17 Apr 2008

In praise of Bullshido

I’ve recently been chatting to someone from the Bullshido forums about hosting a possible London Throwdown (more about that later), but it reminded me that I have been meaning to write about Bullshido for while.

For those who are not familiar, Bullshido is a website dedicated to exposing the myths and hype that surround some martial arts and some of their infamous charlatans. It is by far the most informative and entertaining martial arts website on the whole of the internet. Unfortunately, it has acquired a reputation as a bit of a style basher. In that if you do something other than hardcore MMA or BJJ, then your style is obviously rubbish. And in fact many forum threads and articles are heavily biased towards this aim. But if you read the excellent deconstructions of so-called experts and view the huge library of video clips, I can guarantee you will walk away better informed about martial arts in general. The aim I believe is not to debunk martial arts, but simply to ask the reasonable question of whether something actually works or not.

Like many things, there are cranks, weirdos and plain outright scammers in all fields of life. Alternative medicine, for example has a lot of suspect misinformation (check out Bad Science, run by Ben Goldacre for a worthy expose of alt medicine).
The martial arts are also no exception. Many arts claim to teach you techniques that have no scientific basis and cannot realistically be proven to work. You just have to take it as read. That in my mind makes it too close to a cult, blind faith or religion for comfort. There is also nothing to stop anyone from setting up their own school and claiming all sorts of martial art prowess. As long as there are people willing to believe and pay for such instruction, such practices will always go on. Which is why Bullshido fills a very important role.

On their website, notable targets for their ire include:
Frank Dux - the man whose 'lifestory' inspired Van damme to produce the film Bloodsport.
George A. Dillman - the self styled, Grandmaster of pressure point fighting.
Ashida Kim - The Ninja Master.
Read and be damned. Bullshido are certainly thorough in their search to find the truth.

I’m not saying my trad JJ style is immune to propagating a few suspect beliefs. Some seminars I have attended have veered dangerously towards talk of meridian lines, one-touch rescucitation techniques and other ‘interesting’ interpretations of how the human body works. I cringe when I have to hear these things. They are often explained as fact, with no offer of a medical or reasonable explanation. Just because someone says if you hit L33 along the upper 'lung' meridian then you will feel feint, how different is that to saying: and if you wave this twig and chant intoxicum collapsicum, you will also feel feint? The words placebo, suggestion and parlour hypnosis spring to mind.

Many years ago, I attended a large seminar where a very highly ranked European sensei (he may have been like a fifth or sixth dan) gave a demo where he lightly kicked just below his uke’s knee and his uke collapsed as if shot by a 12-bore. We were all agasp in amazement. When we all tried it, some of my colleagues also attested to feeling intense pain and a sudden collapse. But I could not get it to work , nor my uke on me, so when the high ranking sensei came over, he performed the knee point technique on me. I felt nothing, but (and to my intense shame) I felt awful that he would be embarrassed in front of everyone, so I feigned a collapse (nothing too hammy, just a modest buckling). Yep, I tricked myself into believing this magical pressure point actually worked. The sensei walked away happy, the crowd were in awe and I acted honourably in saving his face. But it has haunted me ever since. I vowed from then that I would always aim to provide clear, logical and non-mythical explanations to techniques.

Of course, it is good to have an open mind and gain lots of knowledge. But it is equally important to be able to filter and interpret that knowledge intelligently. Realistically, a technique should be something that is logical, provable and repeatable. That is how one gains experience and wisdom. But it is human nature to want to believe in stories. They make ones physical endeavours seem more worthwhile and perhaps add a little mystique and glamour to otherwise mundane everyday lives. It is horses for courses and if a more ‘spritual’ approach to martial arts is your thing, then go for it. But a word of caution - just watch the pseudo psycho-babble, it can seriously harm your karmic chi levels. Oh, and the boys at Bullshido may just catch you.

About the Author


Author & Artist

Meerkatsu is the artist name for BJJ black belt Seymour Yang.


Illegalusername said...

Good on yer for not falling for the bullshit.
And brace for the inevitable charge of the "my pressure points techniques work" internet crazies.

slideyfoot said...

Ooo, IIRC, that someone from Bullshido was me. :D

I still have the email exchange, which was in regards to this thread on Bullshido. As happens so often with TDs, it unfortunately didn't pan out because nobody else was willing to commit to a date and venue.

Little did I know back in 2008 that the random bloke who ran a traditional jiu jitsu club would end up being someone I regularly chatted to online, and later trained with in person. ;)

Meerkatsu said...

[quickly deletes the post where I slag off BJJ bloggers] hahah joking. Yeah who would have thunk it. Although the number of folk from BJJ (certainly within the UK) who are incredibly active on the internet are actually reasonably small si it would be inevitable for our paths to cross.

slideyfoot said...

Good point: I guess that's one of the many nice things about training BJJ. It is still small enough that you can get to know most of the people who are also internet regulars. :)


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