MARTIAL ARTS MYTHS AND LEGENDS
There is a lot of myths in the world of martial arts , here we will present some of them and try to separate facts from fiction.
Real ninjas are a myth
In fact, ninjas and the arts that they learnt date back to over eight hundred years ago. The ninja families developed their skills in order to protect themselves against the likes of Samurai warriors. It is this humble beginning that gives ninjutsu its very unique style: escape if you can, if you can’t, kill. There was nothing unethical to the ninja – he would throw sand in the enemies eyes, stab them when they were down, anything to protect life and limb. Over time the ninjas were used as spies, bodyguards (right up to the last emperor), and assassins for hire.
Ninjas wore masks when fighting and black clothes; it is their uniform.
This is entirely false. These days most ninjas who are working
as bodyguards would wear a suit or similar modern clothing. So when might a
ninja have worn a mask? Maybe eight hundred years ago if they had to hide in
the trees – but even then it was not part of a “uniform”. A ninja wearing a
mask is no different to a soldier wearing camouflage paint. It depends entirely
on the environment and the need for hiding. This, of course, is true also of
Ninjas were able to vanish
This myth has come about because of the first ninja rule: get away. If a ninja can avoid fighting, he will. In order to achieve this goal, he might need to create a diversion of some kind, such as throwing shuriken, setting off a smoke bomb (as in the image above), or throwing sand in the opponent’s eyes. By the time the opponent recovered from the distraction, the ninja would be gone. There is no magic involved here – just commonsense.
Ninjas only use ancient Japanese weapons
Yes – they do, but not exclusively. Ninjas are often trained in modern weaponry as well – and many of the so-called “ancient” weapons are not ancient at all – they are modern takes on ancient concepts (such as the shuriken whose origins lie in coins as mentioned above). Also note in the list of disciplines above “Kayakujutsu” – this is the art of gunpowder. Ninjas have long used gunpowder to their advantage – either to create smoke screens, or even bombs. In the video clip above you can see Ninjutsu skills applied to gun disarmament. Notice how each movement is not just to remove the weapon, but to use it against the assailant in often unorthodox ways.
7 Samurai Myths The popular image of the Japanese Samurai warrior as a well educated, spiritual and honorable gentlemen does not tell the whole story. Each generation tells the story of the Samurai according to its own values and attitudes rather than based on history. Some common myths about Samurai include:
1. Seppuku for honor
In popular mythology Samurai are quick to commit Seppuku to preserve their honor. Seppuku (åˆ‡è…¹) is a Japanese term for ritual suicide by cutting into the stomach with a short sword called a wakizashi or knife called a tantÅ.
While it is true that Samurai warriors would sometimes kill themselves by Seppuku, their motivation was not always to preserve their honor. Most Samurai that killed themselves were about to be captured and executed. Therefore, the primary motivation for Seppuku was often very practical: to avoid a terrible death at the hands of one's enemies. There was another even more practical reason for ritual suicide by Seppuku, if a Samurai warrior was executed his property was not passed on to his heirs but if he killed himself it was. Therefore, suicide protected the Samurai's property.
2. Samurai don't retreat
Studies indicate that Samurai were as practical on the battle field as any other warrior. Reports written by Samurai warriors indicated they sometimes attacked and then retreated when they began to experience casualties
3. Samurai were dependent on swords
The Samurai warrior is usually portrayed as being entirely dependent on his sword (katana) for fighting. Indeed, the Bushido teaches that the katana is the Samurai's soul. However, in reality the Samurai used a wide range of weapons from short knifes (tantÅ) to cannon. Research indicates that arrows and long spears called yari were the weapons of choice in large battles. In feudal Japan, katana were indeed prized possessions passed from generation to generation. In fact, they may have been considered too precious to be used in battle as they were often the the Samurai's most expensive possession.
4. Samurai Gentlemen
In popular lore Samurai were all loyal and law abiding. Modern romanticism about Samurai portrays them as diligent followers of the BushidÅ code of conduct. In fact, infighting and disputes amongst Samurai were commonplace and Samurai could be disloyal or deceitful. Examples of wayward Samurai are easy to find in history such as Akechi Mitsuhide who betrayed his master and committed multiple acts of treachery.
5. Samurai were few
The first comprehensive survey in the Meiji era counted the Samurai at 1,774,000 out of a total population of about 25 million people. That means that Samurai were about 7% of the population at the end of the 19th century. In fact, many modern Japanese can find some Samurai connections in their family tree.
6. Samurai were merciful
Samurai are often portrayed as having modern ideas about fairness and justice. Samurai are even depicted as being protectors of the poor and weak against the tyranny of the elite. Nothing could be further from the truth. Samurai were used by lords to extract taxes and tribute from commoners. A Samurai could kill a commoner for the slightest insult and were widely feared by the Japanese population. Samurai are said to have tested new swords on prisoners. It is unlikely that many Samurai had modern ideas about fairness and equality as they are portrayed in popular myth.
7. Samurai were all battle hardened
The Edo era saw an extended time of peace during which no major battles were fought. During this long peace many Samurai became scholars, bureaucrats, administrators or leisurely gentlemen rather than warriors. The Samurai gradually lost their military function and their katana and wakizashi became a status symbol more than a weapon
Myth number 10. “The Shaolin Monks were the originators of all martial arts”
The Shaolin Monastery is said to have been established circa 477 AD. This is approximately 10 years after a pious individual name Bodhidharma , who later became known as Budah spread his teachings to eager disciples of the Henan Province in China. It is a well known historical fact that combat arts were practiced long before that time period. The Greek art Pankration meaning (All Powers – referring to “anything goes”) was adopted into the Olympics around 648 BC. This martial art was a combination of boxing and wrestling and had almost no rules save for biting and eye gouging.
Boxing or pugilism has been around for even longer than Pankration with a depiction of two pugilists battling each other on an ancient Mesopotamian tablet that archeologists dated to over 7,000 years old. The earliest evidence of individuals fighting in competition with any sort of gloves can be dated back to the Minoans of Crete and Sardinia circa (1500 – 900 BC).
The very word “Martial Art” has war within its definition. The fact that warfare is as old as humanity itself can lead one to believe that warriors or soldiers have been honing their combat skills since the beginning of time. With that stated, it is quite clear that the martial arts or combat arts have been in development and practice long before the Shaolin Monastery ever existed.
Myth number 9. “The martial arts were developed in order to help develop spiritual well being and were never developed for violence.”
Martial Art; the name says it all. Although there are sects or styles that practice a form of martial arts for spiritual development; it is what it is. The Martial Arts were developed for combat. Warfare has been around as long as mankind and since there has been a need for war and warriors there has always been a need to develop and hone combat skills. The very nature of the martial arts is controlled violence. The Roman writer (Vegetius) coined the phrase during the latter Roman time frame “Si vis pacem parabellum” meaning peace through strength or (if you want peace prepare for war). Many martial artists have adopted this philosophy through the ages. Make no mistake the nature of war is brutal and violent. The martial arts were developed for combat.
Myth number 8. “Martial arts training cultivates the bully mentality in practitioners”
Although training in the purest form of combat develops the warrior mindset; it does not cultivate the “Bully mentality”. Unfortunately, bullies are born or forged through social evolution. The bottom line is that bullies will gravitate towards anything that can make them a more fearsome individual. Perhaps bullies may be attracted to martial arts training. The mere training in the martial arts does not cultivate the bully mentality however. The person either is or isn’t a bully. A good instructor will spot this trait and prevent that person from training or try to change that pattern through a combination of positive and negative reinforcement.
Myth number 7. “You must be physically fit in order to practice martial arts”
The martial arts are a great way to get in shape; but you don’t have to be a physical specimen to get involved in training. The martial arts a functional and intense practice can develop an awesome physique, but everyone starts somewhere. If you ever walk into a training center and they tell you that you must be in great physical condition in order to train, it may be because of that particular program. A good suggestion may be to start at another place that is less intense until you are comfortable with your fitness level. The bottom line here is we are all ultimately responsible for pushing ourselves and that the great thing about martial arts training. The martial arts is an individual activity that allows you to become as fit or developed as you can make yourself.
Myth number 6. “You legally have to warn your attackers that you are trained in the martial arts or have a black belt”
Just not true. I can tell you from both research and from experience there is no law that says you must warn someone you are “trained” before they attack you or before you attempt to protect yourself. As a rule of thumb I always leave my attacker a way out. Sun Tzu wrote: “Desperate men fight the hardest.” With that said I always try to ask if they really want to do this and then tell them I don’t want to do this. This does two things for me. If someone is witnessing the event unfolding I give them the opportunity to stop and I don’t appear the aggressor. There is a little more to it, but this is a way to de-escalate the attacker’s situation all the while escalating your own.
Myth number 5. “As a black belt your hands and feet are registered as deadly weapons”
Not really sure where this one ever started, but it’s just not true … yet. Unfortunately, there are some “Ultimate Grand Universal Masters” out there charging serious cash to register their student’s hands and feet as lethal weapons. If you ever come across this, you know that it is a bunch of malarkey. Its also just downright dishonest.
Myth number 4. “Throwing your knife is effective in self defense situations”
May I just say, that common sense tells one that if they throw their weapon away there is no guarantee that they will hit their desired target or take it out of commission. The other common sense factor tells us that if you throw it away; you no longer have it. Weapons are of much better use in your hands where you control them.
Myth number 3. “One martial art style is more effective than another
I have been pretty fortunate in that my martial arts teachers saw the importance of training us in unarmed and armed combat in all of the ranges to include the ground. With that said it is pretty hard to believe that the early masters never saw the importance of being well rounded. The Ultimate Fighting Championship and the “No Holds Barred” fighting competitions have done a really good job showing us that no one style is really better than another. At the end of the day it comes down to the trainer or instructor; their work ethic and philosophy.
Many for example say that there is no grappling in Karate. I can sincerely call those folks liars. The Oyattas, train grappling, joint locks and manipulations in their style of Kempo. I have personally been trained in this style of Kempo under the late master Hart and in Moo Duk Kwan Taekwando, and have been trained in joint locks, joint manipulations, takedowns and ground techniques. At the end of the day its not the style per say, as much as it is the instructor.
Myth number 2. “You can kill a man by striking him in the nose and pushing the bone into his brain”
Anyone who knows anatomy and physiology knows and understands that the nose is made up of soft tissue known as cartilage; and what’s behind the nose inside the skull is the sinus cavity. The brain is not even close, and the nose doesn’t have any bones per say. Needless to say this is not the deadly strike that many believe it is. In fact there have been cases where sharp objects have penetrated the nose and sinus cavity and never caused mortal damage. There are even many cases where the brain that is slightly above the sinus cavity has been punctured and the victims survived without long lasting side effects.
Myth number 1. “The Death Touch”
In spite of all of the hype behind deadly martial arts pressure points and death points; there has been extremely little scientific evidence to validate the claim of the “Dim Mak” or death touch. With that said, I have personal experience while training under the late Master Stan Hart; where I have seen men knocked unconscious with but a touch or light tap to certain areas. I might also add that there was more showmanship to this feat than functionality. There are places on the body more vulnerable than others that can alter physiological changes in the body when manipulated.
There are far too many factors to be considered when attempting to manipulate these targets for it to be considered effective. I also happened to notice that when Master Hart wanted to demonstrate certain techniques he would specifically choose certain individuals based on body size and composition. At the end of the day even if one could kill someone with just a touch using the penetrating force of their “Chi” (Essence) moving targets are hard to hit, not to mention the physiological affects of fight or flight that change the accessibility to vulnerable areas of the anatomy.
When fight or flight kicks in the heart races, blood flow to the fine extremities is restricted and the blood flow increases to large muscle groups such as the Chest, Shoulders, back and legs. The muscles swell with blood and cover the areas where nerves may be exposed. Adrenaline and dopamine course through the body which change the way pain is perceived. These factors alone make the alleged death touch nearly impossible. Couple these affects on the target; with the very same affects on the practitioner, the papillary dilation, (tunnel vision) and loss of fine motor function added to a moving target make this unlikely technique very improbable.
Although the “Ninja death touch” may not work; it is completely possible to bring the body to mechanical failure through the use of mechanics and leverage applied to vulnerable areas of the body, such as leverage points, joints, bones and soft tissue areas. When it all comes down to it trust science not legend.
Unfortunately, far too many people have bought into these myths and swallowed the hype associated with them. Hopefully this article can help you or perhaps someone that you know the next time some martial arts weirdo spits out the aforementioned hype. Till next time, good luck and good training.