Without Writing

The art of writing without writing… about fighting.

The Perniciousness of Mimicry

This is not a bee.

In an old blog entry on the subject of Steven “Runs Like a Girl” Seagal, the martial teacher and commentator Steve Morris noted that the secret to the success of liars like Seagal is that they are able to convince people of their ability, despite the fact that they lack ability. He stated:

“their greatest talent does not lie in what they get paid for doing, but in their ability to get people to believe that what they do is for real and what they say is true.”

This is the art of the mimic. In nature, a mimic is something which has- through the process of natural selection- evolved over countless generations an uncanny similarity to another thing, be that thing an inanimate object, a part of a plant, or another animal. This similarity offers protection from predators… Or disguises the mimic’s dangerousness, depending on the type of camouflage employed.

Mimicry between animals is the interesting area for the purposes of this article. For instance, a form of defensive mimicry is demonstrated by the  Ash Borer, a harmless moth which resembles a wasp so closely that potential predators who might enjoy eating a moth are put off, for fear of being stung.

But equally, and more applicably to this text, a form of aggressive mimicry is demonstrated by Photuris, a breed of firefly that closely resembles and imitates the mating signals of a female Rover Firefly, another species… when the male Rovers arrive and attempt to mate with Photuris, they are consumed.

It’s worth noting at this point that it is not important at all that you and I can tell the difference between a wasp and the Ash Borer. It’s equally not important that you or I might be able to tell the difference between Photuris and its hapless Rover prey. What’s important is whether the prey can tell the difference.

Here’s another form of aggressive mimicry: Stevenus Seagalis. This ghastly little parasite mimics another species altogether: Martial Artists.

Now to the trained eye, to the expert eye, Seagalis is clearly not a member of the same genus. But this does not matter. As stated before, what matters is whether the prey animals recognise this fact. Who are the prey animals in this case? Some low-level martial artists, certainly, but also a swathe of Buddhists, film-goers and film-makers.

This is not a martial artist.

What form does the mimicry of such ghastly creatures take? Well like the Ash Borer, there is no sting in their tail. A no-hoper like Seagalis does not… CAN not mimic the martial or physical skill of a creature like Marcelo Garcia, or Georges St Pierre. But they don’t have to. Most people cannot tell the difference between a fake Aikido move like an Aikido Koshi Nage (Aikido Hip Throw), and a real move (a move that can really be applied on a resisting, aware opponent) like a Hip-Toss from wrestling (also used in Judo, of course). Because in order to be able to tell the difference, you have to have a certain level of physical awareness or experience. You have to know intuitively that people will not move the way the attacker in the Aikido clip moves. You have to know intuitively that opponents won’t let you hold their arms the way the Aikido attacker is allowing his Sensei to hold his. You have to know what someone who is unwillingly tossed into the air will do when they realise that they are in jeopardy. And lastly you have to know what someone throwing another person looks like while they’re doing it; what shapes their body will describe as they take the weight of their opponent onto their own base, and what motion they will have to apply and commit to to execute the move.

If you have this experience, this insight, then the Aikido man’s move looks even more fake, cooperative and contrived than moves from pro-wrestling… and that’s saying something. At least pro-wrestlers sell their moves a little better.

Most people lack this lens of “physical intellect”. So, to convince the lay person all a martial mimic has has to do is something that looks roughly similar.

Or that sounds roughly similar, for that matter.

Because mimicry in the martial arts isn’t restricted to what the mimic shows his prey. It’s what the mimic tells his or her prey that really seals the deal. Seagal’s full of bluster and self-aggrandizement, as in this clip where he takes credit for one of Anderson Silva’s victories. Again, to the trained ear (the ear of someone who knows something of Seagal’s history, for instance) his claims do not hold water. But to the average schmo watching the TV, I’m sure it all sounds very convincing, even though the sunglasses/bandanna combo he’s wearing make Seagal look like a village idiot. He also bizarrely claims to have been “raised in Japan”, which could have been a slip of the tongue if anyone else had said it, but is more likely just another self-serving lie coming from Seagal. He was in his late teens before he relocated to Japan. He claims in this interview to have known Bruce Lee through James Coburn as well, a claim which is strange, considering the fact that Seagal was only twenty-one when Lee died, at which point Seagal was presumably in Japan, and as far as I can tell they never met.

The really sad thing is that those who can see Seagal for what he is are in a minority, and despite our best efforts at publicising this information we simply hold no sway. Because the media loves a fast-talking chancer like Seagal. The media is in the business of promoting Seagal and his ilk, because the media is also full of unskilled idiots who are all talk. Most journalists fall into this category, for instance.

Which brings us to politics. Mimicry in politics is rife. In fact it’s true to say that politicians are all in the business of mimicking a species they are not… people who give a damn. A politician doesn’t have to do anything to benefit his or her local community… he or she merely has to promise vaguely to do such things at some indeterminate point in the future, and they will be elected. Welcome to your very own Schumpeterian system of governance.

How about business? How about the fact that the executive levels of all businesses are populated almost entirely by independently wealthy, skill-less buffoons whose only talent is to talk a good fight? Those pustules who leave all the actual work to their subordinates and describe themselves as the “blue sky thinkers” of the company, as if this meant something?

But I digress. Back to the martial arts. Yes, there are the Seagals, and the Sofoses, and the Cooks… But these are merely individuals. How about arts? Can a whole art mimic a more martial art?

This is not a martial art.

Yes, of course. Aikido and Karate are prime examples. With the exception of Daido Juku and Kyokushin these arts involve little or no contact, no useful application and very little resisting opposition. So how do they resemble real martial arts? First, there’s the violent movements, then there’s the angry shouting… but mainly the factor that causes most lay-people to mistake Aikido and Karate for real martial arts is… the talk. Karate men and women talk as if they’re martial artists. Aikido men and women talk as if their art is martial. They use words like “warrior” and “combat”.  They behave as if they are… and often believe themselves to be… fighters.

This is the sad result when a mimic finally encounters the real thing.

Nothing good comes from mimicry in human affairs. Either people are conned out of their hard-earned cash; are convinced that they can do something (like… fight) when they can’t, or simply have their precious time wasted. Mimics are parasites living among us in all walks of life. They should be prevented from engaging in their harmful and deceptive activities by anyone with the wit to spot them.

If you think you’ve seen a thing… look again.

Sadly the last and most important thing that mimics trade on is the fact that the majority of people want to be deceived…

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7 responses to “The Perniciousness of Mimicry

  1. Peter 2012, February 20 at 10:37 pm

    An interesting article, thank you. Re “The Blessed Steven”, I liked his comment in that having been raised in Japan he had trained under the Greatest Karate Masters and Ju Jitsu Masters. Er, bit of a problem here: there are very few Ju Jitsu schools now in Japan; as it travelled to Europe, in was largely supplanted by Judo. Moreover, “Steve” makes no mention of his Aikido background….still, he’s probably hoping that mention of ‘Ju Jitsu’ will mean that the unknowing will think he means “Jiu Jitsu” (BJJ).
    That apart, I’ve seen the MMA v TKD contest before – Ouch! I felt sorry for the bloke.
    Still, it’s a useful reminder to me to avoid Delusion. Those Essex chaps keep me ‘honest’ though!

  2. Mark Wahlberg Wannabe 2012, August 17 at 12:00 pm

    I can testify through personal experience that Sensei Seagal does have the qualities as a man and a martial artist that he claims to.
    Over the years I have been in contact with him I have never once thought his skills were bogus or that his claims of prowess were undeserved.
    Whilst Aikido does look to the untrained eye like theatre and an ineffectual form of combat(or rather self defence) to those who practice it is a very effective tool. When I say untrained I mean those untrained in Aikido, those unaware of the subtle turns of movement and gesture that go unnoticed to anyone who is unfamiliar with them.To become familiar with them it is not enough to practice another form of self defence or martial art and transpose what you already know to Aikido for the nature of Aikido is that it is subtle, hidden and a force to be reckoned with only when used of a commensurate level depending on the nature of the force attacking you.
    I am sick of modern day MMA fans who watch too much UFC and do a bit of wing chun and think they have the whole gamut of knowledge about what it takes to be a ‘real’ martial artist.
    I for one would rather follow Sensei Seagal than be just another UFC-nut-hugging couch potato picking wholes in any master who happens to be controversial.

    • withoutwriting 2012, August 21 at 1:42 pm

      Thanks for the comment. Many of the points you make are held to be true by genuine followers of Seagal (and followers of Aikido), and the only suitable response to such people is that Martial Arts are (or at least should be) practical arts, with falsifiable, testable qualities. Aikido fails any and all rigorous tests it is put to… as does Seagal.

      While your personal experience of the pie-eating sensei’s might is undoubtedly relevant to the argument, it pales into insignificance next to the overwhelming weight of evidence that Seagal is a complete chancer with the combative skill of an elderly, overweight hollywood faker.

      And you misspelled “holes” by the way.

  3. tommy730 2012, September 18 at 11:57 pm

    Interesting read. I have nothing to say about Mr Segal as I could really care less about the man. He effects me in no way. However, putting karate in the bogus category usually gives me a grin. I agree that the state of karate today is a mess, but that has nothing to do with “karate.” It has everything to do with how it is currently being taught. As someone who trained in Kyokushin for many years I can attest to the skill of its fighters. However, like MMA which I also trained in as well as coached (I still coach) they are “sports.” Kyokushin has long since left the area of martial arts as a form of SD and has become a sport with rules. True karate, which I still believe in, if trained right, is MMA minus rules….plus. The sad truth is few train this way. Few put on the gear and practice by way of full contact drills rather than marching basics. Drills taken out of kata and started basic and escalated to the what if’s, full on resisting opponents. Forget tournaments, fanfare, trophy’s, awards, big ceremonious testing etc. Train like a special forces soldier with the only aim being causing damage. Well, after avoidance fails. Competition of any kind only trains you for a game. Real karate isn’t a game. Sadly most modern dojo don’t know this. Kyokushin once was close as Oyama had the right idea. But alas it is nothing more than a rule bound game now. Are sports fighters bad ass….sure. But they train to “stop.” Yes, even the full contact fighters.
    I can’t account for what most of the modern trash does with their karate training, but there are those of us who train full bore by way of full contact and fully resisting drills. You don’t learn to block a head shot until you’ve been hit with one a few hundred times.

    • withoutwriting 2012, September 20 at 1:57 pm

      Many thanks for the comment, most welcome.

      I’m sorry if this comes across as dismissive, it’s certainly not intended to be; Karate was never the utopian hyper-effective self-defence style you believe it to have been. There was no “golden age of Karate” where it was institutionally effective.

      When and where was this golden age? Was it in the period from the 1950s to 1960s, when the following footage of Uechi Ryu and Goju Ryu was apparently filmed?

      Surely not. The drivel in these clips couldn’t be the “true, effective Karate” you speak of. Looks worse than what the “modern trash” is engaging in.

      Was it perhaps earlier, in a time before recording devices were available?

      Or perhaps you’re saying that the “True Karate” was developed later by westerners as an adaptation of Japanese and Okinawan styles. Can an adapted version be the “true” version?

      I have no reason to disbelieve you; I’m willing to take your word for it that when you train in Karate it’s very effective training,.. but this is undoubtedly due to what you’re bringing to the table rather than what Karate is bringing to the table. Those- like the legendary Terry O’Neill, for instance- who are Karate men and are also good martial artists would be good martial artists *whatever* school they joined… The framework called Karate plays no part in their own personal drive, training ethic, natural aggression, natural physicality, etcetera.

      In other words, “True Karate” is the karate you see in the vast majority of dojos. There is no better form of Karate, only individuals who happen to be training better, and wrongly credit (or blame, depending on your point of view) Karate for their success.

      As for Kyokushin, having trained in it myself, I can assure any readers that all that’s good about Kyokushin training was stolen by its fraudulent founder Mas Oyama from better fighting styles, like Muay Thai. Is the training good? It’s fine, actually. But why waste time studying this diluted version of kickboxing styles? Study the real thing, head-shots included.

      As discussed in a previous post, of course sport styles are only sport styles. But that doesn’t mean you can mimic the intensity of an actual fight in training in any other way, by “taking drills out of kata” as you seem to claim. Firstly if you have a real fight in training, you won’t be able to put the necessary reps in without serious injury or unconsciousness. Secondly there’s no point in reverse-engineering an outdated old kata to try to find the “bunkai” hidden in it. Half of these kata were probably put together by people like those in the clips above, and the other half have had their “secrets” diluted beyond all recognition over the course of the decades.

      You can on the other hand do some drills, some Reality Based Self Defence stuff… but if we’re talking about becoming a better fighter, these things are only useful as a supplement to regular conditional training at high intensity, namely sport fighting training. And you can and should train with the fact that there are limitations to sport training in mind. That way, you won’t be training to limit yourself.

      So yeah, in my opinion Karate falls firmly and squarely into the “bogus” category. If you still disagree, it might be worth asking yourself who decides what the “true” form of Karate is, and why? Is it just you? Is it me? Is it Mas Oyama?

  4. tommy730 2012, September 20 at 6:09 pm

    Thank you for the response. The golden age of karate? No way! What is shown in those clips is, in my opinion, modern karate. When I speak of classical karate or true, I admit maybe it’s my own labels that add confusion. These aren’t legitimate tags; only what I call it. But what I am referring to is what my research has led me to. I started out as a street fighter. Just a street kid surviving the streets of N.Y. I got into karate at age 11 as a means to enhance my street fighting prowess (I’m 55 now). I always had a different view on my karate but it was always fueled by the knowledge I had of how real fights went. I really got serious about martial arts 30 years ago. I had been stabbed, had been hit with baseball bats and clubs, faced guns, been shot at, you name it. I know how these things go and fighting is fighting. I couldn’t see that karate could be so “off” in their method if it was supposedly field tested. A fight is a fight. I assumed it was just being taught wrong or misunderstood. Sport had ruined it. And I was training under Japanese instructors! Go figure.
    I never changed styles to try to find something “better” as I don’t believe it’s the style, I believe it’s the interpretation. That is why for 11 years I supplemented my regular karate with Kyokushin. So I could get the contact I was used to from my younger days when it was always like that. Face contact allowed! But my research showed me that you have to go back to Okinawa to a time before the word “karate” was used. Maybe even before the name “Te.” When Okinawans were traveling to China to work and learn martial arts. At this time everything was two man drills. The forms or kata as they are referred to now weren’t meant to be this secret and magical mysterious dance. They were only homework in a time with no video or way of writing things down that wouldn’t take 100- 20 foot scrolls! They were mnemonics. Like going to college and taking shorthand notes in class. They are notes that maybe only you can understand. Meaningless to others but valuable to you as reminders of what was practiced in class. On top of that the forms allowed transmission of the techniques easily. No video remember? But I do think that there isn’t much difference. If you watch a video to remember or learn techniques you use in training it is the same as doing a kata. One is a visual and one is physical. Although watching a video is easier. But when you get old the kata aren’t bad exercise! Crouching, bending, stretching. Sure some techniques were held secret but this was nothing more than akin to boxers that go to training camps in the mountains somewhere so prying eyes don’t see them training thus create strategies to counter them. No big mystery. Do we need kata today? No. We have books and video. But I believe the original methods of karate (classical) are pieces of history and they are being lost to this modern crap. By retaining the “old” kata (not the new tournament enhanced crap) we can perhaps hold on to this wonderful old method of SD. Kata are purely basics. Marching up and down the floor isn’t basics. All the techniques are in the kata. Reps of kata are your basics. Lose them and karate is a distant memory lost forever and taken over by the McDojo. Me? I’m a dinosaur! Kata and bunkai? I don’t do the bunkai thing. There are no “kata applications.” That, according to my research is another misinterpretation blown up to some magical mystery tour. Kata are just notes and basics training. And the notes are about “principles” of movement. An elbow strike doesn’t work much different then using the same elbow movement as a fulcrum against the attackers elbow in a wrist escape. Just body mechanics and principles. Start basic then advance to your own creations. To me and my understanding “styles” and systems are creations of the modern world and by modern I mean even back as far as 1900 and before. Karate for me is only a template. After all a system only was a “way” because after a short guy learned from a tall instructor he tweaked things to fit “him.” Now the movements were different and it became “short guy style.” Based on the original….and so on. The principles remain the same but the outward appearance and smaller details are more personal. So I (or anyone else) can’t (or shouldn’t) teach a karate system to a student in a perfect stylized manner. Joe can not look just like Bob in his techniques. Impossible. Joe has to have the techniques (principles intact) tweaked to fit him, his body type, disposition, speed , strengths and weaknesses etc. Unfortunately that isn’t how it is these days nor has it been for probably more than 100 years. But that is how it was once long, long ago.

    I can agree with you to a point about the drills. You can only go so far without hurting your partner. But it can and is done. There are still old style Okinawan traditional dojo that train this way (mostly Goju). Full gear mouthguards, thigh pads, headgear, MMA gloves etc. An attack and counter is practiced; countless reps. Then the attack is altered and the same defense used by principle of movement but altered to fit the changed attack. A simplified example would be a haymaker punch. The guy throws the right wild swing stepping with his right foot. For arguments sake lets just say you step into the inside of the attack and cover. Sort of like a boxer with elbow alongside your head palm near ear. (which by the way is how Choki Motobu explains the typical outside head block in traditional karate. Templates remember? Now your inside ready to grapple if need be and his right leg is forward for you to sweep out or prep for a takedown or whatever. It doesn’t matter; this isn’t a real defense example. But now next time you alter the drill. Same punch this time no step. So now his leg isn’t there and the defense changes but not to a different defense. Just tweaking the same defense but maintaining the principle. Over time this continues. Possibly he fakes, or your block doesn’t work or he throws a second strike. Or your counter misses. What if, what if, what if. But the attacks have to be realistic, and really non compliant. Takedowns, locks, pinching, headbutts, bites, you name it. Control is key. One note about stances. Another misinterpretation in my opinion. Today (thanks to having to teach the masses) you line up your feet to get a perfect stance. Stance is always important in fighting and it is what gives us control in close and mobility outside etc. But at one time it was the center that moved and the feet were inconsequential for the most part. They completed the connection to the ground. I can move through any stances with my feet shoulder width apart and you’d never know (so can you or anyone else). I shift my center. So my weight can be equal or I can alter it to have no weight on one leg (the real “cat stance”) without moving my feet or legs. What you see in kata these days is stylized and exaggerations of the freeze frames of what should be fluid movement. Stances are always in a state of flux. If you video a boxer and then freeze frame each movement he goes through many stances. Steve Morris uses sort of a floating foot and a kind of wide stance with half or quarter turned trunk. His lead leg darts in and out like a feeler. That, to me is perfect use of a cat stance everytime he withdraws that lead leg from in between his opponents. It’s a very light foot.
    This is getting to long and it’s too much for text. My apologies.

    • withoutwriting 2012, September 21 at 6:18 pm

      My word, what a long post. My thanks for taking the time to deliver such a detailed response. However, I think it can be boiled down to a few salient points, which I will respond to:

      Both the first and second part of your post state that you regard the “true” or effective Karate to have existed long before any living witnesses or film footage can be produced to support its existence. You’re free to believe this, but frankly it’s a mere fantasy. Just because there are countless myths of legendary Karate Fighters ™ laying waste to armies, and having the Ultimate Style ™, doesn’t mean that they’re true.

      I don’t think there’s any evidence to support such a position. Only exoticist wishful thinking and old nationalist propaganda from Japan.

      Your second point on this question is that you think that effective Karate probably only existed before it was called Karate. The question then becomes, since Karate has been useless throughout its history as the form “Karate”, why are you calling the true, effective style you’re talking about “Karate”?

      You might say “what’s in a name?”, but I’d say that if you’re using the name Karate, you’re adding fuel to Karate’s fire. Better to just call it “Fighting”, and leave the exotic Karate/Gung Fu terminology behind you.

      As for Kata, the old kata are no better than the “new” kata. They’re both empty sequences of movement, devoid of meaning until the performer adds his or her own meaning into them. In other words, a good fighter will add fighting spirit and their own experience of applied movement to their kata performance, and then perhaps they’ll get something out of the performance. In this case, it won’t matter which kata or which style the person chooses. So why perform kata at all? Spar instead. Drill instead. Shadowbox instead. Kata are useless to a fighter. Notes on training? Nah. A calling card from individual styles, is what they were and are.

      On the other hand, someone who can’t already fight won’t find anything of use in the empty kata forms they’re practicing. Kata are even more useless for beginners, then.

      On drills, no, you can’t train to “fight” in drills. You only train specific miniature skillsets in drills. Period. If two guys training a drill were to ever go all out, without rules, the drill would be lost and it would instantly turn into a real fight. Drills are DEFINED by the rules they’re practiced under. Any alternative viewpoint is- once again- magical thinking.

      Lastly with all due respect, the bulk of the rest of your post is made up of your theories of what the movements and positions in kata and kihon *might* have stemmed from, and *might* be used for. But what a waste of time it is to sit around theorizing about whether there’s any meaning in the pantomime of dodgy solo form exercises. In my opinion, one should watch actual fighting instead. If one must theorize, theorize about something which is obviously practical, instead of a rorschach-like kata which merely allows you to superimpose your own stream of consciousness onto it without fear of any contradiction.

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