Thursday, 23 November 2006

What no bowing ?

A weekend workshop for my Sifu (martial arts teacher) at the weekend. He lives out of the country these days so I only get to see him a couple of times a year, and it is a chance to catch up with him and with the guys from other associated schools. When we meet up, one thing you won’t see is any bowing or saluting. But plenty of laughter, handshakes, back slapping and bear hugs. This sometimes shocks people from outside our martial arts ‘family’.

We respect tradition, but in the spirit not the letter. Ours are traditional kung-fu schools, not commercial franchises. We don’t have set class times; people drop in and train as hard, as often or as little as they want. We don’t line up and have a teacher bark orders at the students like a drill sergeant. Teacher and senior students will quietly observe, monitor, teach and correct. We don’t have uniforms either; they are a kind of caricature of oriental dress, a bit like thinking all Englishmen wear bowler hats or Frenchmen berets.

All that shouting, bowing and funny pyjamas do not make a traditional kwoon or dojo (school/training place). Many of the schools that do have them are fast-food ‘McMartial Arts’ franchises. Students are rushed through the ‘syllabus’ as quickly as possible to reach a spurious grade so that they can themselves become teachers, open their own schools, and set up a pyramid selling structure.

Martial arts training is about brotherhood and respect. Whatever style you practice you are playing a high intensity exercise with some risk of accidental injury. As my teacher says, if you're going to train it’s best to do it amongst friends to avoid misunderstandings and outbreaks of stupidity. There’s no room for phoney rituals that have no feeling behind them, you can often see bows snapped out as a form of ritual intimidation. Better to give genuine greetings to you training partners that actually means something to you and to him; the 'other guy' is supposed to be a brother to train with, not an enemy to be defeated.

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