Wednesday, July 9, 2008

You Gotta Know When to Hold 'Em...

At least that's how Kenny Rogers would say it. You could also say, "Hold your cards close to your vest", or if you're a purist, just plain, "Keep your martial arts knowledge to yourself".

I am, for the most part, an impulsive person - at least in the verbal sense. I tend to speak before I think. (I submit for evidence my faux paux in telling "the nutty professor" at the book sale that I was a beginner in martial arts.)
I could also site myself on plenty of other "think before you speak" infringements. (Both martial arts related and not.) Another aspect in which this character trait can be very dangerous is in answering to a call for volunteers. I am so the sucker for a cause. (You'll hear more about me and my big mouth in another post on just that subject.) Matter of fact, I could probably just cut and paste these first two paragraphs onto that future post as well. But here is where the two posts' similarity will end…

I have been cautioned - more than one time and by more than one person - to "play my cards close to my vest". In other words - don't advertise that I practice martial arts.

The first time I heard it, I was in my first or second session, when we beginners were practicing the absolute basic moves. One of the guys said he didn't have a spot large enough in which to practice. Sensei told us we could practice even in small, tight spots. I suggested to the guy that if he had an outside area, maybe he could do his martial arts there. Sensei said that was not a good idea because you don't want everyone to know the extent of what you know. This surprised me. At that point in my journey, I would have thought that the more people thought you knew, the better off you were. My thought was that if they thought you were a bad-ass, they would not mess with you. But Sensei said you don't want to give them warning to work around your knowledge. Made me think of it with a totally different point of view.

I know a young man who shows off his moves whenever he gets the chance. Not maliciously or anything like that. Just does kata for whoever will watch. I don't see anything wrong with that. I have only the highest regard for kata. But some old school practitioners would probably deem this behavior inappropriate.

We all remember how the opposing team flaunted their martial arts prowess in the Karate Kid movies. I think this is the ultimate in using martial arts for vanity and illicit purposes. It's also a prime example of how modesty would have served those "bad guys" much better than their arrogance. You notice Daniel was instructed to not broadcast his martial arts training. And sometimes, when you feel you are doing really well at something at which you've worked very hard, you want to show it to the world. And in most non-martial arts related instances, you'd be encouraged to do so. So, when it is martial arts related, you have to "curb your enthusiasm" a bit - at least in the sense of showing it off outside the dojo. But therein lies yet another virtue of martial arts training - modesty and patience…with yourself as well as with others and situations.

I posted on my blog the other day about practicing in impractical places and at impractical times. (In all actuality, they are very practical - kind of a "bloom where you are planted" kind of theory.) But in getting my blog name out there, I posted my blog address on (GREAT forum BTW) and someone wisely commented that I should be careful in training in front of others because some people take offense to martial arts. (No pun intended this time.) So far, I have not encountered that apprehension aimed at me just for doing my katas in the bathroom at work or my knuckle push ups against the lunchroom wall. But I could see where someone might not like it. For instance, someone may have a false assumption that martial arts equal a certain religious belief, or even lack thereof. Someone may have a strong aversion to women in any kind of sport, especially martial arts. And I suppose these people are entitled to their opinion, unfounded or not.

But as far as I'm concerned, the only person who should have a valid complaint about me doing kata in the bathroom at work is the woman who has to fill in answering the phones when I’m in the ladies' room, making the time away from my desk about 10 minutes versus 5 minutes.

As long as she doesn't have a problem with it, I think I'm okay…


Steve said...

Okay. Here's my take. While you may or may not want to talk about martial arts training, every one of the reasons you listed are bogus, in my opinion. Unless you live in a combat zone, chances are you're not going training to be a working ninja. Because you train in a community center, I'm thinking that you aren't in danger of belonging to a cult.

The number one hazard of advertising that you train in a martial art is that the person you're telling will think you're a big goober. I don't hide that I train in BJJ any more or less than I would if I were telling someone I golf or play hockey or compete in intramural softball. Meaning, I don't work it into a conversation, but if it comes up, I'm fine telling someone I train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Gauge your audience. If I'm talking about football and I'm talking the ear off of someone who hates the sport, I'm probably not making a good impression.

The second big hazard of revealing that you train in martial arts is misunderstanding. For some, all martial arts are the same, even though what I do has little in common with what you do. I grapple. You swing bo staffs and do kata. Nothing alike. So, you have to be prepared to explain in 10 words or less what you do, if they ask. If they're genuinely interested at that point, then of course you can expound a little. I usually tell people something like, "It's a lot like Judo, but we focus on groundfighting." Or, "It's like wrestling, but instead of pins, we work for jointlocks or chokes."

The third hazard is context. You want to be careful not to imply skill or authority that you don't possess. On my training blog, I am careful to speak only for myself. While I represent my school, I am not a Representative OF my school (if that makes sense). My actions and my writing reflect on my school and my coach, either good or bad. But I don't officially speak for him or the school. I also can't speak with authority on the subject of BJJ. I know what I know, and I'm not an expert.

Bottom line for me is that if you want to tell people, more power to you. Just be prepared for them to think you're a little geeky.

Martial Arts Mom said...

You nailed it, Steve! And that is another one of those self-image issues I have - people thinking I'm geeky - and I'm not even touching on the subject of my training in m.a.LOL! I truly agree with you and am also glad you brought up the subject of not speaking for my school/Sensei because I would hate it if anyone thought I was trying to do so. They know more than I'll probably ever know (but it won't be for my lack of trying!) As always Steve, I appreciate your views and comments.

Anonymous said...

hey girl! this is "Rose" :) (which is funny cause that was one of my choices) but I'm much more like my flower. I had no idea you were so darn funny!!! Well, I did, but this stuff is hilarious! I also didn't know you read so much - I've got tons! for you. And I LOVE Kill Bill :) no wonder we get along in class. Keep up the great work - I read them all and enjoyed them a lot. I'm bookmarkin ya so only nice things about the ditz cause I'll see em :) ps - great pic on the home page!

Martial Arts Mom said...

Hey "Rose" - thanks for the kind words, but c' knew I was this funny! LOL I promise and pinky-swear to not tell any of your secrets in this blog!

The Melan'jack said...

I know how you feel, because I wanted the whole world to know I trained when I first started, too. But now I don't so much advertise--not because I'm afraid of being labeled geek so much because... that will become obvious when I start talking about Jedis and comic books--but because of a sense of humility I've developed after having been pounded into the floor repeatedly by my instructors.

I look at my students now and laugh when they get all "Look how badass *I* am" because they really don't know that much. They're really not capable of any amazing feat. After a year of training, anyone can do what they do.

Eventually, you'll realize that it doesn't matter what you know, how much you train or what you can do, there's always more to learn. There's always someone who knows more than you and someone who knows more than them. You should be awed and grateful that these people are willing to share what they know, respectful of your lineage and all the people who this knowledge has been passed through before it got to you, and show your appreciation by teaching once you've gained enough mastery to do so.

So if I don't tell too many people I'm a martial artist, it's not because I'm not proud. I am. Boy howdy. It's because humility is one of the virtues I've learned as a result of my training. By which I mean I'm still learning it. By which I mean I will always be learning it.

Martial Arts Mom said...

You all have the right attitude and the comments to this post alone have been a learning experience. Thanks!

And BTW, people who talk "jedis" are not geeky. My son would think you were very cool. : )

The Melan'jack said...

I AM very cool. Just wait til I get my pink light saber! :)

Martial Arts Mom said...

Hey "Rose" at karate class has pink sparring gear! Oops - I just gave away her identity because she is the only one with pink gear! And Rose is very cool!