I´ve long thought that labelling – or mislabelling – in martial arts has done a big disservice to the industry at-large. It seems like such a trivial thing, really, but mis-labelling tends to cause confusion, avoidance, and motive questioning with the uninitiated public. Mis-labelling tends to come in a number of different forms in the martial arts kingdom, which we´ll delve into here.
- KNIVES AND OTHER WEAPONS. Naming your brand new knife-model the Gut-Ripper 2020 does nothing for showcasing the diversity, multi-function, and task-orientation of a very useful tool in the real world, having absolutely nothing to do with self-defence. Having a multi-functional tool automatically gives at least some legal coverage should it ever INCIDENTALLY be needed in a conflict situation. Naming it after or relevant to the one function that will land you in the proverbial hot-water becomes a legal liability. Imagine having to testify in court your necessity at using that Gut-Ripper 2020 as a purely defence weapon when its very purpose is listed in the nameology on the blade and it has seemingly no other innocuous purpose. Tenuous, at best. And note that blades and other sharp objects that are all the rage in the martial arts industry are already demonized as tools utilized by criminals and citizens of the sketchy variety – whether a legitimate stigma or not. I make sure all tools that I carry have multi-use, are not labelled incriminately, and fall within the legal use-of-carry boundaries that pre-date usage.
2. LOGOS & NAMES. Logos designed with the most vicious of predatory animals, the most aggressive of actions, and the intimation of intent are another little-thought-of that can potentially be problematic. If your logo or club name represents death, violence, aggressive use-of-force, or projects acts that should be an extreme last resort…also a potentially incriminating element. Remember, what we do (outside of a “martial art”, hobby, pastime, social-gathering) is often walking a very precarious line of complex social reverse-engineering on events that are multi-dynamic and multi-dimensional. The last thing I need is to draw attention – unnecessary attention – to trivial things that can land me more solidly in the shit. I live in an area where these things matter and projecting lethality and voluntarily giving away concealment is another thing I simply don´t need, even apart from the potential legal repercussions should push come to shove. I believe logos and names should be innocous, task-appropriate, and draw as little attention to the negative side of what we do – or may have to do – as possible, not bring greater light to potential death, intimidation, predatory behavior, or violence. They also, as I´ve seen, tend to bring greater skepticism and scrutiny to what one is teaching, which though justified and should always be the case, could be alleviated without the bravado and hyperbole.
3. VIDEOS. Here is one of THE biggest culprits in the mis-labelling department, industry-wide. Youtube videos that are sent to me over-and-over, time-and-again that are wildly inaccurate with they claim to be getting across. “Hard-core killer knife-fighting” where the two people in the video are practicing Filipino flow drills statically, compliantly, and mirroring. “Pre-emptive striking” where the offending individual is assaulted with a plethora of violent and often illegal techniques for asking what time it is. A “knife defence” drill that demonstrates what inevitably amounts to a murder – a succession of vital-point cutting against an unarmed man that just approached aggressively. “Unbeatable street grappling” where the participants are simply practicing Brazilian jiujitsu. The list is practically endless where it becomes clear that either the user does not at all know his or her lane, what it is they´re actually doing, or knows both of the above and is intentionally misleading the public to drum up likes, interest, or recruitment. Either way, it´s unethical but it´s also clear to me that many feel the pressure to do this as that seems to often be what draws the most attention and gain one notoriety. Lethal-knife cutting templates, surgical-cutting, quick-kill techniques, gimmick techniques that seemingly attempt to reinvent the rather well-established wheel, etc. etc. etc. draw a crowd and pique interest with the fantasy-crowd, of that there can be no doubt. That being said, buyer beware, if projecting in this manner, there´s often something lacking with the core of the program that needs shielding or mis-directing by some sexy and suggestive marketing.
4. TITLES. How many times have you been asked for social-media “friendship” by someone who identifies with their martial arts title? For me, regularly. We are not doctors, lawyers, engineers, or architects, where titles actually mean a whole lot in the really-real world. Even in those particular cases, posting your title on social-media seems more than a little pretentious. Grandmasters, masters, great-grandmasters, guros abound and it´s always an alarm-bell for me. So are cliques, hierarchies, tribes, and tribalism. All do nothing but tune out the average civilian that would seem to be the very demographic that was intended to appeal to. The cult-like implications are more than noticeable and the comparisons run deep. I get the need to self-promote if running a business but it would make more sense to promote the cumulative club than the title of the individual. I tend to steer widely clear of organizations that have strict hierarchy, have cultish manners of following and addressing leaders, and have a superiority complex for newbies. It´s one thing if the students voluntarily give it – quite another when it´s demanded by head-of-hierarchy.
5. TERMINOLOGY. Warriors. Alpha males. A-type personalities. Predators. Sheepdogs. Street fighters. All these titles are fluff, intended to put on a pedestal and separate from the average human those who self-associate with them. There´s a certain egocentricity, narcissism, and self-aggradization that go along with categories numbers 4 & 5. Separation from those who we claim to want to help the most. I find it often does little but ostracize those who utilize them from their intended target. They are boastful, derogatory, and neglect the fact that nobody is “on” all the time, everybody makes counter-violence errors at some point, and nobody is impervious to loss or failure.
6. FORMULA/SUCCESS LISTS. 4 steps to invicibility. 10 easy ways to become an expert in self-defence. 5 simple solutions to universal violence. 20 pointers to become Jason Bourne. We see these everywhere. The gimmick. The hustle. The flashy promo ad. If only it were ever that easy, right? Just follow a handful of subjective one-dimensional solutions to three-dimensional complext problems and, voila, instant success. Nothing comes easy. Everything takes hard work, time, sacrifice, and effort, and – as the saying goes – nobody plays for free. Martial arts, self-defence, combatives, whatever you call that thing it is that you do – takes all of these. There are no quick fixes, no fast gimmicks, no one-size-fits-all solutions, and no shortcuts that lead to invulnerability in a given period of time. These are one of my pet peeves, I generally abhor lists as they tend to make the hard look impossibly easy and the need for elbow-grease moot.
Now, after briefly covering a number of elements I categorize under the “mislabelling” banner, I want to make a few things clear. NOT everybody does martial arts, self-defence, combatives, or personal preservation for the same reasons. Those that are clear in their motives – sport, fun, social club, exercise, fitness, art, even advancement with belts, certificates, titles – I have absolutely zero problem. There is no shame in partaking in a hobby for your own honest transparent reasons. I begrudge no one in that vein and your path is your own. I love training, whatever that training entails, but I´m also very careful about putting content out in front of public-eyes that I label it as it is – a drill, hoplological study, weapons training, sport-dueling, art. I´m adamant that whatever I put is not misconstrued for something that it´s not given the specific and explicit context I´m putting it out for. I label very carefully as to what I´m doing, the purpose of it, its intended goals, and task-clarity.
I am adamant that whatever I put out does or will not incriminate me in any way should I ever (and I have) need to utilize these skills in a real-world real-time event. I also don´t want anything – and noting at various times in my own personal evolution have been admittedly guilty with some of the above earlier on – potentially setting the tone for others I train, potential criminal elements, or fantasy-lovers to be drawn to what it is I do and, fortunately, have not had that problem until now. Aggressive labelling draws a certain kind of people – always has. If that´s the demographic you want, then I guess it´s a moot point but most industry leaders claim to want to help people in need, potential victims, the weak and vulnerable. It´s pretty hard to do that when you perpetually (and perplexingly) draw in local gang members, isn´t it? I want nothing affiliated with my name that draws unneeded, unwanted attention from those I claim to be teaching people how to avoid, de-escalate, manage, or otherwise deal with.