and evolves into either a sport, or spiritual discipline.
Step four is when the first generation (remember our bright and enterprising individual?) has long since been dead, but has just recently been canonized and his system/style is now recognized as one of the worlds’s most deadly fighting arts. More importantly though with world wide recognition commercial potential arises. I mean after all this is the day and age of free-trade, hence our bright and enterprising individual who was recently canonized as a great-grand master- by his commercial savvy sixth generation students- is elevated to a legendary status more mythic than real. And because of this his style of fighting becomes an established product known worldwide with a sales base of a million per quarter.
The moral of my story is buyer beware. We now live in a day and age where sales skills take precedence over combative prowess. The martial arts are a billion dollar a year industry and the more belts, stripes, levels and titles you’re forced to buy, the less you’ll learn about fighting.