things on which they express their opinions, or at least be careful about what they say, acknowledging the wisdom of the old saying that it is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. But, sadly, this is all too often not the case.
It was either Mark Twain or Will Rogers, I forget which (but at least I admit it), who said that the problem is not that people don't know much, but that so much of what they know just ain't so. Ain't it the truth.
If you want proof of this, go around asking people their opinion on just about anything; politics, religion, cold fusion -- whatever. Just about everyone will have an opinion. Now ask them to support that opinion with facts or experience. Most won't be able too. Instead, they will defend their opinions on the basis of their feelings, perceptions and personal bias (and in some cases, just a determination to make themselves look important or morally superior), with the mistaken belief that feelings are the analytical and logical equivalent of facts. When faced with facts that contradict their opinions, will they change them? Not a chance. As the old saying goes, "I've got my mind made up - don't confuse me with the facts".
While that sounds humerous, it's really kind of sad. As Byron said, "He who will not reason, is a bigot; he who cannot, is a fool; and he who dares not, is a slave". And as Yogi Bera said, "There's some people that, if they don't know, you can't tell 'em."
I was talking with a guy one time who was explaining why he didn't like God. Actually, he seemed to be divided between not liking Him and not believing in Him, but if He did exist, he didn't like Him. As he talked, he became more and more angry, asking how any loving god could hurt innocent children, and swearing that if God ever tried to hurt one of his kids, he would fight Him!
Swimming up through the surrealism of this thought process, I didn't argue with him, but asked him what he did believe in. He thought for a minute and said that he probably ascribed to the Native American beliefs. I asked him which ones. He thought for a while and said that it didn't really matter, so he'd pick the Sioux. I asked him what the Sioux believed. After a pause, he said that he really didn't know - but he just felt it was right.
While the main "victims" of this kind of thinking are usually just the perpetrators themselves, who sacrifice whatever credibility they may have had in the eyes of others, it can be damaging when allowed to go unchecked among those who are in positions of influence, particularly those in charge of teaching others. And this applies especially to the martial arts, and other systems of personal training.
I once had a guy come into a class I was teaching who asked if he could just sit in, as he studied another system and was just interested in seeing what we did. He was about 19 years old and pretty full of himself, assuring me that he was an expert in Jeet Kune Do. It was a night for white belt testing, and I let him stay.
After class, while everyone was just hanging around, this guy went from student to student, telling them what they ought to do in a fight. Everyone just kind of looked at him like he was an idiot, and waited to see what I was going to do. Finally, he came over to where I was leaning against the counter, and started telling me all about the wonders of his system.
I asked him if this had worked in all of the times he had been attacked. He asked me what I meant. I asked him how many times he had used these techniques successfully against attacks. He said he couldn't remember. I asked him how many times he had been attacked. He said he wasn't sure. I finally asked him if he had ever actually been attacked outside of the dojo. He stammered uh, uh, uh.... and I saw in his eyes that the answer was no.
I almost felt sorry for the kid. But you know what? I don't think he was humiliated, as he should have been. I think he was mad at me for questioning him. It's a funny world.
There are many facets to the martial arts. There is traditional training and eclectic training. "Hard" styles and "soft" styles. There are those who specialize in kata, those who specialize in kumite, and those whose primary focus is internal development and discovery. Some study martial arts for the sporting aspects, and others for practical life application. All of these are valid reasons, and can be supported as appropriate for people of different interests. What cannot be supported, however, is a person in a position of teaching authority misrepresenting their skills as a way to make money or increase their prestige.
It is disingenuous for instructors to promote their abilities or services beyond their ability to deliver professional-level service in the areas they are promoting. To do so diminishes their own professional standing, the collective reputation of the profession to which they belong, and the trust that students should be able to have in those to whom they look for training.
As the martial arts continue to grow, it is important that those within the community hold themselves and others to a standard that will enhance and uphold the reputation of that community, and guarantee all present and future students the highest standards of professional training.
So be honest; with others and with yourself. Be proud of what you are and what you do. If you want to do or be something more, work for it. You and everyone else will be the better for it.