Tuesday, 14 November 2006

Don't talk about Fight Club.

First rule of fight club - don't talk about fight club.
Second rule of fight club - DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB.

And so, despite devoting a fair chunk of my free time to the study of martial arts for most of my adult life, I try to avoid discussing it with non-practitioners. This isn't some sort of elitism it just avoids at best stupid questions, and at worst ugly misunderstandings and machismo.

But today I came in to work with a black eye - not a big deal, just one of those unavoidable accidental bye-products of training - and I couldn't avoid the interrogation.

Typical stupid questions, along with some stupid and not-so stupid answers:

• What belt have you got ?
Snakeskin with a Harley Davidson buckle. Our (Chinese) style doesn't use belts. Others (usually Japanese or Korean ) do, but even then they are a relatively recent invention for Western consumption. You can usually get a black belt in three or four years and most people who know will tell you that is the beginning not the end.

• What's better Thai Boxing, Judo, Karate or your sysytem ?
Rugby Union, Rugby League, the NFL or Aussie Rules ? How can you compare them ? A Judoka is certainly better at Judo than I am. But they are schools / styles of training not fighting - when you fight you just fight you don't 'do' your martial art. But if you train properly your training will automatically come out. There are no bad martial arts, just bad martial artists.

• You've been training all those years - could you fight one of those guys from the UFC ?
You've been playing golf all your life - could you beat Tiger Woods ? Those guys are professional athletes in the prime of life, I am a middle aged guy who does this for a hobby. Even so UFC is a sport (albeit a very tough one) not a martial art, and there are still rules that they must keep to. Who knows ? It doesn't keep me awake at night.

• What would you do if (insert crazy scenario of your choice) someone came at you with a chain saw ?
It's martial arts not magic. You can't fight without getting hit any more than you can swim without getting wet.

• Have you ever made practical use of your martial arts ?
I'm using it right now to keep my cool in answering these stupid questions. It's about much more than fighting - like coping with pressure, self control and multi-tasking. As regards fighting - well I'd rather not put it to the test. But we do regularly face grown men offering us some kind of threat, whilst most people don't ever have a physical confrontation once they leave the playground. Maybe that helps in a practical situation. But even so, the Chinese say in fighting; firstly courage, secondly strength, and thirdly, kung-fu.

* So is it some sort of spiritual thing ?

Personally I tend to think that mumbo-jumbo is mumbo-jumbo whether it comes in the form of Western Christianity or Eastern mysticism. But on the otherhand for a few hours every week you are immersed in something totally absorbing that takes you away from mortgages, cashflows, deadlines and arguments with traffic wardens. Maybe you could call that a spiritual thing. But I'm sure that the guys who make models out of matchsticks have the same thing going for them. Or even train-spotters. In the final analysis it's a hobby and you enjoy it - do you really need anything more ?

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