Philosophical question from a newbie

Herenorthere

Yellow Belt
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
23
Reaction score
3
I'd been researching martial arts for a while. I looked at a few different styles and schools. I recently had a tsd lesson. I had a discussion with the instructor later and I would like some feedback from other martial arts practitioners. His answer was, basically, the same as answers I had gotten from other instructors in other disciplines, while I was researching. If the instructor happens ot be on this forum, I mean no disrespect by posting my questions on this forum.

I'm a a relatively older individual. After watching some youtube videos, I began to wonder if other adults, who started their training later in life, were able to actually perform all ofthe moves, necessary to prorgress to higher levels of proficiency. I was told that some moves can be modified and that others may be omitted entirely. These responses are what prompted my post.
From my limited knowledge, Eastern and Western cultures are, obviously, very different. Karate is an Eastern art, for the most part. It's my understanding that Karate teaches physical AND mental discipline. It is also my understanding, that Eastern culture, in general, sets higher expectations for performance than Western, or, at least, sets higher standards than American society.
If someone truly believes in the art that he/she is practicing, how is it possible to put a Western spin on an Eastern art and just modify or omit moves, to remain beholden not only, to the inclusive mindset that we embrace in this country, but also to the complacency about mediocrity, that characterizes our society? Or, am I misinterpreting?
Or, is it only necessary to focus on the individual, and ensuring that each person reaches his/her potential, within the constraints of his/her own abilities If that is the case, then the belt system would seem to be meaningless. If you are required to perform certain moves at a certain level of proficiency but you make allowances for each individual's potential for achieving those levels, then it would seem that awarding belts is a subjective process.
I didn't grow up receiving trophies just for participating. Not everybody can play tennis. That's why there's pickleball. Should olderor impaired people, who can't lift their legs above their heads, be relegated to hapkido or tai chi?
I'd like some feedback from those who are more knowledgable and who have actually been practicing and/or teaching for a while.
 

MadMartigan

Blue Belt
Joined
Apr 28, 2021
Messages
223
Reaction score
252
So my 2 cents (only having a couple minutes to type right now) is:

Sort of, yes, and no.

Even a person who has devoted their entire life to their art will one day reach an age where their body fails them. The aged 100 year old master who can still physically dominate a horde of 20 something ruffians is nothing more than Hollywood fantasy.
But the KNOWLEDGE that person holds, their mastery of the finer technical points, and how to teach these things to others holds through.

Maybe not everyone can perform high flying jumping, spinning kicks in their 60s, but the important lessons are all about the basics anyway. Most of the flashy stuff is fun, but not core to the art.

This is coming from a Korean martial art point of view, but I believe it translates into the grappling arts (like bjj) as well. Not every bjj black belt is a master at the rubber guard... nor do they need to be.

The basics, in the end, are really all that matters.
 

skribs

Grandmaster
Joined
Nov 14, 2013
Messages
6,572
Reaction score
2,002
I am very tempted to come at this from an adversarial position. For one, you've taken one class, and yet you seem to think to know more about teaching martial arts than those who have been doing it for a significant amount of time. For two, you're creating a class of "sub-martial arts" when you say "relegated to hapkido or tai chi".

However, you are equating belts with trophies, and that's not entirely the case. The belt is more like a diploma than a trophy. You get it through a combination of technical ability, knowledge, attitude, time, and maybe a few other things. It is very possible for an older person to know more than their body is capable of, but to be able to pass that information onto a beginner when they are teaching.

Medals and trophies are more attributed to competition. While often you get local tournaments where everyone gets a medal or trophy, only the winners get gold medals or the biggest trophies. And then you get to the high level of competition, and there are national champions or Olympic gold medalists. Even then, it's a little bit tempered. Most arts have weight classes, for example.

It is true that your body breaks down as you get older. It's also true that some people are never going to be in the same shape as others. How many people are capable of reaching the level of fitness of Bruce Lee or Arnold Schwarzenegger? Should martial arts only be open to them?

I guess I did end up adversarial. I don't want to be since you're a beginner. But you have to focus on what you can do, not what you can't, and not what others can and can't.
 
OP
H

Herenorthere

Yellow Belt
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
23
Reaction score
3
I am very tempted to come at this from an adversarial position. For one, you've taken one class, and yet you seem to think to know more about teaching martial arts than those who have been doing it for a significant amount of time. For two, you're creating a class of "sub-martial arts" when you say "relegated to hapkido or tai chi".

However, you are equating belts with trophies, and that's not entirely the case. The belt is more like a diploma than a trophy. You get it through a combination of technical ability, knowledge, attitude, time, and maybe a few other things. It is very possible for an older person to know more than their body is capable of, but to be able to pass that information onto a beginner when they are teaching.

Medals and trophies are more attributed to competition. While often you get local tournaments where everyone gets a medal or trophy, only the winners get gold medals or the biggest trophies. And then you get to the high level of competition, and there are national champions or Olympic gold medalists. Even then, it's a little bit tempered. Most arts have weight classes, for example.

It is true that your body breaks down as you get older. It's also true that some people are never going to be in the same shape as others. How many people are capable of reaching the level of fitness of Bruce Lee or Arnold Schwarzenegger? Should martial arts only be open to them?

I guess I did end up adversarial. I don't want to be since you're a beginner. But you have to focus on what you can do, not what you can't, and not what others can and can't.
If you read my post carefully, you'll see that I admit that my knowledge is limited and that, the very point of this post, IS to defer to those with MORE knowledge than I have. Maybe I should not have used the word, "relegated." However, that is the way some schools make it sound. I contacted a couple. who try to steer you to Tai Chi and hapkido, if you are older.
 
Last edited:

Tony Dismukes

MT Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Nov 11, 2005
Messages
6,866
Reaction score
6,267
Location
Lexington, KY
It is also my understanding, that Eastern culture, in general, sets higher expectations for performance than Western, or, at least, sets higher standards than American society.
Nope. This is a common misconception, sometimes spread deliberately for marketing purposes.
If someone truly believes in the art that he/she is practicing, how is it possible to put a Western spin on an Eastern art and just modify or omit moves, to remain beholden not only, to the inclusive mindset that we embrace in this country, but also to the complacency about mediocrity, that characterizes our society? Or, am I misinterpreting?
In general, the "moves" are not the most important aspects of a martial art. Individual techniques are just contextual application of underlying principles and can be used or not used in a given moment based on a wide variety of situational factors. In some cases one of those situational factors might be that the practitioner is 80 years old and can't throw leaping, spinning head kicks.
Or, is it only necessary to focus on the individual, and ensuring that each person reaches his/her potential, within the constraints of his/her own abilities If that is the case, then the belt system would seem to be meaningless. If you are required to perform certain moves at a certain level of proficiency but you make allowances for each individual's potential for achieving those levels, then it would seem that awarding belts is a subjective process.
We can have (and have had) long discussions regarding whether belt rank systems are useful or meaningful. Bottom line:
a) All rank systems do have at least some element of subjectivity
b) Any rank system is only meaningful in the context of the specific system and school where the rank is awarded. A given rank might indicate all sorts of different things: memorization of specific forms and techniques, a certain level of technical proficiency on demonstration of certain techniques, fighting ability, athleticism, knowledge, teaching ability, demonstration of effort and perseverance, mental toughness, personal character, or in some cases just the willingness to keep showing up and handing over money to the instructor. c) The usefulness of a rank system depends on the instructor and the students. Originally Jigaro Kano invented the belt rank system as a way to easily distinguish beginners from advanced students in a large class so he knew who could take the hard falls. Some schools use rank to organize the delivery of a curriculum, some use it to provide competition brackets in sport, some use it as a psychological tool to keep students motivated.
 

Steve

Mostly Harmless
Joined
Jul 9, 2008
Messages
21,094
Reaction score
6,595
Location
Covington, WA
I didn't grow up receiving trophies just for participating. Not everybody can play tennis. That's why there's pickleball. Should olderor impaired people, who can't lift their legs above their heads, be relegated to hapkido or tai chi?
I think others have addressed most of the rest, but I want to just comment on this, which I think is at the heart of your philosophical question.

I think most people can play tennis. If you can play pickle ball, you can play tennis. You just might not be able to play tennis very well. The philosophical question is, if you can't do something well (i.e., to a high level), is it still worth doing? I think we can agree that the answer is, it depends on the activity. But in most things, I'd say it is.

This guy is 97 years old and plays tennis. According to the story, he started playing in his 40s. Looking at his performance... if we are objectively evaluating it, I don't think he's going to get much better. Even in his 40s, his chances of playing at an elite or even very high level, is functionally nil. But is it worth playing? I am guessing if you asked him, he'd share a host of reasons why it is.

 

Jared Traveler

Black Belt
Joined
Jul 17, 2022
Messages
609
Reaction score
263
Herenothere,

Welcome. And by that I mean welcome to the "world of belts." Frankly speaking any time the "martial" arts becomes about "business" and the priority and focus is not primary martial, compromises are made.
 

Flying Crane

Sr. Grandmaster
Joined
Sep 21, 2005
Messages
14,879
Reaction score
4,450
Location
San Francisco
There is a vast amount of subjectivity when it comes to teaching martial arts and evaluating any level of skill and/or bestowing rank in said same. Some schools/teachers do a better job than others in maintaining a high bar, but even what maintaining a high bar means is subjective. There is always room to adjust expectations for those who simply cannot perform at a certain physical level due to age or disability or other issues. None of this stuff is written in stone, handed down by the gods from above.
 

lklawson

Grandmaster
Joined
Feb 3, 2005
Messages
5,035
Reaction score
1,663
Location
Huber Heights, OH
I'm a a relatively older individual. After watching some youtube videos, I began to wonder if other adults, who started their training later in life, were able to actually perform all ofthe moves, necessary to prorgress to higher levels of proficiency. I was told that some moves can be modified and that others may be omitted entirely.
This is pretty common.


From my limited knowledge, Eastern and Western cultures are, obviously, very different. Karate is an Eastern art, for the most part. It's my understanding that Karate teaches physical AND mental discipline. It is also my understanding, that Eastern culture, in general, sets higher expectations for performance than Western, or, at least, sets higher standards than American society.
This is a misconception. There are some people in Western culture who have low standards. There are many who do not. Same goes for the many Eastern cultures. For that matter, there really isn't a "Western" culture (despite the fact that I use the same verbal shortcut). 19th Century French culture isn't the same thing as 19th Century British culture, never mind 20th Century German culture compared to 18th Century Russian. And even then 19th Century England culture isn't the same thing as even 19th Century Scottish to say nothing of 19th Century Irish.

The sweeping statement is not only wrong because, well, it's wrong, but also because it's impossibly general.


If someone truly believes in the art that he/she is practicing, how is it possible to put a Western spin on an Eastern art and just modify or omit moves, to remain beholden not only, to the inclusive mindset that we embrace in this country, but also to the complacency about mediocrity, that characterizes our society? Or, am I misinterpreting?
What makes you think that modifying or omitting techniques to accommodate the practitioner is non-Eastern or specifically a "western spin?"

Peace favor your sword,
Kirk
 
OP
H

Herenorthere

Yellow Belt
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
23
Reaction score
3
I think others have addressed most of the rest, but I want to just comment on this, which I think is at the heart of your philosophical question.

I think most people can play tennis. If you can play pickle ball, you can play tennis. You just might not be able to play tennis very well. The philosophical question is, if you can't do something well (i.e., to a high level), is it still worth doing? I think we can agree that the answer is, it depends on the activity. But in most things, I'd say it is.

This guy is 97 years old and plays tennis. According to the story, he started playing in his 40s. Looking at his performance... if we are objectively evaluating it, I don't think he's going to get much better. Even in his 40s, his chances of playing at an elite or even very high level, is functionally nil. But is it worth playing? I am guessing if you asked him, he'd share a host of reasons why it is.

Having spent a lot of time around tennis courts, I can definitively say that, not everybody can play tennis. Many people cannot serve, even a modified serve and get the ball "in." It is POSSIBLE to play around a backhand, sometimes, but for the most part, having a backhand, even a bad one, is essential. This is another skill that many people simply cannot learn. Some people don't have the stamina to play tennis. Getting the ball over the net now and then isn't tennis.
 
Last edited:
OP
H

Herenorthere

Yellow Belt
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
23
Reaction score
3
This is pretty common.



This is a misconception. There are some people in Western culture who have low standards. There are many who do not. Same goes for the many Eastern cultures. For that matter, there really isn't a "Western" culture (despite the fact that I use the same verbal shortcut). 19th Century French culture isn't the same thing as 19th Century British culture, never mind 20th Century German culture compared to 18th Century Russian. And even then 19th Century England culture isn't the same thing as even 19th Century Scottish to say nothing of 19th Century Irish.

The sweeping statement is not only wrong because, well, it's wrong, but also because it's impossibly general.



What makes you think that modifying or omitting techniques to accommodate the practitioner is non-Eastern or specifically a "western spin?"

Peace favor your sword,
Kirk
It does seem that American society, at least, is, if not holding people to rhe same standards, definitely becoming a lot more forgiving and less demanding. I'm not an educator. However, I do know thst if you screwed up in college, as a freshman and flunked out, then you flunked out. Now, in many schools, you can essentially, take a mulligan. Yes, it does give the colleges twice as much tuition money but the mentality is just not the same as it used to be.
Maybe the same IS true in Eastern cultures today. I don't know. Is modifying techniques universally accepted?
 

drop bear

Sr. Grandmaster
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
22,359
Reaction score
7,115
It's complicated.

The progression isn't linear.

You don't really need all of martial arts to be good at martial arts.

For me coming from a BJJ, MMA Background it is such a massive tool set that I am never going to really get all of it. Let alone master all of it.

And every time I think I have a big chunck of it down someone comes along with a new chunk.

But I can master enough to be functional or even good.

And then just explore as much as I can ad well as I can untill I can't.

Modifying techniques should be expected. Because you have to use that technique.
 
Last edited:

drop bear

Sr. Grandmaster
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
22,359
Reaction score
7,115
So for example we recently had a good berimbolo guy move to our town. So now I get to play with a concept that I have basically avoided because I focus on other aspects.

The issue is birembolo takes great flexibility and is really complicated it is a he does you do he does kind of thing.

But I can start with easy versions. Some easy versions work fine.


I am not a lesser martial artists if I catch you with the simpler version.

Where for example here is Gary tonen using the idea in probably the most complicated way possible.
 
Last edited:
OP
H

Herenorthere

Yellow Belt
Joined
Aug 25, 2022
Messages
23
Reaction score
3
I don't know what birembolo is but that technique makes sense.
So for example we recently had a good berimbolo guy move to our town. So now I get to play with a concept that I have basically avoided because I focus on other aspects.

The issue is birembolo takes great flexibility and is really complicated it is a he does you do he does kind of thing.

But I can start with easy versions. Some easy versions work fine.


I am not a lesser martial artists if I catch you with the simpler version.

Where for example here is Gary tones using the idea in probably the most complicated way possible.
 

drop bear

Sr. Grandmaster
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
22,359
Reaction score
7,115
I don't know what birembolo is but that technique makes sense.

Give it about two steps in to the concept and it doesn't. And you have to play inverted which takes conditioning.

Have a look at the second video about half way in.
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

MT Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jan 4, 2012
Messages
10,909
Reaction score
4,883
Location
New York
If you don't modify techniques to what you're able to do, assuming it's a physical thing and not just you haven't practiced it enough, you won't be able to use it. Do you think it's better to be able to kick someone in a slightly different way than your instructor kicked someone, or not be able to kick them at all? I'd go with the first.

Also, in a lot of systems, belts are really used as barriers for new techniques. So if a green belt has to learn to jump and throw a front and back kick at the same time, but they've got a gimp foot/leg so they can't do it, then if you don't make an exception/variation, they'll never be able to learn how to do a standing arm bar (which in the system I'm referring to, was taught a belt later).

And ultimately most teachers are trying to teach their students how to fight, so not going along with what they can do is preventing them from learning to fight.
 

Buka

Sr. Grandmaster
MT Mentor
Joined
Jun 27, 2011
Messages
12,476
Reaction score
9,600
Location
Maui
Welcome to MartialTalk, Herenorthere. Hope you enjoy it. :)

You should go to a dojo or three, take a class, see what you like, and go have some fun.

No sense in over thinking the whole thing yet, just have some fun.
 

isshinryuronin

Master Black Belt
Joined
Feb 28, 2019
Messages
1,447
Reaction score
1,454
Location
Las Vegas
It's complicated.
It is. There are so many ways to look at this issue. It seems to me that the basic question being raised is, "If one with physical limitations can/should rise up thru the ranks and be considered proficient in the art." Then comes the question, "Does it matter?"

The fact that an individual (of any rank or age) can or can't do a particular move or two has nothing to do with his overall proficiency. One or two techniques (or even more, up to a point) do not an art make. A food metaphor: It's OK if someone can't eat fish and milk products. They can compensate with other foods and still have a balanced, healthy diet. Now, if they can't process protein or grains, this is indeed a problem.

Many karate masters in the early 1900's stated that karate can be practiced by anyone, regardless of age. It has physical and other benefits that allow anyone to better themselves. But does this mean that everyone can be a black belt? This is where it may become complicated. Should a belt be awarded for effort, or just demonstrable skill in execution? Or both, in some proportion?

I'm of the mind that a good deal of physical skill in the art must be demonstrated for black belt. In the case of age or other limitations, speed and power expectations can be adjusted to some degree IF the knowledge and application of their principles can be demonstrated, as well as having shown great effort along the way. This is a subjective decision I must make. Even so, is there a limit to how low the physical bar can be set? I would say yes.

Most people can be black belts with hard work and dedication. But not everyone, IMO, no matter how much they try. We all have limitations (age, brains, health) that keep us from certain goals, regardless of our efforts. We must accept these limitations. But this does not mean we shouldn't try! Real benefit comes with the challenge, the trying, the effort to achieve, and taking pride in those achievements.

The MA journey, itself, has value. While a particular practitioner may not ever be able to get to a "true" black belt level and tops out at green or brown, they can be considered black belt in heart, if not around their waist. And I, as an instructor, would respect them for that.
 

Steve

Mostly Harmless
Joined
Jul 9, 2008
Messages
21,094
Reaction score
6,595
Location
Covington, WA
Having spent a lot of time around tennis courts, I can definitively say that, not everybody can play tennis. Many people cannot serve, even a modified serve and get the ball "in." It is POSSIBLE to play around a backhand, sometimes, but for the most part, having a backhand, even a bad one, is essential. This is another skill that many people simply cannot learn. Some people don't have the stamina to play tennis. Getting the ball over the net now and then isn't tennis.
I think you have misunderstood my philosophical answer to your philosophical question. We do all kinds of things, and the doing is the benefit.

When you say, "Getting the ball over the net now and then isn't tennis," you're getting pretty close to the real issue. That may be how you see it, and there's nothing wrong with that. But personally, I think if you're on a tennis court with a tennis racket swinging it in the general direction of a tennis ball, you're playing tennis. And even if you never hit it over the net, there can be a lot of value in the tennis you're playing.

For what it's worth, I can't serve. My shoulder has been injured to the point where I can't make that motion anymore. I serve underhand. But I play tennis at least once a month and enjoy it thoroughly. I find tennis to be very worthwhile, though it's true I will never be very good at it.

All of this can be true and also entirely consistent with a realistic evaluation of our skill level and abilities.
 

Buka

Sr. Grandmaster
MT Mentor
Joined
Jun 27, 2011
Messages
12,476
Reaction score
9,600
Location
Maui
I think you have misunderstood my philosophical answer to your philosophical question. We do all kinds of things, and the doing is the benefit.

When you say, "Getting the ball over the net now and then isn't tennis," you're getting pretty close to the real issue. That may be how you see it, and there's nothing wrong with that. But personally, I think if you're on a tennis court with a tennis racket swinging it in the general direction of a tennis ball, you're playing tennis. And even if you never hit it over the net, there can be a lot of value in the tennis you're playing.

For what it's worth, I can't serve. My shoulder has been injured to the point where I can't make that motion anymore. I serve underhand. But I play tennis at least once a month and enjoy it thoroughly. I find tennis to be very worthwhile, though it's true I will never be very good at it.

All of this can be true and also entirely consistent with a realistic evaluation of our skill level and abilities.
I would have been really good at tennis if it wasn't for that damn net.
 
Top