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In Defence of Mediocrity
Editorial by John N. Edwards from Dragon Times #14


We at Dragon Times enjoy such a special relationship with our readers that it seems that within a minute or two of starting a phone conversation, we have known them for years. This may result from a positive impression they form of us from reading Dragon Times, or it may be that the material we publish just attracts nice people. Suffice it to say that working in this office is a lot of fun, and extremely satisfying. Readers often bring up the topic of the "other" martial arts publications when they speak to us. It is clear from what they say that they dislike their lack of serious content, inaccuracies, wild exaggerations, and overly commercial approach to the subject. Some customers are so upset that they become quite vocal and color their conversations with words and phrases we can't print here. From this we have concluded that they are not happy with most of what they find on the newsstands, despite the fact that many of the worst titles have long since disappeared and many more become marginal as time marches on.

Perhaps the expectations of better educated readers are higher than the industry can or wants to achieve; perhaps consumers are looking for information so obscure as to be unsuitable for a commercial magazine; perhaps not enough high quality information on the martial arts is available to permit the production of even one good monthly publication on a regular basis. If we examine these questions we will learn that while many publishers are at fault, as with everything else in life there are shades of gray between the outright commercial rag, and the weird but well-intentioned newsletter. I do not actually intent to support or defend the industry of which we are part, rather I will attempt to play the role of Devil's advocate as we explore these tiny tributaries and back waters of the publishing world, the glossy martial arts magazines.

The Business
It will not be a surprise to our readers to learn that the vast majority of magazines are published for the purpose of generating advertising revenue and from it, a profit for the owner. To succeed in this endeavor, publishers need to make the title as attractive as possible to the broadest segment of the population, while at the same time spending the absolute minimum on its production and content. To achieve this goal they have almost always resorted to the tried and trusted methods of the supermarket tabloids

The Rewards
There are many benefits to this commercial approach to publishing. By appealing to the lower levels of the social pyramid you target the largest and least critical readership. A readership that is by definition entry level, and therefore a good market for the wares of magazine advertisers. Thus a cycle is created that repeats constantly to the benefit of all concerned except, possibly, the consumer. The young student develops a passing interest in karate, buys a magazine, and from it enough in the way of equipment, books, or videos to satisfy his immediate needs. After a while he moves on to be replaced by the next generation of would-be martial artist. As this audience is transitory and therefore unlikely or unable to discriminate between good, bad, and indifferent, it is not necessary or even desirable in the minds of some magazine owners to have editors and writers who know anything about the subject upon which they write. Therefore, almost anything that is sent to popular magazines is published, providing it is free, arrives on or just before their deadline in an easy to use format, and is accompanied by photographs. Little is checked, verified, or substantiated. As I was told years ago by the editor of one of the largest U.S. martial arts magazines; "we donıt have time, and it doesnıt matter anyway!" Articles that enjoy a certain amount of popularity or, indeed, notoriety on first publication, tend to reappear with monotonous regularity.

To meet print dates, myths and legends are made into historical data and under pressure to increase sales, folklore is made into fact. Some editors have claimed in the past that "factionalizing" material is acceptable if it is done in a speculative way. I personally do not understand at what point it is acceptable for fiction to be turned into factChoki Motobu A Real Fighter.(1) This famous karate master first surfaced in English language literature with the publication of Peter Urbanıs Karate Dojo in which he was described as a giant of 7'­4" "with hands and feet like monstrous hams." Several years later Robert Trias claimed that Motobu's height had been exaggerated and he was actually only 6'­8" tall. Richard Kim, regarded by some as an authority, claimed he was in fact 6'­0" tall and weighed around 200 lbs. However, according to a 1921 eye-witness account published in Kingu magazine of his fight with, and defeat of, a young European boxer, he is described as being around 5'­3" in height. Obviously an accurate way of ascertaining his height would have been to consult official records, or in their absence, to compare him with someone of known height such as Yasuhiro Konishi with whom he was photographed frequently. By doing this it was easy to deduce that he was around 5'­2" tall and weighed approximately 150 lbs., information later confirmed by Takehiro Konishi the son of Yasuhiro. Thus, according to "popular" literature, in the thirty years following his death Choki Motobu had gained as much as 150 lbs. in weight and more than two feet in height!

It is easy to criticize this sort of approach from the high moral ground but from a commercial standpoint it was very successful. It worked for a long time, made a lot of money and, as in the minds of many magazine publishers distortion of historical fact is a victimless crime, they felt that no real harm had been done. In fairness to them it has to be pointed out that publishing companies with as many as nine monthly martial arts titles simply did not have the expertise, time, or resources to do anything other than fill up the pages with anything and everything they could out their hands on, even if it meant recycling the same article constantly with a few changes here and there, and a different byline.

The Effects
The pursuit of the almighty dollar by magazine publishers damaged the image of the martial arts and led, inevitably, to their decline. Poorly produced magazines featuring members of the "clueless" school of martial arts, and paid for by unsavory and often deceptive advertising created in the minds of the public an image of the martial arts that was less than favorable. This combined with the antics of B movie stars from Hong Kong in movies that were described by Gung Fu authority Robert W. Smith as "vehicles for violence with no redeeming value," (2) that "lowered considerably the already low level of Chinese film," (3) and "stimulate violence and hatred," (4) presented martial arts as the exclusive province of the thug, bully, and psychopath, an image that Hollywood was as anxious as ever to embellish. Thus activities that were considered so valuable in a cultural and historic sense they were supported by wealthy and powerful Japanese industrialists like Ryoichi Sasagawa; that were widespread in the Japanese university system, obligatory for Japanese police officers and commonly practiced in temples in concord with religious rites dating back to time immemorial; these activities were dragged down to the level of the street in this country of ours, and then, finally, into the gutter.

At this point, like the pyromaniac who accidentally burns his own house down, those most responsible for the tragedy began to wring their hands as sales slumped and profits dwindled. Stirred from complacence to panic at their loss of earnings, they furiously set about creating more "stars," more magazines, more corny martial arts books and videos, the premise being that it worked once, it will work again! It didn't. Figuratively speaking, once the patient is brain dead there is not much you can do, although it must be said that the actor who enjoyed the greatest notoriety did make more money for his handlers after his death than he did in life, a fact that prompted martial artist and historian Donn Dreager to refer to him as "the richest guy in the graveyard." According to Robert Smith; "Kung Fu movies are to action cinema what professional wrestling is to athletics." (5) And the prime offender? "many believe this crud-art form was really stimulated by the boyish attractiveness of Bruce Lee, who made $9 million in three years." (6)

Legitimate Chinese martial artists agreed wholeheartedly and deplored this infantile depiction of their martial culture. Sifu Liu Gin Zan (7) in his book Hakaku Mon Shokaku Ken stated: "I understand that Bruce Lee who created the Chinese Kempo boomSpractised Spring Poem Fist (Wing Chun/Yongchun Quan). Jackie Chan, who played comical roles practiced Ko Family fist. To our regret Southern Fist has been acceptedSonly in this way." (translator's note "as silly movies.") teaching a variety of martial arts

The commercial martial arts industry never did recover. It was consumed by its own excesses and is today a shadow of its former self. A dozen or more magazines have gone to a better place, and with them the publishers and writers who fanned the flames of imaginary controversies monthly to heat the boiler and turn the wheels of the great engine of the phoney martial arts (PMA) industry. Their days of glory are gone and like the herds of bison that once wandered the plains in great numbers they will never return. And like the bison those that survive serve as a useful reminder to us all of the dangers of greed and excess. The interest of today's more sophisticated consumer is in genuine martial arts. Sales of the PMA comic books that survive are dwindling, while those of more serious martial arts publications grow strongly. Dragon Times, for example, is now available in hundreds of branches of Barnes & Noble, Borders Books & Music, and Hastings Entertainment, as well as independent bookstores and newsstands across North America. As quality reading material is made available to enthusiasts they become better informed and more discerning. Images of pajama clad figures striking bizarre poses on magazine covers no longer sell magazines and as the advertisers drift away, the lights go out all over PMA land. Conclusion The benefit of the magazine and cinema generated boom to legitimate martial arts schools was short-lived and marginal. It was far easier for students to take a short course in a commercial school and emerge with a coveted black belt believing themselves to be qualified, than sweat it out with a genuine instructor. You could even pay a little extra and get a title as well a Ph.D. in self-deception if you like Shihan is my all time favorite. Leaner and meaner from having lived through the PMA boom the best genuine teachers emerged to spread the word and carry on the tradition. Today the level of training in legitimate U.S. karate clubs is higher than before, interest in traditional and ancient forms of karate is increasing strongly, and I am pleased to say with the publication of this and other titles dealing with genuine martial arts, readers now have a choice between PMA and journalism.

The Future Of Karate
The Salt Lake City affair confirmed my suspicions that anything involved with the Olympic movement was available for the right price, a fact now attested to by the Australians who promoted Sydney as a venue for the next Olympics. Clearly, if it's possible to favor one city over another, it must also be possible to favor one activity over another when the time comes for entry into the Olympic movement. The lesson is clear, participation in the games is a more question of cash than the principles laid down by the founders of the modern Olympic Movement. Given this knowledge and it has been an open secret for decades it's difficult to imagine why the Olympic karate movement has been sitting around for so long waiting for the acceptance call to come from Switzerland. If inclusion was uppermost on their minds perhaps they should have done as the Salt Lake Olympic organizers did and provided the necessary incentives.

Perhaps it's better that they didn't. If we look at martial type activities in the context of the Olympic movement we can see that they have not fared well. The Russians cheated at fencing and were caught, and marksmanship was dominated by "amateur" army officers from Communist bloc countries. On the field, weapon events like the javelin, discus, and hammer were always won by Russian "ladies" bigger than the average brick outhouse, with a penchant for vetinary medicines and no discernible female characteristics something that had not been envisaged in the early days of the Olympic movement. Judo, too, suffered fatal damage from exposure in the Olympic context. Judo was chosen by Japan as a new Olympic sport for the 1964 Tokyo games, the prerogative of any nation willing and able to spend the sort of money involved in hosting the games. Japan in the early sixties was standing on the threshold of its forthcoming economic miracle while still looking back at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, millions of war dead in unmarked graves throughout Asia, and military humiliation at the hands of the Allies.

The inclusion of a remnant of its martial past as an Olympic sport, and one at which it could easily prevail, was viewed as a way of restoring national pride and saving the nationıs face, a concept more important to the Japanese than any foreigner can comprehend. Before Japan could begin its economic miracle the people had to be able to raise their heads in pride. Jigoro Kano, the father of Judo, had been a giant of the pre-war Olympic movement so it all seemed so appropriate. Japan would be returned to the family of nations, make its mark on the Olympic movement, and, if all went as planned, win a great patriotic victory. Ironically Kano, who embraced Baron Pierre de Coubertin's vision of an Olympic games for the modern world, just as fervently declared his opposition to judo becoming a part of it. According to his assistant Minoro Mochizuki, when the founder of the modern Olympics suggested that Judo be included, Kano told him that, "it was impossible as judo was not a sport." Judo in the fifties was at its pinnacle. Since its introduction into Europe and America at the turn of the 20th century it had been adopted by police forces and military organizations as an effective but safe form of self defence/restraint. Japanese experts such as S. Uenishi and Yukio Tani had travelled Europe giving demonstration and challenging, successfully, some of the best known boxers and wrestlers of the day, despite the latterıs huge weight and height advantages. They built a reputation for judo that was well-nigh unassailable. Kano's judo and a number of the jujutsu schools upon which it was based, became part of the fabric of European and American society, institutions in fact, activities that were considered wholesome, useful, and probably more importantly at that time, respectable. Indeed, one dojo in London's exclusive West End boasted an instructor for ladies, a Miss Robinson, who from her photo we can see taught in a stylish but very modest combination of judo jacket and bloomers.

The thing that most appealed to early observers was that using jujutsu/judo it was possible for a small man to overcome an opponent superior in weight and stature. Like Colt's single action pistol in 19th century America, jujutsu was, for unarmed Europeans, the great equalizer and it is clear from contemporary accounts that this is what appealed to the Edwardians. Diminutive experts like Yukio Tani would "take on" (9)anyone for a wager and beat them convincingly and fairly. To their credit, many of the professional fighters who were beaten by Japanese jujutsu instructors praised their skill and admitted that against them, the lethal uppercuts and devastating body punches that had served them so well in the ring (and outside), were of limited use However, when Kano was formulating Judo he realized that as an educator the most effective techniques of the old jujutsu schools would have to be abandoned as they were too dangerous. Clearly it was unwise to teach high school students techniques that previously were considered so effective in combat that they were taught only to family members, and then only under circumstances of the utmost secrecy. Wrist locks, strikes to vulnerable areas, gouges and throws designed to cause, by themselves, serious injury to the person being thrown were all removed and, as the result, the need for special clothing established. Whereas the traditional jujutsu practitioner found it effective to kick, punch, gouge, grab a wrist, leg, ear, nose or fingers, the Judoka had to have something designed for him to take hold of, such as the reinforced collar of a special judo uniform, before he could perform effectively. To counter criticism of the emasculation of Jujutsu in order to create Judo, contests were held between Kano's students and the representatives of other, older schools of jujutsu to demonstrate the merits of both, and decide which was the most effective.

The public relations exercise was successful for Judo but not without the help of one of the most prominent jujutsu exponents of the time from the Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu movement. Using old, and lethal jujutsu techniques like yama arashi rather than the modern judo techniques, this stalwart disposed of the opponents of Kodokan judo with ease. His story was romanticized in the excellent prewar black and white movie epic, Sugata Sanshiro, (10) copies of which can still occasionally be found on video. According to several contemporary chroniclers he was so ashamed of the subterfuge that he moved to Kyushu, became a reporter, and took up the study of kyudo.(11) This systemization and regulation of Judo continued as the art moved towards its metamorphosis into a sport. Weight limits were imposed and the practice of kata all but eliminated in favor of pure competition. Many techniques were rejected as being too difficult to perform in a competitive environment, and the Japanese heavyweight performers became the stars of Judo, as they were the only ones who could deal with the challenge from the big Europeans and Americans. The word "player" began to replace the more traditional "judoka" or martial artist. In practice Olympic Judo turned out to be very boring for the all important spectators

Unlike Sumo where bouts take a few seconds and the contest clearly goes one way or the other, Judo did not have the necessary attributes to satisfy the common man who watched it on television; simple rules and an easy to discern, rapid, and conclusive winner. Before its inclusion in the Olympic games, judo was so common in Europe that almost every high school gym hosted a club in the evening. Japanese experts like Kenshiro Abe were in great demand and travelled constantly giving seminars. In England two large factories worked around the clock producing thousands of uniforms

All the elements are in place for a restaging of this farce. The scene is set and the players have taken up their positions. The organizers of the Olympic karate movement dream of the influence, power, and money that they believe membership will bring them. Commercial sponsors, in their mind's eye, see their logos displayed discretely of course on millions of television sets around the world. Young men, yet to master the basics of karate, dream of mounting the Olympic podium with the strains of their national anthem in their ears. Forget it! Karate does not make or attract enough money to be an Olympic sport. As the strongest sponsors of Olympic taekwondo soon discovered, their investments turned sour. Invest money in nothing and you get nothing back, a simple concept that these multi-national commercial giants should have been able to grasp. The dreams of karate officials will remain dreams. If they had really wanted to get into the Olympics they should have taken advantage of the generosity of Sasagawa Ryoichi (and his bottomless check book for that all important Olympic donation) who gave untold millions to the karate movement when he was alive, while the karate organizations bickered amongst themselves constantly, frustrating his efforts.

Beach volleyball, rather than karate, is my model for the perfect Olympic sport and, based on its painless and very rapid acceptance by the IOC, it seems they agree with me. A little known activity from Southern California that requires a beach, constant sunshine, and blue skies, it was not an obvious candidate for Olympic sport status given the fact that so few people are involved in it. In fact, the basic requirements for the sport rule out around 80% of the world's population unless, like the bobsled team from Jamaica who competed in the winter Olympics, they are incredibly dedicated. However, from the standpoint of promoters, and therefore the IOC, it is an ideal Olympic sport. It has strong commercial backing, a dog could understand the rules, and it involves nearly naked young women glistening with suntan lotion

Competition karate, on the other hand, is exceedingly boring to watch. The common man cannot easily determine who has won, and finds it therefore, unsatisfying. The rampant nationalism that kept Judo on Japanese TV screens is absent, there are no underdogs to cheer for as there was once with jujutsu no 150 pound weakling humiliating a big bully by means of skill and audacity. As far as commercial sponsors are concerned the average karate man pays less for his equipment and tuition in a year than a beach volley ball player lays out for suntan lotion in a month and even the best uniforms cost considerably less than a pair of those famous French sunglasses. To make matters worse for potential sponsors of Olympic karate, it's impossible to ascertain from the various governing bodies exactly how many people are involved in karate, whereas those interested in beautiful, scantily clad females, and beer, are legion.

Yet those bent on Olympic status for competition karate, from Berlin to Bombay, ignore these facts and continue to dream of grey flannel trousers with blue blazers, of expense accounts without limit, first class airline tickets, five star hotels and restaurants, and a life of circling the globe repeatedly on Olympic business. Dream on. The Olympics is in business to make money for the Olympics and its sponsors and there isn't enough money in karate for them to be interested, particularly in the wake of the taekwondo debacle. If you need proof consider this. When in 1975, with 6 million members in more than 72 countries, WUKO launched its own range of karate equipment, it failed in less than a year despite the fact that it was extremely well financed, beautifully made, and heavily promoted. (13)

Personally I am not concerned if karate does receive Olympic status. Unlike Judo which was damaged because it was a single discipline artificially distilled from ancient schools of jujutsu, alternatives to sport karate exist in great numbers. These will continue, and I believe, become stronger if sport karate declines. Most of the growth that has taken place in the karate world over the past five years has been in the area of real karate. This seems to have undermined the confidence of the politicians who control sport karate to an extent that they have sought the support of well respected teachers of real karate in an effort to give themselves a semblance of legitimacy. Last summer, for example, an emissary was sent from Tokyo to Naha City in Okinawa in an attempt to win the support of Morio Higaonna for the Olympic karate movement. At the seminar Higaonna sensei was giving the representative insisted on honoring him with an award which would in Japanese eyes

Real karate is far too dangerous to practise as a sport, Miyagi, Mabuni, and Uechi knew itParadoxes of Defence published in 1599, and by many real fighters since that time from every martial discipline. They were made by the founders of the karate movement, all of whom were opposed to competition. However the promoters of sport karate will not, or worse, cannot see that promoting karate as a safe sport is to admit that it is not effective for personal defense. Russian roulette is safe only if you remove the bullets from the gun.

When I think of Olympic karate I am reminded of a scene from that cinematic masterpiece of Akira Kurosawa's, Nana Nin No Samurai (Seven Samurai). A highly regarded swordsman is goaded into a contest with a noisy, aggressive, and clearly ignorant samurai who has a very high opinion of his fencing ability. Knowing the reputation of the swordmaster, he wants to fight him in order to make a name for himself. The master agrees but insists that, to avoid serious injury, they fight with bamboo swords. The combatants face each other in a moment of high drama, then attack simultaneously. The samurai, exultant, claims victory. The master quietly rebukes him saying that in a real contest he would have died. This is all too much for the braggart who insists they fight again, this time with real swords. The sword master finally agrees and as he strikes his opponent for a second time we witness in stunning slow motion the difference between a martial art and a sport. The millisecond in timing, the millimeter in distance, the lethal minutiae that are the difference between life and death, victory and defeat. What the sword master understood from the first contest, his opponent did not live long enough to learn from the second.

After more than twenty-five years experience at the cutting edge, if you will forgive the pun, of the martial arts; membership of the committees of a wide variety of associations; positions as a technical advisor on the martial arts to heads of state, national governments, police forces, schools, and institutions around the world, I feel that I am an informed observer. Yet I am told constantly by karate politicians that sport karate is what the karate movement wants, and is the future of karate. I suppose that depends on what your definition of "is" is!

Footnotes 1. Dragon Times Volume #7. 2. John F. Gilbey, The Way of A Warrior (North Atlantic Book, Berkeley, CA, 1982) 33. 3. Ibid. 4. Ibid. 5. Ibid. 6. Ibid. 7. Father of Liu Chang I, author of the video Feeding Crane Gung Fu from Tsunami Productions. 8. Based on industry statistics, Dragon Times on a "sell through" basis (ratio of number printed to number sold), is leading all PMA publications by a wide margin. 9. Please see Early Jujutsu Challenges by Graham Noble in issues 5 & 6 of Dragon Times. 10. Unfortunately the negatives were "censored" during the war by the Kempei Tai and the pieces removed, never subsequently found. 11. Another source claims he got involved in a fight with some sumo wrestlers whom he beat up using Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu and threw into a nearby river, thus bringing disgrace upon the Judo movement, and making life in Tokyo impossible for him. 12. In a recent CNN TV news report an official of the beach volleyball governing body defended his organizationıs decision not to allow female players to wear shorts as they had requested, only the "thong" type bikini bottoms. 13. The WUKO "GI" was a beautifully produced uniform of revolutionary design. Our parent company was designated European distributor but it never went into production.