Elitism In Traditional Martial Arts • Martial Arts Explored


Elitism in Traditional Martial Arts Nothing should be put into the same box just
because it is classified in the same way. In other words, generalizing is a tricky and
dangerous game. Yet we can not deny that certain stereotypes
are created due to common tendencies, and while there are always exceptions, “common
tendencies” do exist. One of those tendencies in traditional martial
arts is the existence of elitism – or the unproportional level of authority and power
given to the more advanced students, which oftentimes leads to abuse, arrogance and negative
behaviour. The previously mentioned common tendencies
usually exist not as a coincidence, but as a side effect of a certain structure – or
the way things are organized – and there are specific reasons to why elitism tends to show
up at many traditional martial arts schools. Hi, my name is Rokas and in this Martial Arts
Explored episode we will take a look at how Elitism develops in and affects Traditional
Martial Arts. While I will also share some insights about
modern martial arts and combat sports, in this video I will mainly be focusing on traditional
martial arts since I’ve personally spent more than a decade being a part of its world. It is also important to define what I mean
by “traditional martial arts” since there can be a lot of interpretation and misunderstanding
that comes with the use of the term. My personal definition of traditional martial
arts, which makes most sense to me and helps navigate this subject to a great degree, is
that traditional martial arts – are martial arts that rely heavily on tradition. For example, if we take a look at Aikido – it
is considered by many to be a traditional martial art, although it was officially created
relatively not that long ago – in 1942. What does make it traditional though, is that
it focuses heavily on tradition of which a big part of is Asian culture tradition – such
as traditional Japanese clothing, bows, traditional forms of etiquette and also a passed on traditional
way of training – such as the use of various traditional attacks, the use of and defence
against swords, staffs and more. If you would remove tradition from Aikido,
to a great degree you could even question if it would still classify as Aikido. At the same time, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which
interestingly enough was developed during a similar time, by many is not considered
a traditional martial art. While it does oftentimes maintain the traditional
Japanese training outfit and an occasional bow, it is not defined by it and is not heavily
focused on, to such degree where BJJ schools, which had removed these traditions pretty
much entirely, as in the 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu, are still without a doubt considered a Brazilian
Jiu Jitsu school. So as you see by this example, in this video
I will be distinguishing traditional martial arts and modern martial arts by how much it
relies on, or does not rely on, tradition as an essential part of its identity. Now that we got the definition out of the
way, we can move on to the main subject. As mentioned in the prologue, tendencies usually
develop for a reason. In martial arts, schools of the same style
can vary in how they function, but usually the way the organization, inner culture and
training methodology is organized – is passed on and is preserved from generation to generation. As mentioned before, traditional martial arts
tend to rely heavily on tradition, which is most of the times Asian based, what actually
already poses a problem. Some Westerners do not understand just how
different Asian and Western culture may sometimes be and when trying to straight out copy it
and apply it to Western standards, may often times do so in inappropriate ways. Also worth noting that in general, when copying
something, there is a tendency in everyone, to pick up the bad aspects, as much as the
good ones – if not more. One of such traditions that was taken from
Asian culture and applied to traditional martial arts schools in the West is the tradition
of emphasizing hierarchy, which is inspired by Confucianism. The problem is that while Confucianism gives
importance to respecting and following authority, it also emphasizes the importance for the
authority figure to obey high moral principles, honesty and fairness, before applying it’s
authority onto other people. This is where unfortunately we face the first
issue that is oftentimes developed in traditional martial arts schools in the West, by focusing
on the hierarchy and authority and forgetting the moral obligation, honesty and fairness
part. In one simple way this problem could be expressed
in this sentence: “a black belt in a martial art who believes he is a black belt in everything”,
which could not be further from the truth, yet is oftentimes believed not only by the
black belt himself, but by the students as well. Through all times we were taught to give more
respect, trust and power to authority than sometimes we should. It is actually a convenient way to manage
a group, community or society. For example, it is essential that children
would respect and believe a high school teacher so that they would be attentive in the lesson
and would gain knowledge from it. Yet should that give the right for the high
school teacher to start giving out life and career advice to the same children, if that
teacher has never been particularly accomplished in his personal life or career himself? Unfortunately this type of problem happens
in martial arts – of a black belt believing he is a “black belt at everything”. To tell the truth, all that a black belt really
represents in martial arts, is that this person has put enough time and effort in kicking,
punching, throwing people or performing some choreographed movements all over again for
a long enough time. Maybe that does signify that this person is
capable of staying around long enough to pursue a certain goal, yet does that tell anything
else about his capabilities in other fields of life? A black belt does not inherently make the
person more wise or capable as a husband or an expert in some career other than that particular
martial art. Yet it is a common phenomenon for a black
belt in a traditional martial arts school to go out giving life, marriage and career
advice to their students, or to demand the ultimate respect not only on the training
mat, but also off of it. And unfortunately we are so used to giving
power to authority that when seeing a person with a black belt, most of us do tend to automatically
believe that we should trust everything that person says and refrain from questioning this
person’s actions. To make things worse, the way traditional
martial arts schools are set up, there are plenty of complex traditions and mechanisms
to further enforce this belief. For example, a more experienced student in
a Japanese based martial arts school is called Sempai, while a less experienced student is
referred to as a Kohai. Even this simple approach of labelling students
in comparison to their rank, automatically makes the less experienced person feel inferior
and the more advanced practitioner superior. Another tradition found commonly in traditional
martial arts schools is that the more advanced students sit on the far right end of the line,
while the beginner sits on the almost “shameful” left end. Advanced students tend to get various rights
too such as the priority of choosing who they will train with amongst other conveniences. Meanwhile beginner students are often encouraged
to trust and obey the advanced students without questioning them – which even more so creates
the illusion and sense that the advanced students are far superior on all levels and know “everything”. While I see that there can be good benefits
to these traditions in some degree being a humbling experience to a beginner student,
it is worth asking whether it is the best and healthiest way to create a humbling experience? We also have to ask – what is then being done
to humble the advanced student? Or even more so – the head instructor, referred
to as the Sensei? Being constantly respected and trusted without
questioning can easily get into anyone’s head and unfortunately in traditional martial
arts – it does. I could not count how many times my own former
Aikido instructors were giving me life, business or marital advice, despite being divorced
themselves or sometimes being in questionable life conditions. Even if in some cases questioning was allowed
– when actually questioned, many times these instructors would use their authority to shut
down the conversation before it develops. On other occasions, participating in big seminars
which was packed with members of different schools, was not much better either, since
almost everyone there usually felt superior to others, tutoring each other, explaining
to each other how the other person is doing things wrong, playing the arrogant all-knowing
role – sometimes in obvious and other times subtle ways. I witnessed even white belts criticizing black
belts of other styles, explaining to them “the right way to do things”, since they
felt their style was the right one. And if you look closely enough you can see,
that a big reason to why it is all happening, is because this mindset and structure which
encourages it, was passed down from generation to generation. Yet the question naturally arises – how come
traditional martial arts seem to be plagued by this phenomenon, while modern martial arts,
or combat sports seemingly show less signs of it. When I started cross training and noticed
that combat sports don’t seem to be bothered as much by the same problems, I started looking
for the answer why, and it mainly came down to two reasons. First of all most combat sports focus not
on passing on traditions, instead of passing on effective techniques. When traditions are not the central point
of attention, such aspects as hierarchy or an artificially created, forceful respect
to the senior student become almost obsolete. A less experienced student may feel a natural
sense of respect to a more advanced student, but that is not enforced by the way the inside
culture of the training place is organized. More advanced students do not necessarily
gain constant reminders of their superiority or special rights, thus giving less space
to create the unhealthy power dynamics that can often be seen in traditional martial arts
schools. The instructor does not also receive unnecessary
superficial praise or title which would potentially make him feel superior in all ways, beyond
his expertise in fighting. Yet the greatest aspect which most likely
make the difference in how the inside culture is set up, is that many traditional martial
arts lack the aspect of constant pressure testing, which is usually done by a fully
resisting opponent in some form of sparring. Traditional martial arts such as Aikido, Wing
Chun and Tai Chi are the best examples of this. Where there is no constant pressure testing,
it is even easier for advanced students to feel superior, since their abilities and status
are rarely challenged at higher grades. In other words there is no humbling system
to keep advanced students in check, reminding them that in the end, they are as much human
as anyone else and that they will never be the best, since there will always be someone
faster or stronger than them. It is important to note that some traditional
martial arts such as Karate and Judo do have forms of pressure testing, yet while this
thought could be debated, there is a possibility that the way the pressure testing is set up,
mainly in competitions, is guided by a lot of traditional rules, which may limit the
students exposure to the limitations of his or her abilities. Also in some traditional martial arts which
do involve sparring, it is not always mandatory to participate in it for all students and
even more commonly, the head instructor, who’s example sets up the inside culture of the
training place to a great degree, often enough avoid sparring or pressure testing him or
herself, again making it more likely that this individual will stay in a mindset of
superiority on all levels, while no humbling experiences will occur. Meanwhile in such martial arts as Brazilian
Jiu Jitsu, pressure testing or sparring is an inherent part of the culture and it is
a common practice for the head instructor to grapple with his or her students. Now it is not to say that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu,
Boxing, Wrestling or MMA does not have it’s own problems. A toxic environment can still occur in these
training places. Yet the issues with elitism that occur within
the traditional martial arts schools, seem to be much less common in modern martial arts,
which rely significantly less on maintaining a heavy set of traditions. While following traditions may be a beautiful
practice it is important to stay mindful of what effects it may have on us and to always
check ourselves whether we expose ourselves to humbling experiences, as much as if the
head instructor of the school does it too, and if it is a part of the culture of the
school to do so. As long as we remember to keep a level head
and to focus on martial arts as a means to develop ourselves, instead of blindly following
rules and trying to present some type of an image – any martial art can be great. Yet it is always important to remember that
we are a part of the culture which thrives in each martial arts school and whether it
will thrive in a positive way, we are also responsible for it. So as always, I wish you to question the hell
out of yourself, expose yourself to humbling experiences and to remember, that in the end
we are all just human. Thanks for watching this episode of Martial
Arts Explored. If you liked it, check out the playlist with
other episodes of the series by clicking here. If you want to know when the newest episode
will come out, make sure to subscribe. This was Rokas and I wish you to own your
Journey.

49 thoughts on “Elitism In Traditional Martial Arts • Martial Arts Explored

  1. I'll be honest… your channel brings confort to my heart!

    Since I found it, it became so much easier to move on.

    Our experiences are so similar, both coming from Aikido, and kind of share the same timing. Glad to share this with someone!

    Tks, again, Rokas!

  2. Yes Rokas, traditional martial arts have problems and modern martial have also their own.
    As you say staying aware and always questioning oneself while exposed to different experiences is essential.

  3. Great video Rokas! I'm always so glad I can get a fresh perspective from you. By the way from what movie/tv series is the clip in the beginning of the video of the guy in the black gi?

  4. in a martial arts were teknic is constantly testet in sparing there is no need to discuss what is wrong or right, if it works it works. also in a martial arts were you spar a lot you need to be friendly or else you wont have any friends to play with.

  5. I practice both traditional and mixed martial arts, and elitism definitely isn't unique to TMAs. It all depends on the culture of the individual school. At my main gym, none of my teachers ask to be called master/sensei/sifu/guru/etc., and that does a lot to set the tone for the rest of us.

    But I have definitely encountered elitism in MMA, and ESPECIALLY in BJJ. With all due respect, I think you may be sipping the jiu jitsu koolaid to some extent.

    It's great that you've had good BJJ teachers and training partners, but BJJ in general is full of gate keeping and elitist attitudes. I've seen people argue that if you haven't trained within a specific Gracie lineage, you don't have complete BJJ. I've also heard at least one story about an instructor being smeared by the Gracie family for focusing on no-Gi jiu jitsu.

    So I think it's disingenuous to suggest BJJ is free of these issues.

    Personally, I have the chillest BJJ teacher and great training partners. But the horror stories are out there if you're willing to hear them.

  6. I am an older man and chose to do a TMA mostly for fitness reasons…..I needed to loose weight and get flexible I had no real intent on one martial art over the other ….so in visiting many schools I just applied the simple test of is he or is he not a culero….(a mexican word for arsehole). This is a human trait and I see it in my career as well as interaction with neighborhood groups etc …..if you are a person who wants to feel superior you will look for a way to exercise that false superiority…..so I understand and accept what you say but I doubt it is as clear cut as you are trying to say …..I deeply respect your journey and your skills and how you are growing as a person but you need to look back with joy as the experiences you had in your aikido life as that was your journey which has taken you to where you are today….you seem rather happy to look back and bash and paint everything now as being perfect ….I am glad you are happy and feel you have found your place but this is a result of the journey …..and remember to apply the culero test to everything ……I myself found a wonderful aikido class and teacher who had helped me achieve all I wanted from martial arts.

  7. It's funny that you see classical structures as elitism when you can go on any you tube channel and see mma and ju jitsu guys bashing traditional arts with there elitism?

  8. I think it comes down more to the people and the training place . But the black belt and the superiorty thing is on spot there are many black belts that behave that way. ( and many that don't ) I guess if everyone trains hard and help all the ranks everyone understands their current position and ability plus their sensei always behaving as an student ( mindset wise ) there can be a lot of improvement .

  9. Pagarba. Gerai dėlioji mintis. Iššūkis: koks tavo supratimu yra santykis tarp Ušu Tao Lu ir Ušu Sanda? Atsakymas yra naudingas tau, kaip Kovotojui.

  10. Reminds me a little bit of Ramsey Dewey phenomenon, he is a great fighter and very experienced in the ring with a wealth of information in that field. But people are starting to look to him like he is a god when it comes to everything outside of the ring and in life, when it comes to everything from [not] drinking even herbal tea, to not calling anyone who doesn't share close genetics with you family. It's scary to see how quickly someone can be thrown [unwillingly maybe?] into a "god" position, just because they're a great martial artist.

  11. This is your best video on this subject so far….and I think you finally answered my question of, 'If a traditional martial art pressure tests what is it?'. Specifically I took Karate with an instructor who was pressure testing and not just through kumite, it kind of resembled Krav Maga, except probably not as 'severe', like a Krav Maga Light. He also taught Judo separately but I think you would characterize this as an anomaly not the 'norm'.

    I still find your videos interesting on this subject, as what you are describing is more about group dynamics in a way than martial arts. For example, many people will leave one church for another because of the organizational structure. In many ways, traditional martial arts resembles traditional religion…

  12. I like your attitude and articulation when talking about martial arts (both MMA and traditional). Keep up the good work!

  13. For all the elitism in traditional martial arts, the elitists in BJJ is the most disconcerting – they never stop rambling on about belts. IMO, because I came from fight sports, gradings/belts is a business construct that leads inevitably to a drip feeding of knowledge, control of knowledge for power and elitism. Humans just don't learn best that way, nature and a natural world presents stimulus and learning opportunities in dynamic ways. As a fighter, I learned from people of all abilities, learnt from every encounter, as much from those with the best skillset as from those with the most limited.

  14. What is the difference beetween taekwondo and training for ibjjf? People wearing traditional clothes, they are obsessed with the color of their fashion accesory. And technically you can win by a knock out/submission, but most of the time it is just point game.

  15. This is not unique to TMA. A exceptional genius in one endeavor may assume his opinions and observations are equally qualified in areas outside his expertise. Those he trains may also adapt this assumption. Everyone has weaknesses and blind spots. Unfortunately this may mislead those who trust and follow them.

  16. Man, I think he is way off on this one. The same problems that exist in traditional martial arts also exists in these "modern" martial arts. Furthermore, I will add that the training structure, in my opinion, is not the deciding factor here for such crazy behaviors. The elitist behaviour from my experience stems from the decision to stick to one form of training. Since they walk only one road, they always think they know better than anyone else. Just take for example, the video he did with the two big instructors.. how extremely dismissive they were of anything in aikido ever working in real life. Meanwhile, special forces use some techniques from aikido. Then, the video comes out about how he never thought this aikido technique would work, but it did. I know, thsts a little general of an example, but search the videos on this channel. It's a great channel. I enjoy it very much. I judt thi I hes way off on this one, lol

  17. When I joined Aikido, I did so partly because of the traditional Japanese approach of the art. It has a lot do with the DO or the way and it can be a very beneficial tool is developing one's ability to be MINDFULL which is a big aspect of Buddhism and Zen Buddhism. Unfortunately is all dependent on the club and its instructor. If all this shit has gone to their head and oversized their ego, then it'll spread. That's why I like the concept of Shu-Ha-Ri. Protect – detach – leave and it seems a lot of clubs stay at the PROTECT part.

  18. I do see certain examples of this elitism in my dojo. Specifically the example of the highest grade (myself) standing in a certain spot as the timekeeper for our kata’s and younger and less experienced students assuming we know everything. I do not demand respect nor do I think I know everything. Often it’s difficult to explain this to younger students because they assume that since I’m such a high rank and I have so many years of experience that I know everything. And I see other clubs at competitions correcting other clubs that their style is wrong

  19. thats why im forcing my medieval fighting group not to have any hierarchy, people who know stuff are gona teach others who dont know those techniques or anything else…..thats it, no "sensei", no teacher or master…

  20. Bang on about the lack of pressure testing in TMA. I remember training with an aikido instructor who was a complete shit to his student, really badly bullied this vulnerable student and just bragged about himself

  21. I want to say that not all traditional schools are like that mine always emphesise that the belt doesnt represenr anything but martial arts experience

  22. it's like in uniformed services 😀 … I'm a fireman … "the king is one"… constant change of decisions proves the continuity of command 😀 …

  23. I generally like your video and I am in for the ride but this time I would suggest to focus on your own journey and leave the social science to the social scientists. There is a well developed field of Martial Arts Studies out there you should read about before trying to make up your own explanations (and definitions…)!

  24. A lot of the traditions come from its military back grounds. In ancient times spiritual belief's always came along with the combat aspects to keep a level head. Such as the code of Bushido, Buddhist belief's, belief's in the gods found in asian and western cultures, etc, etc….
    When i think traditional, i think its a reflection of the past. Unfortunately, some have focused on the past traditions without doing or going through the same things they use to. Even the way we go to war has changed since those times.

    You have some interesting insights mate and i can understand where you are coming from. There are things about how traditional arts are done today, that i am not impressed with either. But do not think that is how it was meant to be in all traditional arts, is all i am saying.
    Having said all that, i completely agree, there is a lot of elitism in traditional arts.

  25. Wing Chun and Tai chi have competition. Chen style Tai chi do a Wrestling kind of competition that Is called tui shou. AND wing Chun do a full contact competition. If Is good or not Is diferent story but they have presure teasting.https://youtu.be/kD47Ckag354. https://youtu.be/Px_KPhucYqA you should not talk about Martial arts that you dont know.

  26. Weirdly enough I trained a bit of aikido but my sensei never did that positioning thing where the more advanced students were on the right and less advanced students on the right, and she was honest that the training wouldn't help win fights and that honestygot me to pressure test stuff and pushed me to learn some wrestling. I definitely found the experience valuable.

  27. That was a nice essay. I mostly agree, and I think it's important for all traditional schools to consider giving up some of their traditions, if they want to teach the general public. Traditional martial arts schools don't really train units of soldiers anymore, not even in their countries of origin. One needs to go the military or a police academy for that. I mean, ways to easily keep class organized are great, but ways to quickly inflate an ego are not necessary.

  28. The reason the students are arranged buy belt from right to left is because if a Challenger came to that school the strongest student would be able to defend it first if the master wasn't in.

  29. It's unfortunate that Elitism goes on, I've experienced several times and not just within MA. Ego obviously plays a large part which is another topic in itself.

    Certain cultures and traditions don't translate well from the far East to the West and modern day. The other aspect is the the way people learn. Teaching methods have changed and developed over the years, and unfortunately many people are stuck in the past. As you mentioned people blindly follow without knowing why and this is where the problems arise. Tradition can be fine, providing people can understand the purpose of what they are doing and why.

    This unfortunately is something that happens in everyday life. Most people like feeling comfortable and don't want to rock the boat. Change is something people in general seem to fear as they would rather stick to what's familiar.

  30. Hey Rokas, I sometimes hear unfair criticism of Judo. I really think you need to try it out for yourself. It has a lot of cross over with BJJ and it's a super effective martial art. It's just not as trendy and popular as BJJ is at the moment. It's good to learn Judo and wrestling because a lot of BJJ schools neglect it and the practitioners are not good at putting people to the ground to finish the fight.

  31. Bjj is older than aikido so how how is bjj not a traditional martial art when aikido is. Also I do randori with my tomiki teacher and I call him by his first name.

  32. I see a lot of comments talking about how Rokas not acknowledging the elitism in BJJ and how it’s become a cult like art in itself. While it is more effective than most arts over all, I do agree we need to acknowledge elitism across the board is stupid.

  33. This was a huge issue with me when I did Tae Su Do/Hwa Rango Do. I paid for an expensive seminar/training workshop with Grand Master Taejoon Lee (12 years ago I think). He gave a few demos and we practiced a few moves in pairs but he spent the vast majority of time lecturing us on life, marriage, "nutrition", Korea being better than China and Japan etc, and his own random philosophies. Me and a couple friends-students were very very annoyed by this. He was engaged at the time to somebody but not yet married, however he kept going off on super long winded tangents about marriage advice and parenting advice (he also had no children at the time). He also went on very long winded diatribes about Japan stealing this and that from Korea and how Korea is so much better than Japan etc. I didn't know anything about Japan at the time or really care about it so I had no idea what he was talking about or if it was even true. He would go off on random tangents about "nutrition" and how Korean food is so much more nutritious and medicinal than all other countries cuisine especially the U.S. but he kept harping on Chinese food as too oily and bad for health and Japanese food is too bland or too sweet/salty and not great for health but less caloric and fatty than American food. Out of no where he would just go off and tell us to take a knee while he lectured us about these things. That seminar/training workshop was two days long and was a huge waste of time and money. He is one of those guys who thinks because he calls him self "Grand Master" of a martial art. That makes him a grand master of EVERYTHING. He was not the only one but by far the worst I ever experienced. But looking back HRD/TSD in my experience when I was in the U.S. was very cult like.

  34. ima go out on a limb here and take a wild guess jim carrey's character from IN LIVING COLOR wuz the basis 4 MASTER KEN.

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