Without Writing

The art of writing without writing… about fighting.

Nationalism Through the Lens of a Martial Art

In April of this year, there was a minor kerfuffle in the UK regarding some ringers from Eastern Europe being brought in to supplement the British wrestling team, in time for the 2012 olympic games.

It’s only a matter of time before this man is competing for the UK in the olympics.

The fact that people born and raised in one nation can compete in international amateur sports for a completely different nation if granted citizenship in their new country is a new one on me. I had some vague idea that one had to be a 2nd generation national in order to compete for a country at the olympics… clearly this was mere fantasy on my part.

My immediate reaction was surprise and a kind of vague irritation, especially when I read how disappointed the native British wrestlers were that their place on the national olympic squad had been taken by someone from the Ukraine…

But then I caught myself, and gave myself a ceremonial punch in the face as punishment.

Why? Because nationalism is bunk, and national pride is foolish.

A controversial and unusual statement you might say. And one which some may find offensive, to be sure. But hold your horses, do not rage away from the page just yet… I am about to explain why I think nationalistic ideas are drivel. And I bet five pounds you won’t be able to logically argue with my reasoning.

And I am not a rich man.

What is nationalism? The Oxford dictionary defines it as: “patriotic feeling, principles, or efforts” and of course, to be patriotic is: “having or expressing devotion to and vigorous support for one’s country”.

So far, so good. But the key question is: Are patriotism or nationalism good, valid things? Are they desirable qualities or undesirable? Should we be nationalistic? Any of us?


Reason 1. Because pride should only be taken in one’s own achievements, which one has earned oneself. How have I earned the right to take pride in the nation I merely had the random luck to be born into? I did nothing to earn the privilege of being born in a wealthy, western nation. I do not deserve the extra comfort, healthcare and social security of the UK any more than a starving African does. So why take pride in either the country I live in, or the fact that I live there? I should be thankful to be born in an affluent nation, to be sure, for it is uncommonly good luck. But proud? No.

Reason 2. Even if it were appropriate to take pride in an unearned quality like one’s nationality, there’s not much to take pride in, when one knows anything about the activities of the state. The government of the UK has, over the past half century, been complicit in a great deal of killing in illegitimate wars abroad, and has committed many non-war-related acts of horrendous illegality, for example the theft of the Chagos Islands from their rightful inhabitants, a terribly, sadly awful act, which was committed in order to sell the islands to the US government for cheap, and an act which was compounded nearly every year afterwards, as successive UK governments and prime ministers ignored and foiled the rulings of the highest courts in their own land, and in 2008 used their own unelected political flunkies the “law lords” to all but squash the Chagossians’ sad campaign to return to their homes, and to provide a thin veneer of legality to their treacherous crimes.

Reason 3. Those who exhibit the most visible pride in being British (or American, or French, or whatever…) are also the most dreadful, ignorant pustules on the buttocks of humanity. Seriously. It seems to be a virtually direct correlation; the more patriotic and nationalistic one gets, the more ignorant, loud and uncouth one gets. Take this lovely, intellectual woman, a typical British National Party or English Defence League member, by the looks of her. Note her nuanced, subtle arguments, and perfect, perfect syntax and grammar. When I see people like this, full of national pride and raging indignation on behalf of their “beleaguered” state… I am promptly inspired to burn my passport and urinate gleefully on the ashes.

So why should I be proud to call myself a British person? Let’s go further, what does it really mean to identify oneself by one’s nationality? It is meaningless. As someone who lives in a big city, I probably have more in common with a Parisian or a New Yorker than I have with my own countrymen in rural areas. What do I know of farming? What do I know of the Cornish accent, let alone the language? I can probably understand a man speaking French better than I can understand a man speaking old Cornish. And I’m sure Cornish people feel the same disconnection with a person like me. So why are we joined at the hip by this arbitrary geographical boundary that designates us as part of a “nation”?

This is Genki Sudo. He’s right. And he could kick your arse.

The answer is: It’s a stupid idea, a remnant of old state machinations and ancient feudal territorial disputes. Borders have no reality, they’re purely arbitrary fancies, and like all such meaningless, outdated fancies, they should be discarded en masse. As the great fighter Genki Sudo was fond of pointing out after his matches, “We are all one”. We really are one big human nation, all of us.

As an addendum it’s worth noting the nationalistic qualities of many esoteric martial arts. Karate, Tae Kwon Do and Wushu were used in Japan, Korea and China respectively as right-wing indoctrinational tools, and as methods of squashing the genuine indigenous martial arts in each region into super-duper homogenized freeze-dried McMartial Arts with all individuality and practicality drained out of them.

So it’s fine for people from one country to compete on behalf of another, in any sport. I don’t give a monkey’s where the wrestler comes from… I just want to see them wrestle.

2 responses to “Nationalism Through the Lens of a Martial Art

  1. scotto 2012, October 3 at 6:51 am

    Bloody excellent post. I especially liked the note at the end on the past uses of karate etc as tools of indoctrination. If we look down the other end of this telescope, we see some people using the ‘Japanese-ness’ of a martial art [for example] as an excuse for the most appalling, self-serving and deceptive behaviour.

    • withoutwriting 2012, December 25 at 10:59 pm

      Quite so. For if some pursuit is deemed “exotic” then an unscrupulous person can transgress social norms for the place they live in, and can use the “exoticness” of their “art” as an excuse for those transgressions.

      It’s not common in the west to make grown ups kneel and face the wall until the teacher decides they can join in, when they arrive at a class late.

      If an evening class in accountancy tried this tactic, people would complain. When a Karate teacher does this however, people accept it relatively unquestioningly, as Karate is “exotic”… And that’s just the thin end of the wedge when it comes to questionable behaviour.

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