When I recently visited a Fredericksburg martial arts studio, I came across a blog in which an Asian-American Judo expert went through a rather angry rant about urban legends that we Westerners have developed regarding the martial arts. He starts off with his college days back in the ‘70s, when the TV show Kung Fu was popular. He considers the show a racist stereotype – I have to admit ignorance on that matter. But he does strike out at a number of urban legends:
- Walking on Rice Paper: Rice paper is for writing, not for walking on. Apparently the opening of Kung Fu shows David Carradine walking across some rice paper without tearing it. The blogger called it “hokey”. This was made up for the TV show, and is not a real thing that Shaolin monks do.
- Taoist Wisdom: There is much Taoist wisdom handed down through the generations, but don’t look to Kung Fu’s Master Po for any meaningful distillation. The blogger called Po’s pronouncements “vague”. Hey, philosophy is vague enough as it is, without Hollywood mucking it up even more.
- Courtesy: The TV show also apparently gave a whole generation of would-be Shaolin priests an inordinate belief in their own abilities. Our blogger was approached by a classmate who wanted him to be his randori (free-style practice) partner, without ever having tried randori. This is like asking Eric Clapton for beginning guitar lessons. Despite what you hear about the egalitarian spirit of eastern disciplines, you just don’t do this kind of thing – it’s insulting. By the way, the student got his ass whupped.
- Black Belt: There are many misconceptions of how one attains a black belt. The common belief is that it is earned through shedding blood on your white or brown belt. It’s not nearly so dramatic – just an acknowledgement of competence, no blood required. By the way, the first level black belt means you have just started serious study.
- Hakama: the garment worn over a kimono was not adopted by martial arts fighters to “hide their feet movement” as legend suggests. In fact, during battle, wearers would hike up their garments and tie up the bottom so as not to trip. Aside from that, the Hakama was to samurai as jeans are to us.
- Swords: “Once a sword is drawn, it must taste blood”. Only in video games. How would a samurai clean and polish his sword under these circumstances? It’s another childish misinterpretation of an otherwise solemn warrior attitude.