Flashy, Stylized and Useless

Flying Crane

Sr. Grandmaster
Joined
Sep 21, 2005
Messages
15,210
Reaction score
4,871
Location
San Francisco
On occasion here in the discussion forums, I see people make reference to traditional systems teaching moves that are flashy, stylized, and useless. It seems some of the traditional arts are accused of carrying a lot of "cultural baggage" in their physical technique that has no real use or application in combat or self defense.

I'm not sure what these people are talking about. In over a decade of learning traditional Chinese martial arts, I've never learned anything that is flashy, stylized and useless, nor anything that I'd classify as being some kind of cultural carryover. I've really only learned a lot of useful, hard-hitting stuff. Some of this stuff is a bit unusual, but once you understand its purpose it's pretty clear how useful it really is.

I've never seen anyone making this accusation define what they are talking about, nor give any concrete examples.

I wonder if the people who make this claim are thinking of Modern Wushu, which is a performance and competition art that nobody pretends is a viable combat art. Or maybe people mistake what they see in kung-fu cinema for reality? And I don't think this is limited to the Chinese martial arts either.

anyway, any thoughts on this? Anyone want to give some specific examples?
 

jarrod

Senior Master
Joined
Jul 7, 2008
Messages
2,172
Reaction score
96
Location
Denver
most styles develop with the very general goal of providing some form of protection for practitioners. as some styles evolve, they often limit their exposure to other arts for a variety of reasons, & the style becomes either about beating one particular rival style, or defeating an exponent of the same style. thus the technique isn't "useless" (few techniques are) but has a very specific purpose which may fall outside the realm of general self-defense. you will often hear TKD people argue that if you can deliver good kicks as high as the head, you can deliver them anywhere. i agree. so i think a lot of "flashy" moves may not be directly applicable to SD, but they aid in developing timing, confidence, & other attributes. for instance, if i landed a spinning heel kick on a black belt, i can probably figure out how to kick an attacker in the jimmy. but i'm not going to use a spinning heel kick in any context outside of the dojo.

jf
 
Last edited:

Xue Sheng

All weight is underside
Joined
Jan 8, 2006
Messages
34,192
Reaction score
9,210
Location
North American Tectonic Plate
Because it is all flashy stylized, useless and in the case of Taiji, to slow. And I will happily let all go on believing this :EG:

It is pretty much the “my dad is tougher than your dad” or the “my dog is tougher than your dog” argument. And in the case of CMA or TMA it is part propaganda and part realism. Go to the majority of TMA schools out there today and you be the judge. Is TMA effective? HELL YEAH!!! but it needs to be trained properly and it is not a quick or easy learn.

As to propaganda, it is much easier to condemn than understand something, especially if understanding it means you need to think. And it makes some feel soooooo much better to point fingers and say "your kung fu no good" because now, whether or not what they train is any good they have at least made themselves feel better because they told you what you do is no good.

But to be completely honest I am getting to the point where I no longer care what anyone thinks. I know what I train and I know what I can do and as long as my Sifu is happy with my progress and what I am doing I frankly don’t care if some RSBD or Sport or other TMA person thinks it is a useless flashy waste of time. I have also trained real RSBD and it is, from what I can tell, nothing like a lot of RSBD I have seen and I don’t much care about that either.

I was thinking about TMA training today and what it is, what it was and what some think it is today and I was actually going to try and make a post out of it but to be honest I am not all that excited about posting much of anything on MT these days and basically I am here just to kill time.

And this has its root in exactly what your post it about.

But for the record...my dog IS tougher than your dog :D
 
Last edited:

JadecloudAlchemist

Master of Arts
Joined
Feb 12, 2007
Messages
1,877
Reaction score
82
Location
Miami,Florida
I always found TMA to be straight to the point. There is a reason things are done a certain way. I have not found anything flashy and I think people are talking about Demo,XMA,Wushu and think that is what Martial arts is even schools push that direction.

I think people find techniques uselss and bring up the whole"well it was done 200 years ago and we don't fight like that now a days" have failed at either learning to adapt the technique to modern times or have failed at truly understanding the teachniques principles and basics.
 

geezer

Grandmaster
MT Mentor
Joined
Oct 20, 2007
Messages
7,359
Reaction score
3,559
Location
Phoenix, AZ
But for the record...my dog IS tougher than your dog :D

No problem, Xue. It's really just how you cook it.

And regarding "useless flash"... people are confusing solid TMA with Wushu, movie fight scenes and tournament XMA stuff. Can you really blame them? After all, this is what most people are likely to see. And, there are plenty of "McDojos" that pass flashy stuff off as real MA because it appeals to their customer base --kids.
 
OP
Flying Crane

Flying Crane

Sr. Grandmaster
Joined
Sep 21, 2005
Messages
15,210
Reaction score
4,871
Location
San Francisco
No problem, Xue. It's really just how you cook it.

And regarding "useless flash"... people are confusing solid TMA with Wushu, movie fight scenes and tournament XMA stuff. Can you really blame them? After all, this is what most people are likely to see. And, there are plenty of "McDojos" that pass flashy stuff off as real MA because it appeals to their customer base --kids.

I would like to believe this, but I've seen this kind of comment thrown around by people with many decades of training, and who are respected leaders in their own systems. I would think these people would see thru the XMA/wushu/cinema stuff and know the difference...
 

Carol

Crazy like a...
MT Mentor
Lifetime Supporting Member
MTS Alumni
Joined
Jan 16, 2006
Messages
20,311
Reaction score
541
Location
NH
Some pointed complaints that I hear about the traditional arts seem to be more than just a critique or an analysis. They seem to have some sort of personal undercurrent, as if the person making the complaint has been personally insulted by one system or another.

It makes me wonder if what is going on is not really an honest critique of the style, but more of an expression of frustration from expectations that weren't met or managed.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to do submission grappling or BJJ or MMA style fighting or what have you. I just don't think studying (say) Shaolin Long Fist is the best way to get there.
 

tallgeese

Green Belt
Joined
Jun 27, 2009
Messages
133
Reaction score
6
Location
McHenry County, Il
I think some of the "stylized" of that comes from a kata argument, and I won't start one here. But I will say that there are more direct ways to train for fighting. Depending on what you're doing that may or may not be important for you.

Some of the "useless" critique probably arises from overcomplicated movements or those that take too long to develop in actual application. Also, practice against largely unrealistic attack sequences comes into play here.

So do movements that, even at face value, have little real world application.

Before the flames start, I'm not accusing all TMA's of this, but I think we can all agree there are enough out there doing it that the stereotype was developed for a reason.

"Flashy" is largely in the eye of the beholder. I think high kicks are flashy. Pretty, but given my body structure and goals in the ma's, fairly useless to me. Athletic, sure. Feasible for other people, sure. In my game plan, nope.

You get people arguing off that quite a bit. I have little to no experience with CMA's so I'm not real qualified to disect what might lead to the above labeling in those arts, but if it occurs it's probably related in some way to the things I've outlined above.
 
OP
Flying Crane

Flying Crane

Sr. Grandmaster
Joined
Sep 21, 2005
Messages
15,210
Reaction score
4,871
Location
San Francisco
Some of the "useless" critique probably arises from overcomplicated movements or those that take too long to develop in actual application. Also, practice against largely unrealistic attack sequences comes into play here.

So do movements that, even at face value, have little real world application.

Have you seen examples that you can describe?
 

Stac3y

Master Black Belt
Joined
Feb 27, 2009
Messages
1,103
Reaction score
40
I don't know much about CMAs, either, so take what I say with a bucket of rock salt. I don't think high kicks are flashy or useless, but that may be because they're easy for me. Lots of things are hard, but kicking high is not one of them, in my case.

The flashy, stylized, and useless stuff I see most often is some of the weapons stuff. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't see the utility of spinning and release moves with staff weapons--maybe on a very limited basis, but not to the extent that you see them in competition. Also, my weapon of choice is a fighting fan. Since it's an esoteric weapon, I've had to watch a lot of videos to learn how to use it. Many of these have a lot of stylized movements that are pretty and flashy--the fan is gently waved about, tossed, etc.--but darned if I can figure out what use they are. I did manage to find a more stripped down version on video (still kind of fanciful, but less so than the others), and with that and some reading I've put something together that's stronger and more oriented toward actual fighting, with strikes, stabs, and slashes.

I also don't see the point in a lot of the flips, cartwheels, and other gymnastic moves that are seen in a lot of competitive forms. They look cool, and I love watching them, but I prefer to see them limited to XMA competition, not allowed in open forms competition.

Just my 2 cents.
 
OP
Flying Crane

Flying Crane

Sr. Grandmaster
Joined
Sep 21, 2005
Messages
15,210
Reaction score
4,871
Location
San Francisco
I don't know much about CMAs, either, so take what I say with a bucket of rock salt. I don't think high kicks are flashy or useless, but that may be because they're easy for me. Lots of things are hard, but kicking high is not one of them, in my case.

The flashy, stylized, and useless stuff I see most often is some of the weapons stuff. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't see the utility of spinning and release moves with staff weapons--maybe on a very limited basis, but not to the extent that you see them in competition. Also, my weapon of choice is a fighting fan. Since it's an esoteric weapon, I've had to watch a lot of videos to learn how to use it. Many of these have a lot of stylized movements that are pretty and flashy--the fan is gently waved about, tossed, etc.--but darned if I can figure out what use they are. I did manage to find a more stripped down version on video (still kind of fanciful, but less so than the others), and with that and some reading I've put something together that's stronger and more oriented toward actual fighting, with strikes, stabs, and slashes.

I also don't see the point in a lot of the flips, cartwheels, and other gymnastic moves that are seen in a lot of competitive forms. They look cool, and I love watching them, but I prefer to see them limited to XMA competition, not allowed in open forms competition.

Just my 2 cents.

It sounds to me like much of what you are describing here would not be strictly traditional martial arts. Rather, this sounds like modern "flair" added for the sake of tournament competition. I'd bet that if you could find a teacher who was knowledgeable about this kind of thing, like your Fan example, it would be much simpler and more direct, with few or no fancy embellishments. This goes for the gymnastic moves as well. Some of that does exist in a limited way in some traditional arts, but not nearly to the extent that one often sees in competition. These things are added in the hopes of scoring higher with ignorant judges who don't know any better themselves.
 

Bill Mattocks

Sr. Grandmaster
MTS Alumni
Joined
Feb 8, 2009
Messages
15,580
Reaction score
4,317
Location
Michigan
On the other side of the spectrum, I have heard people say that Isshinryu is 'ugly' and 'ungraceful' and they therefore reject it on that basis.

I didn't choose to train in Isshinryu because it fit my aesthetic notion of what a martial art should look like, so I don't really understand that kind of criticism.

On the other hand, I've noted that a lot of statements of that sort come from those who either do not train in MA, or who those who have 'dabbled' in MA training. So even as a newbie myself, I know they're mostly full of crap.

Most of the experienced MAists I have met are respectful of other styles, even if they don't understand why certain movements are done the way they're done.
 

Xue Sheng

All weight is underside
Joined
Jan 8, 2006
Messages
34,192
Reaction score
9,210
Location
North American Tectonic Plate
Some of the "useless" critique probably arises from overcomplicated movements or those that take too long to develop in actual application.

It all depends on what you are after.

Also, practice against largely unrealistic attack sequences comes into play here.

I am not flaming you here but I doubt there is anyone in TMA that believes that a form is a pattern to follow when attacked or to attack. Therefore I would respond with it is not an unrealistic attack sequence since none that train it would use it as such. This is more to what I said, a lack of understanding as to what TMA is and does and why it does it.
 

Jenna

Senior Master
MT Mentor
Joined
Apr 30, 2006
Messages
3,470
Reaction score
713
Location
Cluj
I would just want to make one point if that is ok? Coming from an Aikido bkgd, I am well aware of how the art is perceived beyond its white walls. Thing for me is that much of that prejudice is completely and unarguably valid!

I think the techniques that more traditional arts offer (as opposed to "combative" systems) are no less hard-hitting; they are no less useful in reality; they are no less tough and aggressive. I think the distinction lies in how those techniques are applied. Traditional martial systems were created for a single purpose: fighting. Anything else is a misnomer. However, they are not necessarily practiced -now- for that purpose. Some of us practise for exercise, some for sport, some for camaraderie, some for who knows what. Were we all to practice our arts with that real honest-to God "combative" intention, well, the techniques would remain the same, but the application would be much more direct. To the observer at least, they would give the impression of no waste, fluff or flash that I think you are referring to among those folk in martial arts, practicing for reasons other than pure martial combat.

Again, let me just say, that I have no beef with anybody doing what they do how they do it, I just think martial arts practiced without a martial intention do engender that fluffy uselessness. I hope that makes sense? Interested to read your thoughts :)

Yr most obdt hmble srvt,
Jenna
 

Shinobi Teikiatsu

Green Belt
Joined
Apr 14, 2008
Messages
156
Reaction score
15
Location
Austin
I'm going to have to admit, I find high kicks and spinning kicks rather useless, even though they are really easy to me. On principle, I never throw a kick above the stomach, simply because it leaves me too open. You watch the Power Rangers, see how many kicks they throw to somebody's head, and how many of those actually land, then you'll understand why high kicks are dangerous.

As for the acrobatics in TMA's, I haven't seen too many actually built into a curriculum. In my dojo, we practice basic ukemi, which includes cartwheels, dive rolls and hand springs, and the hand springs are what I would say are the most acrobatic movements. Still, we do not train to use a back hand spring in a fight, and I think it's mostly used for getting over something or getting out of a fall, and even a little bit is done just to build upper body strength.

I don't find too too much in martial arts, any martial art, not just the TMAs, too unrealistic, it just depends on what you intend on using it for.
 

clfsean

Senior Master
MT Mentor
MTS Alumni
Joined
Jun 15, 2004
Messages
3,687
Reaction score
400
Location
Metropolitan Tokyo
On the other side of the spectrum, I have heard people say that Isshinryu is 'ugly' and 'ungraceful' and they therefore reject it on that basis.

Pfah... bugger 'em. Ever seen Southern Dragon or Bak Mei??? Not pretty, but straight to the point & plenty effective in application of technique & theory.

I didn't choose to train in Isshinryu because it fit my aesthetic notion of what a martial art should look like, so I don't really understand that kind of criticism.

See your post below. Lots of opinions come from that camp... but lots of opinions come from the long timer camp too. Everything in perspective on that idea.

On the other hand, I've noted that a lot of statements of that sort come from those who either do not train in MA, or who those who have 'dabbled' in MA training. So even as a newbie myself, I know they're mostly full of crap.

You're not that new then... ;)

Most of the experienced MAists I have met are respectful of other styles, even if they don't understand why certain movements are done the way they're done.

Exactly. If they're curious, they'll ask & find out. If not, they'll normally come back with something like "That's not how I'd do it, but instead I'd do "this"." Which is fine. There may be enough difference between what's being critiqued & what's been studied to where there's not a comparable technique, but it can be appreciated regardless.

I'm the first to admit I'm a bit of a TMA snob & really have no liking at all for XMA or PRC Wushu. I see no martial application (practical or applicable) in 99% of what's done. Then again, I'm not into the performance aspect of things & never have been.
 

clfsean

Senior Master
MT Mentor
MTS Alumni
Joined
Jun 15, 2004
Messages
3,687
Reaction score
400
Location
Metropolitan Tokyo
It all depends on what you are after.



I am not flaming you here but I doubt there is anyone in TMA that believes that a form is a pattern to follow when attacked or to attack. Therefore I would respond with it is not an unrealistic attack sequence since none that train it would use it as such. This is more to what I said, a lack of understanding as to what TMA is and does and why it does it.

Truth on both counts!!!
 

jarrod

Senior Master
Joined
Jul 7, 2008
Messages
2,172
Reaction score
96
Location
Denver
I think the techniques that more traditional arts offer (as opposed to "combative" systems) are no less hard-hitting; they are no less useful in reality; they are no less tough and aggressive. I think the distinction lies in how those techniques are applied.

i think you are on to something; i also think that the difference in application begins at training. for the techniques to be applied realistically, they have to be trained with progressive realism. in boxing for instance, you will learn how to punch via shadowboxing. then you'll learn what it's like to hit an object by hitting the heavy bag; then less predictable targets by working the mitts or the double end bag, etc, then eventually sparring & fighting live, uncooperative opponents. now many TMAs can generate a TON of power, but if you don't develop the timing & distance to land the strike safely, it's not doing you a lot of good. so in some cases, it's not that the techniques are bad, it is that they are trained ineffeciently.

jf
 

Steve

Mostly Harmless
Joined
Jul 9, 2008
Messages
21,851
Reaction score
7,368
Location
Covington, WA
Okay. There is a circular kind of logic being applied here guys. In this thread so far, the argument is basically that TMAs don't train anything that is flashy, useless or stylized because any techniques that are flashy, useless or stylized aren't TMA.

We're in a very grey area here, IMO, where anything can be justified. For example, forms/kata were brought up by tallgeese. I share his opinion that forms aren't useful in combat. The response was that forms aren't trained for combat. Xue Sheng said, "I am not flaming you here but I doubt there is anyone in TMA that believes that a form is a pattern to follow when attacked or to attack. Therefore I would respond with it is not an unrealistic attack sequence since none that train it would use it as such."

Well, okay. But they're a large part of many TMA schools. Doesn't this cede the point that forms are useless in combat, and by extension that TMAs do in fact teach useless, stylized techniques?

I don't personally think forms/kata are useless, but I do believe that there are more efficient solo and partner exercises that would accomplish the same end.

Jarrod, I agree with you 100% and have made the same point in other threads. IMO, it's how you train. While there is a cerebral aspect to fighting, fighting is a physical activity. You can't learn to cook by reading cookbooks.
 

Bill Mattocks

Sr. Grandmaster
MTS Alumni
Joined
Feb 8, 2009
Messages
15,580
Reaction score
4,317
Location
Michigan
I don't personally think forms/kata are useless, but I do believe that there are more efficient solo and partner exercises that would accomplish the same end.

I don't think I follow your logic here. We do self-defense techniques and quite often, sensei will ask - what kata is this move out of? It becomes easy to see that the moves we learn in various kata are valid self-defense moves. Granted one would not run 'seisan' on an attacker. But the side blocks are side blocks. The kicks are kicks. The foot trap is a foot trap. What's more efficient than rote memorization of necessary body mechanics that you want your body to become very, very, proficient in?

I agree that part of self-defense training is actually using the techniques, by sparring or otherwise exchanging techniques, both attacking and defending. But kata is just working that response system into your body so that it becomes a natural and instinctive move. A middle body block when practiced as kata, for example, can be examined, judged, and corrected, so that you do it correctly each and every time (eventually). In a series of self-defense moves, I wonder if an instructor would pick out that your feet were wrong, or your wrist bent, etc.

Eh, we're getting back to kata and how useful it is again. I'm just a newbie with much to learn, but I do kata, kata, kata, and I will continue to do kata, kata, kata. I believe in it.
 
Top