Pretending to be wise. Pretending to be expert.

Hidden truths about karate.
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Pretending to be wise. Pretending to be expert.

Postby HanshiClayton » Sun Dec 21, 2008 12:40 am

I want to share two special words that will help you understand most of the oriental philosophy we get from martial arts masters:

  • Amphigory. This is airy nonsense that pretends to be wise, so that the reader is seduced into an attempt to understand it. Eventually the reader creates some deep thought that seems to fit, and attributes this wisdom to the author of the amphigory instead of to himself. The author is a con artist; the reader is his willing victim.

  • Philosophunculist. A “philosophunculist” is a ten-dollar word meaning "pretender." He pretends to know more than he does in order to impress others. For instance, he pretends to understand the true meaning of the amphigory when he really hasn't a clue.

Where do we see these behaviors in the martial arts? The short answer would be “everywhere.”

The martial arts are full of fortune-cookie sayings that make no sense until you have digested them and meditated upon them for quite a long time. They acquire a spooky aura of “wisdom” in the process. The truth is that these statements lost all meaning in translation, and any wisdom we find in them is self-generated. Some of the aphorisms make perfect sense, of course, but others? If you have to interpret and explain and apologize for them then you have been sucked in to the sticky mire of amphigory. You have been duped. You are worshiping a false idol.

The 1999 movie, Mystery Men, contains a parody of martial-arts amphigory. "You must be like the wolf pack, not like the six-pack." The film contains many examples.

Most Shotokan teachers are philosophunculists. They cannot explain their own katas, but they hide this from their students. They pretend to more knowledge than they have. (Funakoshi could not explain the applications of the Shotokan katas--- what chance do his students have?)

A pretender under attack will fight back in predictable ways. In traditional Japanese schools a student who asks questions of the master is severely disciplined, and is often beaten. Why? If you ask the pretender a question, especially about katas, he loses face. Put on the spot, the typical karate master resorts to one of these crafty strategies:

  • The sensei says, ”When your level is high enough, you will know.” This means you should sign another five-year contract to see if he is right.

  • The sensei raises his eyebrow and says, “Do you think you are ready for that knowledge?” It would be a mistake to answer "yes." It would be a direct challenge to the master. You might be beaten up or thrown out of the school.

  • The sensei shows you something completely different and makes you practice it for the rest of the evening. This is simple punishment.

  • The sensei "explains" by applying some painful lock or throw. When you pick yourself up, he asks you if you want to see it again. Don't say yes. It is even more painful the second time, and it just keeps getting worse.

  • The sensei claims that the move uses kukushite, the "secret hidden moves" of the kata. Just sign that five-year contract and he'll tell you the kata's deep, dark secrets. Someday.

Don’t be drawn in by this con game. If the sensei plays these tricks on you, find a different sensei.

Don’t be guilty of it. If you don't know the answers, then your duty is clear. You must seek them out. The answers exist. A person with a humble and sincere heart can find them.
Bruce D. Clayton, Ph.D.
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