Madison Grasshoppers Club Newsletter - Hidden in PLAY Sight

Hidden in PLAY Sight…a nontraditional view on the role of Martial Arts in Education

and why everyone - Young or Old - should be looking for it!

Hidden in PLAY Sight…a nontraditional view on the role of Martial Arts in Education

and why everyone - Young or Old - should be looking for it!

PART I - A Brief (re)Introduction

Hidden in PLAY Sight - a Madison Grasshoppers Club Article

Hidden in PLAY sight…and why everyone - Young or Old - should be looking for it!

“A 3-Part article deconstructing the modern cliche of Martial Arts”

PART I - A Brief (re)Introduction


Often people have a set expectation about things, Martial Arts included. Parents, especially, have a clear idea of what Martial Arts should do for their kids. This clear idea comes from either their own personal experience as they remember it from their own childhood, or, comes from advertising - inserting the messaging that supposedly matches a general parental range of expectations.

THIS article intends to turn all those expectations upside down and invite a different point of view on how these expectations can better match the individual characteristics of each unique child. Needless to say, this applies to anyone, not just parents and kids. The article contains 3 Parts, each one a necessary puzzle piece in exploring a different paradigm - outside of cliches and preconceived ideas.

We all have an idea of what Martial Arts are or should look like. Beyond movie scenes and stunts, we have seen ads and maybe Dojo windows around our neighborhood - and, eventually, we saw or have taken classes before. Very likely, if you have kids, you might have come across some form of Martial Arts school.

For the most part, in a traditional sense, a martial arts class starts with some form of acknowledgment, some include a pledge, some include loud displays of “chest beating” variations, and some are quiet and quieting...

Then of course there is some form of warm-up - more or less intense and shorter or longer - depending on the instructor's understanding of the physiological value of warm-ups. It also depends on the type of class, which ranges from the 45-minute production-line type of businesses to longer 60-90 (rarely) classes meant usually for a more mature adult audience.

Then the class progresses onto techniques. Usually, a few are repeated during a session, partners are exchanged, and forms prevail. During practice, one can also often notice a slew of manifestations common to our regular society - hierarchical segmentation based on seniority, then based on rank and skill.

In some cases, there might be a weapons segment as well, then the class usually ends with a workout (strength) segment or a stretching segment, and eventually a very brief meditative segment (not as common in highly commercialized schools).

Kids' classes tend to be louder and focus a lot more on games, fun, competitive elements, and rewards (where - sadly - belts and diplomas are awarded as often as the consuming membership families seem willing to pay for to reward the kids with a symbol of the achievement presumably acquired).

In many cases, ranking in kids programs really is an honest attempt to reflect the individual effort, but this also has a counter-productive side-effect as kids spend a tremendous amount of time preparing for these (usually) monthly tests, and the methodology used to arrive at these testing milestones is archaic and never centered on the kids' individual specifics but rather on the dogmatic structure of the school and overseeing organization that dictates how all ranks of all ages MUST be structured.

This routine takes place across the world, inside tens of thousands of martial arts schools and regardless of their origin and lineage.

It is so because it is set so.

During practice and throughout the years, participants are slowly conditioned to a specific routine and style, and ultimately this conditioning transfers from one generation of instructors to the next.

"Routine rules methodology."

Historically, martial arts were directly related to war, fighting, and dying for one cause or another in the service of one overlord or another. There was also the dramatic aspect of martial arts as used in performing arts, often serving a dual purpose - preservation of techniques and cultural/philosophical values, and transmitting specific stories and legends across space and time.

In terms of training, however, the methodology was a strict routine, often abusive, having the single scope of preparing warriors for battle which required intense mental conditioning and a high level of endurance coupled with a sense of abandonment to whatever the battle outcome might be.

In some sense, many find this approach to have a spiritual side, where potentially the warrior reaches a state of being that transcends reality and life. Thus, making it quite acceptable and honorable to die at any moment.

Over time, martial arts have adapted and transformed to fit within a society no longer bent on killing...and, a society that moved on technologically - to more lethal and convenient means to kill and destroy.

Except for the military, and law enforcement training, martial arts have metamorphosed into sports, abiding by strict rules, bound by points, stripped of most of the deadly elements, and turned into a lucrative industry. The kids segment of the population fueled phenomenal growth often inspired by movies, cartoons, and comic books. The adult segment split into a spiritual direction, a competitive direction, and a consumer-level direction.

The two elements that remained common, are (1) - the routine-based training tied to a strict adherence to lineage and style - with only a very few exceptions, such as MMA which slowly evolved into a hybrid between entertainment, competition, and fitness conditioning niche of its own, and (2) - continuing to remain a male-dominated activity (especially at managerial / ownership/decision-making level).

And, as society demanded it, the reward system used by contemporary martial arts became ingrained in mostly every style via colored belts, certificates, trophies, and ranks - this being especially prevalent in kids and youth programs. 

At higher levels of organizations, like in any modern corporate model, ranking extends beyond skill and the number of practice days recorded in a book and reaches into the realm of influence, politics..and money.

Whether this is a plus or a minus in terms of pedagogy, remains to be discussed. The bottom line is simple: it is so because it is set so.

This, in a nutshell, is a simplistic diagram of martial arts as they were not so long ago and as they are today in most cases - the exception being the woo-woo type of martial arts where people are dangerously brainwashed into paying large amounts of money to follow a single cult leader who supposedly teaches them how to blast boulders with their mind and make opponent fly 10 feet with a mere touch of their fingertips (sometimes even with no touch whatsoever, seriously rivaling Yoda at that point). Just like in everything else human, one will find both a middle ground AND the craziest extremes imaginable.

When it comes to Kids & Youth programs, the US has radically shifted to a service approach, and classes are designed to fit a specific and narrow set of parental expectations: FIRST, kids need to have fun and SECOND, kids need to learn discipline (often some parents expect their kids to be "taught" obedience).

Secondarily, a lot more kids are being brought to a martial arts school as a parental decision, rather than because the child was curious and desired to enter the realm of martial arts studies.

As a “service”, Martial Arts adopted a very predictable sales pitch that generally includes a free uniform, a free month of training, lots of images of happy kids, and canned messages of keywords that attempt to prompt a parent to sign-up the kids for classes. Insert cash register sound here...

Why this happened and what to do about it is explored in parts 2 and 3 of this article.

In rare cases, training involves community activities that mimic the relationships between village members, expanding beyond the practice mats in wonderful ways that provide lifelong values and memories. Such is the case of my training as a young kid, and I hold a great deal of gratitude in my mind and heart about those years of hard training, my Dojo peers, and my Teachers.


PART II - Unlearning to Learn

PART III - Hidden in PLAY Sight

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