This is a recent development in martial arts.
Most people call it the “Martial Personality Cult”. For many, this is the most disruptive development precisely because it seems to go largely unnoticed and unchallenged. When questioned, supporters of a particular Martial Personality Cult defend it so loudly that even men like Bullshido seem to shy away.
What is a Martial Personality Cult? Basically, this is a form of “military worship” that is about one person. Usually this person is very talented, athletic and well trained. More than anything, this person is also very charismatic.
So what is the above? So far, nothing. Many masters who fall under the latter description are in no way, shape or form “Martial Personality Cultists”. One can freely name a number of such outstanding masters: Taira sensei, Higaonna sensei, Kanazawa sensei, Chen ZiQiang shifu, Luo De Xiu shifu, Su Dong Chen shifu, Guro Inosanto, Guro Presas… could go on and on. They are both capable and charismatic – and their followers do not show “cultism”.
The first thing to keep in mind is that no matter how skilled the leaders of the “Martial Personality Cult” are, none of them make the list of true masters mentioned above. They are good – but not so good. Not with a long shot. In fact, there is a good chance that most readers – whether in traditional martial arts or in the world of realistic martial arts – have not even heard of them. Rather, they have built their own niche – which in this case consists of an association of fanatical followers who are drawn in by incredible clipped Youtube videos that show great skills.
Again – what’s wrong with this?
Basically, the problem is quite simple:
They do not seem to teach anyone anything remotely useful.
They spend their time showing off their athleticism and practicing mentality – without imparting a single useful skill to a fan base.
External guesses that fighters can not teach any real skills for one simple reason: there is not enough money in it. In this regard, one teacher Bob Davies once told students:
“Martial arts activities should never have been a popular activity.”
By this he meant that at no time in history has martial arts activity ever been an act in which the majority of society has participated. It’s always been a pastime – something with a “cult”, if you forgive a pun.
Yes, there was a time before and after “Bloodsport Movie” including Bruce Lee that “everyone was fighting kung fu”. Then the ninja frenzy hit us all. And right after that, the Karate Kid movies went to the masses of people in dojos.
But the truth is that these waves were relatively short and few long-term students resulted; thousands joined the team and then quit a month, a week or a day later. Today, as at any time in history, it is hardly possible to compare the number of martial arts practitioners with those who play football, basketball or tennis.
No, a lot of people are attracted to the idea of martial arts. But very few could afford to practice them enough to acquire real skills. For the most part, Joe Q. Public would love to be able to “kick in the ass” like the heroes in these “Cult movies”. But the thought of going to school and doing hours and hours of kicks, punches, throws, falls, pillows, canteens – and all the necessary sweat, tears, and indeed blood – just doesn’t appeal. It is therefore not surprising that martial arts remain and always have a place.
Enter Martial Personality Cultist
This is where Martial Personality Cultist comes in. He (or sometimes she) knows that a large number of people would think of “tinkering” but have no interest in training themselves seriously to achieve real “gong fu” (ie a lot of effort). The “breeder” takes advantage of this tendency to entice as many people as possible to go to his school and instead promises “awesome power” – for very little effort.
Master Ken – the perfect parody of the real leaders of the Cult Personality Cult.
When we say ‘little effort’, we mean a long-term, serious martial artist. It is clear that students who attend the Cultists schools consider themselves to be making an effort. But let’s be clear:
It’s nothing like the effort they would have to put into an MMA gym; no hours and hours in hitting heavy bags, letting your knuckles ramble in your face, suffocating and making your joints shrink.
It’s not like boxing practice – where one or the other couple could train to fatigue and fight until your head weighs like you’ve been in a Mack truck.
It’s nothing like a difficult traditional school where you spend time in deep situations until your feet shake like a jelly, you kick, punch and hit until your gi is so wet with sweat that you could just as well jump into a pool, hit called your knuckles in makiwara and pound (black and blue) arm against each other.
And it’s nothing like a soft traditional school where you have to learn intricate shapes with enlightening precision; shapes that require flexibility, dexterity, core strength and precision that is torn for hours by tedious, backwards exercises – up to the stress “once again!”
No, relatively speaking, “School of Cultist” offers you the “Dire Straits Lite” version:
“Your Qi for nothing and your skills for free”.
With the above, it means that students assume that some arbitrary qi / ki exercises (or similar “structural” training – (whatever it is) will somehow improve their physical skills – such as kick, punch, bend, kinesthetics and proprioception – all without anyone practicing any kind of real technique – whether it’s with a bag / shield, in a partner’s exercise or even just in the air. “partner exercises” “or serve as street bags for their master. The skill will take care of itself – somehow” magically absorbed “from the incredible leader.”
So what are the trademarks of Martial Personality Cult? Let’s list them:
- Charismatic, reasonably talented shooter / idol
The first requirement is, as I have said, the charismatic physical fitness and athletic leader.
Usually there will be videos all over the internet and wake everyone up with the leader’s power, strength, speed, agility… and did I mention power?
Yes, “the power is almost magical.” Yes, that’s the only way to put it. Stunning. It’s so scary that it’s almost too amazing to be true…
- Shows defined by zombie attacks with string defenses.
The “force” is not just some kind of “woo” that involves pushes that are jumping. Oh no – Martial Art Personality Cultist really has the skills and athleticism. The problem is that it usually appears as a kind of “shock and fear” or “blitzkrieg” – a string of “surfer” tables delivered with rapid aggression and cruelty. Or maybe just cruel disgust – like a morbid punch in the sun or a kick in the groin. Or a crippling prank on someone’s elbow until it bends incorrectly while the student screams, shakes and knocks to the ground faster and harder than a jazz drummer. Or dangerous suffocation / knock out – delivered cold and methodically to the will of the victim.
But here’s the thing: in each case “the defense is so fast, so brutal, so awesome” they forget to notice… there was never any real attack. Or the attack was so slow, so dreamy, so out of range, so ineffective, it could just as well be a “zombie movement”.
The videos showing the above demonstrations are all produced by experts to “highlight the defense and ignore the lack of attack.” This is done by using filmmaking, exciting graphics and fonts that ignite, burn or curl the titles, cut to the balloon tables of the master, students throw themselves into every corner of the room or slam and dive into submission. Each video has only one clear function – to advertise the product; a kind of system that promises “If you build it, the skills will come.”
- Product that does not exist
Despite the promises of the videos, there is really “no identifiable product” to prove it. Indeed, this is almost a boast point; the martial arts culturist does not bother with “forms” or “techniques”. They “teach principles” that “go over technology / forms”. But in the end, they do not really teach anything tangible – no continuous pedagogy (ie a structured curriculum). And yet, “somehow they teach you everything you need to know.”
Confused? Let’s take a look at what the Martial Personality Cultist knows about the learning system:
The “product” that you “build” so that the skill “comes” amounts to some banal “qi gong” exercises or other similar (strange) breathing habits. Other than that, the captain shows a different exercise every night – never repeats any such exercise twice. In general, these exercises are only to show another awesome presentation from the martial arts culturist – only to copy (indirectly and without correction) from the students.
Which takes us to the next level:
- No “star” other than the Cultist
The Martial Personality Cult has room for only one star. Perhaps that is why no one can point to one of the master’s students who is good at repeating the master’s skills. In fact, no one can even name a top student. If you visit a branch, you will see some incompetent person leading a rather mundane task in the classroom. It seems that when the master leaves the building, all the “magic” goes with him / her.
That’s why I’ve called it the “Martial Personality Cult”; it’s really about one personality. No one else with any other skills is related to it.
Indeed, the most shocking charge of a Martial Personality Cultist is this: he / she does not seem to produce valuable students at all. Among the shodan training in the suburbs of dojo seems to yield better quality fighters.
In the rare event that a “top student” appears, this is never advertised or heard of until a completely new “Martial Personality Cult” has been created by that student. At this point, the student seems to be teaching his lot. A new brand and logo emerges, new videos are produced and new “exercises” appear – all variations of the original type but with a unique touch of the “student”. So there’s a new focus – a new ‘star’, a new ‘personality’ to worship. The original master is never mentioned in this elimination – except in some historical information buried on the site regarding “family”.
Which brings us to…
- Unclear lineage
The genealogy of the breeder is (certainly) very influential, dense in the history and heritage of a particular foreign land. But the details are… somehow absent… seemingly lost in the “mist of time”. Reference is made to cultural concepts, symbols and traditions; mythical characters are sometimes mentioned. But no one is able to point out the actual teacher of the master (unless it is another similar breeder with a similar video).
Stories are sometimes told of secret masters who disseminate deadly information in a secret environment. Stories of the second part of night trading or the sharing of knowledge on the deathbed. I’ve heard it all.
If the name of an alleged legitimate teacher is given, no one has ever spoken to that teacher and verified that he / she taught Cultist. No one even knows if that teacher is really legitimate. All anyone has is the word Cultist.
- Very subtle hints of “woo”
Martial Cultist is much smarter than the two-bit “woo” trader. He / she eagerly avoids mentioning the supernatural. The habit of “build it and skills will come” is spun as something physical, constructive, obvious, yet mysterious; “Higher technology”; “Deeper wisdom” – a kind of “ancient knowledge” rediscovered and updated for the modern age.
Except that this “technology” is never explained scientifically or logically. It is always put in terms like “tensegrity”, or “biodynamics” – or in everyday, banal and useless terms like “structure” or “core”. It’s clearly a “woo” under another name: a game of semantics.
The above glazes are very careful to avoid the “woo” element; they present the Cultist as the perfect realist – distributing “power” to all with cruel speed, precision and ruthlessness. But if you look closely, you see students begin to follow it by falling far too easily, being thrown too far; you see that everything is carefully written and choreographed…
Sometimes a “woo-like” video is leaked by the master who goes too far – but its existence is quickly explained away as “showing a deep philosophical / pictorial idea”. All and all criticism is rejected as “you do not understand what is happening.”
Which brings me to…
- Fanatic follow-up
The Cultist has a fanatical following that protects his videos and other web content. They pop up on every page – including Bullshido – showcasing the talents of the master and his students. All criticism is suppressed by an abundance of concerted anecdotal narratives in which large numbers confuse even the hardened skeptic. Surely the master must be good?
But this still leaves some awkward questions in people’s minds, all of which are answered by students:
Why have we not heard of him before? Oh, he was training for many years in X or Y (primary school in a big capital) or with A or B (army / special forces of some foreign country). He or she studied with a series of masters who shared their most secret knowledge with him in the most secret circumstances.
But no one ever proves it.
Why don’t MMA students fight? Oh they do! In X or Y (a large capital in a foreign country) they regularly compete in full contact.
But no one can ever name a single fighter from this school.
Why do not we see the students sparring? Oh there are literally hundreds of videos online of our sparring!
But no one ever finds.
Basically, if it seems too good to be true, then it almost certainly is.
Höfundarréttur © 2014 Dejan Djurdjevic