Tenth Dan In Bul Shi Tsu

Phil Elmore

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Tenth Dan In Bul Shi Tsu
Absurd Claims and Martial Efficacy

Can a martial art with a fabricated history or lineage be effective?

How should we react when confronted with practitioners selling the latest "ultimate" or "most efficient" art, something so secret and so powerful that it has only recently been made available to the public?

Should you believe marketing that claims, for two hundred dollars and a video tape series, that you will "fear no man" or "defeat any attacker?"

The martial arts world is rife with absurd claims. More common, if slightly less hyperbolic than claims of Ultimate Best Super Efficiency, are the assertions within established arts whose official histories are shaky at best -- and completely manufactured at worst. Should these arts be shunned, dismissed, derided, or otherwise avoided?

There are two components one must consider when evaluating a martial art or combatives system: history and technique. History includes any and all marketing claims and background associated with the art. Technique, obviously, is the actual physical efficacy of the art's theory and application.

The two have no relationship to each other -- except for the insight the history offers into the mind and ethics of the individual making claims about the technique.

HISTORY

When you encounter someone claiming to teach the martial art of the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs' fry cooks or foot soldiers, demand that he or she attempt to substantiate this rather odd claim. We know precious little about ancient Egyptian society in comparison to the totality of it. Can anyone alive today tell you for certain how the ancient Egyptians even pronounced their name for themselves? Does it stand to reason that specific techniques would be handed down from generation to generation to the present day?

If an instructor tells you his videotapes are hot stuff because he teaches the ancient combative art of Roman gladiatorial janitors, ask yourself seriously just how possible it is that these techniques have managed to travel from the blood-soaked Coliseum floor to your VCR through the mists of time. If you're being asked to believe that the cost of shipping and handling is all that separates you from the explosive power of vampire gypsy acrobat ninja from the steppes of Romania, be skeptical.

While you're being skeptical, however, ask yourself this: Why is this instructor trying to sell me on this? Why, if his art is worth learning, should he feel it is necessary to snow me with absurd and unverifiable pretense? Does this instructor know that the lineage or history of her art cannot be verified? If not, what excuse is there for ignorance of this type? If so, why is she lying to me?

There are a lot of earnest instructors out there who lean hard on marketing hype. Usually, they'll be honest about what they're doing. They're business people and they need to sell themselves. It's unfortunate that the hard sell often looks just like the absurd claims made by charlatans, but when you examine teachers like this more closely, you'll generally see them for what they are.

If, however, your examination reveals someone who surrounds himself with ridiculous claims of history and lineage, you're dealing with someone who desperately wants the dubious credibility such affections provide. Be wary of this. Even if that Romanian-death-ninja-vampire-acrobat-Gymkata style is superbly effective on the street, the foundation of all good teaching is trust. Can you trust someone who would knowingly lie to you?

TECHNIQUE

"Fear no man!"

"The most effective art of all time!"

"Learn to defeat any attacker in fifteen minutes!"

The surest way to spot a questionable art is to be confronted with unbelievable marketing. The more fraudulent the system, the more outlandish the assertion. You've seen the web sites and the full-page advertisements in Black Belt. Be extremely suspicious of anyone claiming to offer the "ultimate" anything, and run fast and far from anyone who thinks you'll be a black-belt-thrashing terror after a half hour of video "courses."

When you see this sort of business, question it. Here's a tip, too: testimonials aren't proof. No matter how whacky the system, there will always be rubes who fall for it. Their glowing recommendations are simply their means of combating cognitive dissonance, that discomfort caused by the conflict between reality and our contrary desires and actions. Demand proof. The burden of proof rests with those who make grand assertions.

Keeping these warning signs in mind, you may decide you wish to check into a questionable art for yourself. If you have the time and the resources, by all means, do so. And don't be swayed when the marketer in question becomes indignant or otherwise outraged, demanding to know who you are to question him.

You see, fraudulent histories combined with outrageous claims of technique are the two-pronged attack that Virtual Tough Guys use to create and defend their delusional architectures. When you question these, you are attacking their fragile self-images. Wouldn't you become angry and defensive when your self-worth as so challenged? When pressed, such people will trot out long lists of credentials. This Appeal to Authority is designed to stop your substantive criticisms before they begin. While those confident in their abilities and secure in their personalities don't often trouble themselves over questions of paper certifications, those who are terribly concerned that you see them as they wish to be seen rely on these. Remember that the truth or falsehood of a statement is not found in the resume of the speaker. Words stand on their own.

DOES IT MATTER?

The martial arts are a lot like religion. There are true believers who can be dissuaded by nothing, regardless of the tenuous nature of their beliefs. And there are solid individuals whose conduct and knowledge are impeccable -- even if one doubts the veracity of the very foundations of that knowledge.

Much as a religion invented wholesale centuries ago can attain credibility and legitimacy over time, even arts with fabricated histories can be effective. Given enough time, these arts can even become worthy of respect, as the assumed credibility of historical assertions gives way to the real credibility earned through application of the art.

The key is in the approach of the individual practitioner or instructor. An instructor who clings to dubious assertions about her art's background, who becomes angry and defensive when questioned about them, should not be trusted. A teacher who claims to know devastating ultimate secrets only recently made available to the public, who cloaks himself in an aura of SpecOps BlackBag mystery, should not be taken seriously. Even if the individual in question is capable of taking on all challengers, whipping Bruce Lee's ghost, picking up a tree and killing legions of ninja assassins, or poking holes through cinder blocks with his index finger, you cannot afford to trust those who place such a high value on pretense.

Can you?
 
I don't think that someone who has a "new" martial art is necessarily all bad......it's just that it takes someone truly remarkable to make it work. Cases in point are Bruce Lee and Morihei Ueshiba. Aikido and JKD were both considered to be maveriks in their respective times, and both men managed to defend their arts quite well and make them what they are today.

However, for the majority of your post, I would give you a resounding "AMEN, BROTHER!!".

I think that if someone has the "ultimate secrets", then they shouldn't be just selling them to any schmoe who sends them a check for $49.95. They should be carefully screening students, looking for someone they can trust with the skills. Also, they should be out promoting their art and defending it in the open martial arts arena. If it is so effective, then why hide it in the pages of Black Belt magazine? Hmmmm......

Anyway, like I said, for the most part, an EXCELLENT post, and a good thing to keep in mind.....

Peace--
 
:D

Damn! So you mean that Russian Spetsnaz special combat fighting video I ordered for $29.95 is worthless?

:D
 
tonbo I don't think either of them lied about their past and both were up front about what it was they did and why it was effective.
 
Hey don't knock Thr Bul Shi Tsu style. I just got my 5th Dan in it and I can take anyone down. Just don't hit me.:D :shrug:
 
I think you misread something that I wrote, or maybe I wasn't as clear as I should have been: I respect both Ueshiba sensei and Mr. Lee *very* highly, and didn't mean to hint that either was hiding anything. Yes, they were both very open about their origins in the martial arts--but they were also pioneers.

What I was trying to point out was that not all of the "self-starting" martial arts are scams, just the ones that aren't out walking the walk. Both of these men actively engaged in debate and demonstrations when it came down to their styles, and neither was shy about challenges. The styles that I was meaning to shine more of a light on are all the ones in the MA magazines claiming that you can beat 30 armed men if you only have a pencil, and other ludicrous claims like that. Essentially, anything that claims that, by buying a tape or a series of tapes, any "98 lb weakling" can "instantaneously" learn how to beat any other style. I'm sure you've seen the ads. How can you miss 'em?

Again, I meant NO offense to either of these gentlemen, or any of their students. I hold them as icons of what good CAN come of innovation, not as people who were dealing out bad goods.

Peace--
 
I agree; my post was not meant to target newly founded or "self-starting" martial arts -- only those whose adherents or founders hide behind false lineage and history (because you cannot trust such people to be honest) or who make over-the-top claims of ultimate super-efficacy to rival all arts anywhere.

Like any set of rules, particularly profiling rules, there are numerous exceptions, and warning signs are only things to keep in mind when conducting your own examination of an art. (After all -- to be skeptical is not the same as dismissing something outright; it simply means you question and look for more information.)

The Close Combat movement is a great example of something that often is touted as much more efficient than most, if not all, of what's out there -- but the difference is that it's based on the principle of simplicity, rather than super secret ultimateness, and is therefore easily understood and verifiable for what it is. (The Close Combat crowd has taken to the motto, "There are no secrets!" in contrast to some of the hucksters out there.)

Thanks for your kind words.
 
i really dont buy into that "all powerful art" junk.

i definetely wouldn't send someone my hard earned cash and hope that the tape is good, let alone effective.

i guess there is a sucker born everyday that will want the quick way to master an art.

no thanks.. i'll stick to respected individuals who want to teach beacause they love "IT", not the $$.
 
Hi, guys

I have been lurking for awhile and Think I will chime in on this.

I have two points.

1. I think most arts should be judged on their effectiveness not there lineage. And any judgement based on a video should have an asteriks beside it because the video maybe just badly done. I noticed one person who alluded to the videos by Vladimer Vasilev. Now his videos are very badly done but I have heard from many people that his stuff is very good. These people include Scott Sonnon, of ROSS fame and a former teacher of mine who was a 2 time world kickboxing champion. Needless to say I value their opinions.

On the other hand, lineage has started more fights in the MA world than any other topic. If it isn't a direct link, for example like in Close Combat,( ie I learned from applegate who was an original under Fairburn) then is under suspicion. When a lineage is suspect I think people should say something like, "As it was explianed to me by my instructor...." or just call it a spiritual lineage. Like saying, "This system was done in the spirit of the Huns..." It would cause way less arguments over something which, frankly, has very little to do with the training.

Happy to be here,
Tony
 
This is why I was careful to divide the evaluation into two components: history and technique. Yes, an art with a fabricated history or lineage can be effective; the physical techniques are separate from the politics.

When an instructor knowingly lies to you, or relies on ridiculous marketing tactics to cloak his art in an aura of mystery or false historical credibility, you must still ask yourself: Should I trust this person?

Interestingly enough, the arts with the most... embellished... histories are often the ones whose practitioners make the most grand claims of Super Ultimate Efficacy To Rival All Others, Only Now Made Available To the General Public.

Someone slinging this nonsense could be the nicest guy and the best physical martial artist you'll ever meet -- but there are questions of ethics and character involved.
 
Another thing to consider is that many of those claims are made by the company's advertising dept. not always by the individual.

Two good examples of this are TRS and Panther Productions. Both companies have had some excellent products but the ads really set alarms ringing. Although these products are often good products, advertisers feel the need to treat us like idiots. It is like they don't understand that, when we see 10 different products listed as the greatest fighting art ever listed within 3 pages of a black belt mag, we will start to ask questions.

I have never been one to care much about lineage and I prefer to make my own judgements based on my knowledge of the martial arts. However, like you I will often put an X beside an ad that makes fantasic claims and often I try and see through the hype to find the gold; as difficult as that is sometimes.

Tony
 
While one may be able to blame one's marketing department on occasion, it is far more often the case that those making bizarre claims and fabricating false histories for themselves are doing so on their own. I can think of a couple of egregious examples without even trying. These same individuals are plentiful on the Web (and usually easily identified -- because they quickly become the laughing stocks of every forum they visit.)
 
Sharp Phil said:
While one may be able to blame one's marketing department on occasion, it is far more often the case that those making bizarre claims and fabricating false histories for themselves are doing so on their own. I can think of a couple of egregious examples without even trying. These same individuals are plentiful on the Web (and usually easily identified -- because they quickly become the laughing stocks of every forum they visit.)
True, but I know of at least one instructor who had their military history (they were an army clerk in Vietnam) blown totally out of proportion without their knowledge and they actually ended up on a "Stolen Honor" website and had to sue the producers of their video tapes to change their "biography" to remove references to "secret missions", "special ops", etc.
 
Vladimir seems to be re-making titles covered by the original TRS video's. The latest on Hand to Hand combat and his knife defense DVD are both excellant. The differences between the old TRS format and the ones produced by Vladimir are as follows.


1/ You get to hear Vlad's explanations instead of hearing some American who would not know one end of Systema from the other adlibing a description of what is happening.

2/ The progression of drills and exercises that relate to the subject are shown and explained in detail.

3/ The new material is movement and drill based unlike the earlier tapes that were technique based. This fits in with what the system is about better than trying to peice together an understanding from a series of techniques.


Paul Genge
http://www.russianmartialart.org.uk
 
Paul Genge said:
Vladimir seems to be re-making titles covered by the original TRS video's. The latest on Hand to Hand combat and his knife defense DVD are both excellant. The differences between the old TRS format and the ones produced by Vladimir are as follows.


1/ You get to hear Vlad's explanations instead of hearing some American who would not know one end of Systema from the other adlibing a description of what is happening.

2/ The progression of drills and exercises that relate to the subject are shown and explained in detail.

3/ The new material is movement and drill based unlike the earlier tapes that were technique based. This fits in with what the system is about better than trying to peice together an understanding from a series of techniques.


Paul Genge
http://www.russianmartialart.org.uk
Thanks for the heads up. System is certainly a unique system and I'm glad to see Mr. Vasiliev is not resting on his VHS laurels. BTW, do you guys still have a guy name Arthur in your group? I used to participate in some really interesting online discussions with him.
 
As far as I know Arthur stills teaches RMA and has his own forum. He has dropped out of the main stream, but you would have to ask him for the reasons why because I don't know them. I think he does still lurk around on Martial talk and posts from time. It might be worth trying a pm if you want to contact him.


Paul Genge
http://www.russianmartialart.org.uk
 
One problem that I have had is with the claims made that "What you will see is UNBELIEVABLE!!! Must be Seen to be Believed!!!" type adds. That happened with the Systema "Strikes" DVD. VERY underwhelming to watch, yet advertised as "you've never imagined strikes like these before!" and "Watch the most unique use of human physical and psychological potential." Yeah, right.
 
Strikes is a good DVD if you have been on the recieving end of the strikes. That way you appretiate what is happening. The latest videos seem to be more instructional than their predesors. However there was nothing on it that I had not seen before when training with Vlad and Michael.

Do not hold someones advertisments against them. It is business after all. If you bought the DVD it obviously did what it was designed to do.
The Hand to Hand DVD has a lot more material on it. The explanations filled in a lot of gaps in my own knowledge of the system. There is a good section on taking strikes on the body that explains how we do this and there are sections covering movement drills and ways of working at three different ranges and because of the amount of subjects covered it has something for everyone.

Paul Genge
http://www.russianmartialart.org.uk
 

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