“Irreverent Sensei” podcast Ep. 4: Tim Cartmell

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Re: “Irreverent Sensei” podcast Ep. 4: Tim Cartmell

Postby Bao on Sun Oct 10, 2021 6:58 am

People today don’t understand how religious and superstitious people were back in the old days. Remember that Buddhism teaches you that you can’t kill. Soldiers always used prayers and ceremonies before and after going into battle. Even today the Hong Kong police force do some kind of Buddhist rituals if someone dies. You see this in some HK action movies. So the connection between religious practices to martial arts is not that far fetched.
(For instance, I have written about that the roots of Tai Chi silk reeling could be linked to Buddhist rituals.)
Last edited by Bao on Sun Oct 10, 2021 7:00 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: “Irreverent Sensei” podcast Ep. 4: Tim Cartmell

Postby Bhassler on Sun Oct 10, 2021 8:12 am

Bao wrote:People today don’t understand how religious and superstitious people were back in the old days. Remember that Buddhism teaches you that you can’t kill. Soldiers always used prayers and ceremonies before and after going into battle. Even today the Hong Kong police force do some kind of Buddhist rituals if someone dies. You see this in some HK action movies. So the connection between religious practices to martial arts is not that far fetched.
(For instance, I have written about that the roots of Tai Chi silk reeling could be linked to Buddhist rituals.)


People are not so different now than they ever were. People today are both very superstitious/religious and pragmatic. Don't believe me? No one has ever actually seen an electron. Ever. Yet, we (mostly) all believe in electricity, because the lights turn on every time we flip the switch. The mechanism for that is something that we all take on faith, based on the words of some unknown person in authority who we trust has a deeper connection to the science and the mathematics that validate the hypothesis. Just because many people have replaced the pope with Neil DeGrasse Tyson does not make their world views any less faith-based.

At the same time, people who interact with the physical world learn that certain things, like mass and momentum, are non-negotiable. It doesn't matter what anyone's rights or beliefs are, physics gonna physic. Serious fighting hurts, even if you win, and if you lose you can easily be crippled, maimed, or killed. Throughout most of human history, there were no hospitals or sick leave to take care of people. If you get hurt, it may or may not heal right. If you can't work, you (and your family) go hungry. So the stakes were often much higher. If anything, people in the old days were likely more observant and clearer thinkers than people today, because even simple mistakes could have real and lasting consequences. To think that religious beliefs are going to consistently trump practical experience in the execution of critical survival functions is, again, the viewpoint of a remarkably safe and wealthy society. Usually, it's the other way around-- religious beliefs arise from practical experience that is beyond the ability of the originating group to articulate or understand the cause of.
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Re: “Irreverent Sensei” podcast Ep. 4: Tim Cartmell

Postby LaoDan on Sun Oct 10, 2021 10:06 am

Personally, I think that human behavior is not so divorced from animal behavior, and when looking to simplify my understanding of a certain human behavior, I look to similarities with what wild animals do. Fighting can be used for many things, but I think that the most prominent (at least in animals) are probably survival and dominance. Dominance is the trickier one to understand because different human cultures have different ways of establishing and enforcing dominance (e.g., social hierarchies). In animals it is somewhat simpler than in humans, although different species also have different methods of establishing dominance (and young animals and young humans additionally often play fight, which is not necessarily either for survival or dominance, although it can also be either or both, depending on the species). Animal behaviors also can change depending on varying situations (e.g., personal protection vs. protecting one’s young; fighting within one’s group vs. an external group; fighting one’s own species vs. a different species; attacking vs. defending; being cornered/trapped vs. having an escape route; having weapons like claws or powerful kicks, horns or antlers, etc. or not…), and human fighting behaviors can also vary greatly depending on the particular situation.

Fighting to survive seems different than the more ritualized fighting used to establish dominance. Dominance does not even always necessitate actual contact (displays and bluffs can sometimes be sufficient), and actual fighting for dominance is typically not to the death, just to the “say uncle” moment, or other typically non-lethal endpoints (like triggering a fear response; drawing first blood, tapping out…). I think that it is likely that fighting for both survival and for dominance occurred in humans early on in our evolution, and modern variations probably developed from those, with the more ritualistic and symbolic ones being more closely tied to dominance (non-lethal) practices than to survival fighting. However, things can become much more complex with humans due to our ability to learn (as opposed to mere instinctive behaviors), and both dominance and survival fighting can influence each other to varying degrees.
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Re: “Irreverent Sensei” podcast Ep. 4: Tim Cartmell

Postby GrahamB on Sun Oct 10, 2021 11:40 pm

It seems to me people fall into one of two camps.

1) Either you think martial arts were created as pure fighting systems first.. and over time a load of weird cultural/philosophical stuff got added in....

2) Or you think that the cultural stuff came first, and the fighting was drawn out of it, a bit like extracting teeth.

Of course, each martial art is different, so there is no one answer for it, but for a lot of Chinese martial arts, I think it's 2).

How do you explain the Lion dance and Dragon dance that makes up a large part of Hong Kong martial arts, for example?
I could be wrong.
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Re: “Irreverent Sensei” podcast Ep. 4: Tim Cartmell

Postby Bao on Mon Oct 11, 2021 1:04 am

Personally, I am not sure if either this or that came first.

There are things as military weapons drills that surely have developed separately from any art or other type of expression. For instance, when you deal with troops in formations, with several long weapons as well as with other different weapons, you need to coordinate how the soldiers in different positions use their weapons in attacks and in defence to not strike and entangle each other weapons. So you need to find ways to use the different working as sort of individual cogs. This means that the soldiers need to practice different types of movements that can be coordinated. So they need a certain "set" of movements depending on their position and weapons. These "sets" of movements could be practiced together with other soldiers or individually. The movements could be practiced with or without weapons, which of course is extra handy when you are dealing with long weapons. Or if not all of the weapons have been handled yet out to the troops.

However, Chinese traditional thinking is not as black or white as often in the West. Just look at Chinese characters. An individual character works more as a symbol for a broader idea or concept, and can often mean different things. Exactly what it means depends solely on the context it use used. Chinese is a contextual language. It is also very compact and always strives for simplification, which can obviously been seen in Chines poetry where just a few characters can express something very complex.

So if we look at old Chinese cultural ideas and forms of expressions it is very likely that one type of movement or exercise could be used in different ways. For instance, if you look at martial arts drills, the same bareheaded drill can also be used for staff and spear moments, as well as double weapons. It is possible that some types of martial arts drills started from one weapon and then the same movement was used to include other ways of using the same movement.

Instead of a linear development, I would assume that different aspects of martial arts developed individually and then at some point melted together, as an artistic expression, very much in line with the Chinese mind-set of simplification and multiple expressions as in poetry. Remember that soldiers, generals etc., they were all highly religious and dealt with religion and festivals as well.

People here don't really get this and believe that highly intellectual people and "philosophers" were only intellectual, but this is not the case. Even Zhu Xi, the great neo-Confucianism philosopher who resurrected Confucianism, one of the greatest intellectual minds of Chinese thought, he also participated in Taoist ceremonies, prayed to Buddhist deities and in the statue of Confucius at confucian temples.

Bhassler wrote: To think that religious beliefs are going to consistently trump practical experience in the execution of critical survival functions is, again, the viewpoint of a remarkably safe and wealthy society. Usually, it's the other way around-- religious beliefs arise from practical experience that is beyond the ability of the originating group to articulate or understand the cause of.


I see your point. But again, I don't believe that something must always follow the other. Things can be developed in different ways. Sometimes separately from each, sometimes they meet and melt together. Sometimes one thing is developed from something else. Sometimes, it's all of this at the same time.
Last edited by Bao on Mon Oct 11, 2021 1:10 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: “Irreverent Sensei” podcast Ep. 4: Tim Cartmell

Postby Steve James on Mon Oct 11, 2021 6:57 am

I think religion in all human societies existed before that society developed a "martial art" --as we understand it. Burial practices, beliefs in deities, and rituals were in existence long before kata or forms. The Shaolin temple monks would be an example.

Afa Chinese martial arts, there is usually a recognized founder or organizer. It could be a general, a scholar, a monk, or even a nun. They all emerge from the Chinese cultural context --of religion, sport, etc.-- and it's impossible to separate them. However, the Chinese cultural context doesn't explain why other cultures developed martial arts. I'd argue that it was the need for organized warfare.

Perhaps we could ask when martial arts training given to professional soldiers began being practiced by ordinary people.
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Re: “Irreverent Sensei” podcast Ep. 4: Tim Cartmell

Postby Kelley Graham on Mon Oct 11, 2021 7:06 pm

Bhassler wrote:
Kelley Graham wrote:When fight? Why fight? How fight? What is a threat? Knowing what is not a threat. These are deep issues, and difficult ethical questions are involved, but not complicated.


These questions are neither deep nor difficult. To think that they are speaks from an exceedingly safe and wealthy viewpoint-- one that hasn't existed for the vast majority of human history.

Martial arts are not a monolith. At best, one can speak to those lineages one has directly studied (academically) and practiced deeply (to know if the theories presented are likely or reasonable).


Whaaaa? Only the wealthy can afford to struggle with the ethics of harming another? I refuse to accept that throughout History, ethical considerations of which we speak, are not front and center of every generation. Only during periods when the sociaopaths ( 3%) are in charge do you see what you describe. Everyone else (97%) is struggling with these questions. If you are not a sociopath, harming another hurts and has serious social consequences. Hence, the importance of why and when to fight. Making the decision to harm is very difficult and that difficulty is not exclusive to those with means. Wealth and safety alone is not a valid metric for this discussion of basic human nature. The flip side of your argument is that those without means are somehow being incapable of showing compassion and or experiencing empathy. As for informal self expression or formal cultural concerns, throughout History, all cultures value and revere Art. Art is essential and existential, not elitist. I certainly did not assert that Martial Arts are monolithic, not sure if that's addressed to me.
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Re: “Irreverent Sensei” podcast Ep. 4: Tim Cartmell

Postby Bhassler on Tue Oct 12, 2021 7:58 am

Kelley Graham wrote:
Bhassler wrote:
Kelley Graham wrote:When fight? Why fight? How fight? What is a threat? Knowing what is not a threat. These are deep issues, and difficult ethical questions are involved, but not complicated.


These questions are neither deep nor difficult. To think that they are speaks from an exceedingly safe and wealthy viewpoint-- one that hasn't existed for the vast majority of human history.

Martial arts are not a monolith. At best, one can speak to those lineages one has directly studied (academically) and practiced deeply (to know if the theories presented are likely or reasonable).


Whaaaa? Only the wealthy can afford to struggle with the ethics of harming another? I refuse to accept that throughout History, ethical considerations of which we speak, are not front and center of every generation. Only during periods when the sociaopaths ( 3%) are in charge do you see what you describe. Everyone else (97%) is struggling with these questions. If you are not a sociopath, harming another hurts and has serious social consequences. Hence, the importance of why and when to fight. Making the decision to harm is very difficult and that difficulty is not exclusive to those with means. Wealth and safety alone is not a valid metric for this discussion of basic human nature. The flip side of your argument is that those without means are somehow being incapable of showing compassion and or experiencing empathy. As for informal self expression or formal cultural concerns, throughout History, all cultures value and revere Art. Art is essential and existential, not elitist. I certainly did not assert that Martial Arts are monolithic, not sure if that's addressed to me.


-The comment about monolithic thinking was general, not directed to anyone in particular.
-As for the wealth and ethics, I'm talking about cultures, not classes. During the "occupy" movement in 2011, people in the US were upset because something like the top 2% of wealthiest people had 50% of all the money. I did a little quick research, and at the time it would take about $11,000 annually to qualify someone as in the top 5% of wealthiest people world-wide. Coincidentally, the "poverty line" in the U.S. that year was just under $11,000. So a person who was considered just barely surviving in the U.S. was still consuming more than 95% of the population of the rest of the world. That's what I mean by wealth.
-I think you are projecting your own cultural values onto others. There are plenty of cultures throughout history where anyone not of one's own clan or tribe was considered to be an enemy. Taboos against things like lying, stealing, and killing are cultural, not genetic.
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Re: “Irreverent Sensei” podcast Ep. 4: Tim Cartmell

Postby Kelley Graham on Tue Oct 12, 2021 9:09 pm

-The comment about monolithic thinking was general, not directed to anyone in particular.
-As for the wealth and ethics, I'm talking about cultures, not classes. During the "occupy" movement in 2011, people in the US were upset because something like the top 2% of wealthiest people had 50% of all the money. I did a little quick research, and at the time it would take about $11,000 annually to qualify someone as in the top 5% of wealthiest people world-wide. Coincidentally, the "poverty line" in the U.S. that year was just under $11,000. So a person who was considered just barely surviving in the U.S. was still consuming more than 95% of the population of the rest of the world. That's what I mean by wealth.
-I think you are projecting your own cultural values onto others. There are plenty of cultures throughout history where anyone not of one's own clan or tribe was considered to be an enemy. Taboos against things like lying, stealing, and killing are cultural, not genetic.

I don't believe I stated or implied anywhere that 'otherness', 'enemies', or conflict is not intrinsic to human nature. in fact, I assert the opposite. Hence the deep and challenging part. If you speak to wealth, you speak to class and difference. Anyway, all cultures have mores from which ethics and laws are derived. Great resources are devoted to addressing the problem of 'otherness'. I project nothing. Not sure that there is any more value in continuing this discussion.
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