March 2, 2024

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What did we do as martial artists before the internet By KJN Ronald W. Stone

What did we do as martial artists before the internet By KJN Ronald W. Stone

This is my fifty second year in the martial arts and as an old dinosaur I thought I might highlight some insights on the pre internet era of

martial arts. There are differences, some subtle and some much more obvious. To begin I should mention that in the sixties and seventies there were very few options to learn the martial arts in the United States. One usually started in the school nearest to their home, which nive times out of ten meant either Judo or Karate. Even Korean schools in the 70’s were still advertising Tae Kwon Do as “Korean Karate.”


The bulk of instruction here in the States was delivered by men who had been stationed overseas and who had learned their arts while in the military.  This meant that the instruction they gave to adolescents and children was like what they had learned in the military.  Harsh discipline and corporal punishment were the style for most clubs.  On my first day of Judo for example, after I was taught to do a forward, back and shoulder roll, the entire group of brown and black belts used me for throwing practice.  It was a sink or swim mentality which is a far cry from the "safe space" mentality of many of today’s schools.  


By the year 2000 I had trained in or visited in about a dozen schools of various disciplines and not once did I hear a student say to an instructor "I don't want to do that."  Even "I can't do that" was met with an instructor yelling "We don't say that here!  Here we say, 'I will do my best' or 'I will try harder'!"   Since the advent of the internet however, students seem to have more of a group victim mentality.  It seems that without the elementary school discipline of the past with such corrections as standing in a corner, going to the principal's office, or paddling (which no longer exists), students do not seem to respect authority, or fear repercussions as they once did.   Previously it seems to me the attitude was "Please teach me what you know.  I want to learn."  It seems however that today many have the attitude of "I'm paying you, so I want to learn the way I want it done.  Make me upset and I will go somewhere else."

I should note here that in the pre-Internet era, although I knew they existed, I never actually met a grandmaster.  Almost all my instructors were 4th and 5th degree masters and no one under 5th dan seemed to run his or her own school.  The higher ranks often trained among themselves and used lower dan ranks to teach the basics.   Nowadays masters are as abundant as ants at a picnic and grandmasters seem to be sprouting up all over the place as people self-promote, or seek promotions from federations willing to sell rank.  Also, back in the day you never ever asked an instructor to show you a technique, especially one above your belt level.  Students were expected to follow the instructor’s curriculum and trust them to teach you what was indicated.  You learned to walk before you ran. 


 Now that there are a million internet videos available, students try to absorb as many techniques as possible regardless of experience, often at the expense of learning important principles and applications first.  Originally martial arts training was principle based, not technique based and as students learned more techniques, they applied them to what they already knew about principles or usage. Over the years I have met countless dan level martial artists that can perform Poomse or katas very well, yet do not have the slightest idea what the moves represent, and In some cases have created their own misinterpretation of the movements and their meaning.  Poomse and katas were never meant to be interpreted.  they were intended to practice defensive techniques in the absence of a partner.  If someone is interpreting or exaggerating, then you can presume they do not have correct knowledge of its intent.  

  The martial arts techniques were never meant to be "Interpreted or theorized.  They were set down as intended movements with rationale already established for them.  Not knowing this because most westerners have never attended a master or grandmaster course such as a KMAIA event.  Remember, your opinion or belief is not correct simply because that's how you "interpret it."  Without knowing the "why and when" of a technique, merely knowing the "how" is somewhat limiting.  By way of an example, in the post internet era I tried a technique I had seen on a video. I attempted to use a powerful pressure point technique on my instructor (with permission of course) but try as I might it simply didn't work at all.  The problem was that the video failed to precisely explain it from various angles and situations, and as a result my grip was off by a big enough margin to cause it to fail.  It was sort of like watching a video that explains how to tighten a screw.  The problem is a video can't let you feel how tight is tight?"  That is why I don't watch many of these videos much anymore except for entertainment value. Even today as a grandmaster I simply practice what I am being taught now and don't try to get ahead of myself.  Surely pride cometh before a fall. 

Another post internet phenomena is that of rapid promotion.    Historically there were age and time- at- rank limitations on advancement which today seems largely to have gone the way of the dodo bird.  Many twenty-year-old grandmasters point out that some of the past legends were young when they became grandmasters, but the truth is that most of the true grandmaster from Korea, Okinawa and China were killed off by the thousands during World War Two.  Those who were left took their places as best as they could.  Sadly, it is also a fact that many of those young higher ranks were also promoted by Virtue of having political power, media presence or military rank.  (One Korean general was famed for sending higher ranking martial artists into fatal combat in order to insure his martial arts high standing.   Once this stabilized however the promotion process was reestablished, in some cases by government setting requirement for the standards.     

Today, post internet there seems to be a lot of internet certificates and brand-new federations set up just to sell rank and make money. Some have been making millions for years doing it. I don’t remember back in the day ever even requesting rank. One received new rank when and only when the instructor felt we had earned it. Master and Grandmaster rank was awarded by committee or federation approval, never by one black belt simply handing it out to another. Certainly no one in pre internet times ever bought rank through the mail or was promoted sight unseen that I am aware of. Today, with instant communication worldwide some enterprising individuals quickly realized that if they promoted thousands to high rank, they themselves would be insulated from criticism. After all, if you claim the leader is a fraud, then thousands rise to defend his honor for obvious reasons. After all, if he or she is proven a fraud then all their lower rank promotions are too, and they would never allow that to happen.

Finally, we come to the term "haters".  That is clearly a post internet term, as is trolling and cyberbullying.  Back in the day if you had a problem with someone you approached them in person and had it out face to face.  It was "out up or shut up."  Now countless unseen faces have learned to create numerous internet addresses to make it seem like their complaints are shared by others.   Someone pointed out recently that a lie repeated often enough soon seems to become the truth.  Today many people are heard to say things like "Yeah I read that too so it must be true."  Sorry but no. the truth is the truth regardless of how many refuses to believe it.

Now please realize that these are merely generalizations.  Obviously although I trained in a dozen schools over these past 50 years in the United States and in Mexico I did not visit every school or every state in the Union.  These are my experiences and observations but when added to the hundreds of other martial artists of all ranks that I have met and befriended I believe they may have some validity.

About the author: R.W. Stone is currently a practicing veterinarian in Central Florida. He is an avid horseman, a master ranked martial artist, a best-selling western author, and a firearms enthusiast. After joining a martial arts school in 1970 Stone started studying Yudo with a Korean grandmaster. He eventually became a member of the Judo team of the University of Illinois. It was at the University that a Korean classmate and friend introduced him to Tae Kwon do. After graduating veterinary college, he found the martial arts becoming too sports oriented and eventually after moving from Miami to Central Florida he sought out a Hapkido grandmaster. Currently Stone is ranked 8th dan in Haemukwan Hapkido, a 4th dan in Daehan Yudo and a second dan in Kukki Taekwondo. He is the Hapkido instructor at the American Dragon Martial Arts Academies.

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