These questions started a long, meandering conversation. I did my best to explain my reasons but I’m not sure if it all came a cross the way I intended, which lead up to this post. I’ll try to limit the meandering, but some is necessary as in my mind, it’s all connected. So please bear with me while I get to my point all the way at the end. There are vampires involved, by the way…
It’s not about being awesome
First of all, these questions are valid and worth answering. I don’t see my way of doing things as a problem, but I understand why others might be confused by it. When I look at how many authors in the self-defense and martial arts niche do business, it’s often along the lines of “BUY MY STUFF! IT’S AWESOME!!!” That may or may not be true, but you don’t have to shout it out loud all the time. Also, the implied message is all too often that all the other products out there aren’t as awesome…
I’m generalizing to make a point, I know not every single author does that. Also, to an extent, my own publishers use ad copy that I personally wouldn’t write. So all in all, it’s pretty much the normal way of promoting products in this niche and I get that. There’s a need for marketing and good ad copy whenever you have something for sale, I totally agree with that. But there’s no reason why you have to go over the top with it. Nor do you have to tear down other products to show how good yours is, which brings me to my first point:
Me saying other people’s products are good doesn’t make mine bad. And vice versa.
I believe this is true. It doesn’t cost me anything to recommend other people’s work. By valuing their products, I don’t devalue mine. That’s just not how it works. So I don’t see anything wrong to begin with concerning my reviews. It’s much like recommending a book or movie you enjoy. You just say “Hey, this is cool. You might like it too.” and that’s all there is to it.
Writing books and instructional videos is also not a zero-sum game. I don’t lose a sale when a reader gets a book by one of my colleagues. My stuff doesn’t go out of print because of that. It’s all still there. That reader will perhaps buy my stuff in the future, or not at all, there’s no way to tell for sure. There are no guarantees but regardless, him buying other people’s work doesn’t cost me a thing.
Where I’m coming from
Another reason is the purpose of my blog. Let’s go back in time a bit…
About 15 years ago, I created a (really crappy) site for shits and giggles. The internet was new back then and I wanted to play around with web design a bit. So I made a site and wrote articles for it but primarily posted martial arts and self-defense book and video reviews. Why? Because I enjoyed it.
Fast forward a few years and it turned out that internet thing was here to stay. So I made a separate site to promote my services as a personal trainer. For a while, I kept the original one but then life got in the way and I abandoned it. Fast forward to about 4-5 years ago and blogging started getting big. I looked into it and discovered WordPress and how easy it was to work with. I created this blog here and started reviewing and writing articles again.
For me, both my professional site and this blog are not in competition with each other. They are different tools with different goals. On my main site, I only mention my products and services. That’s what the site is for. On my blog, I mention whatever the hell I want if I think it’s relevant, cool, funny, whatever. Including the products by my “competitors”. That’s what blogs are for. But like I said, I see them as colleagues instead of competitors. They write in the same niche as me and the more readers they can attract to the niche, the more potential readers I have. Again, it isn’t a zero-sum game.
I don’t want to be “that” guy
Now we’re getting to the main point and it’s a very simple one:
I don’t want to become an anachronism.
Yeah, you read it right. I don’t want to become “that” guy. You know the kind I’m talking about. He’s the guy you talk about behind his back and say things like “Yeah, he had some moves back in his day. But now he’s still doing the same old stuff, nobody does that anymore.”
This is an issue for everybody in every field. If you don’t change with the times, you’ll be left behind.
Case in point 1: Bill Wallace
The man in the white pants with stripe is Bill “Superfoot” Wallace. American martial artists of 40 and older will know him as one of the pioneers of point fighting and full contact karate/kickboxing (without leg kicks) of the 70’s and 80’s. What made him special is that the fought in a high horse stance, facing his opponent sideways and only kicked with his lead leg. To boot, he only used three kicks with that leg: round, side and hook kick. He had a whole system figured out to use these kicks in combination with his punching in ever changing angles and rhythms.
When I was in my teens, I trained hard to emulate his style and had some success with it in local competitions. But here’s the thing: when I competed in European and World Championships, I never used his style. Why? Because it didn’t work there. The rules were different from the competitions Mr. Wallace fought in. We were allowed leg kicks, clinching and throwing which made his sideways stance risky, at best. The lack of penetrating power in the lead leg hook and round kick was also an issue. There was more, but those two reasons are the main ones.
The type of kickboxing promoted by the PKA in the 70′ is now a marginal sport. Muay Thai, K1-style kickboxing and MMA have all taken over. Sure, there are still point fighting competitions but if you want to fight full contact, you’ll be hard pressed to find venues where leg kicks and grappling are against the rules.
The conclusion can only be this then: Mr. Wallace’s style is an anachronism in today’s competitive world. The dominant combat sports of today are very different from those he competed in in his prime. His system was never designed for those sports and it doesn’t function well there, on the contrary.
Does that mean he wasn’t a great fighter? No.
Does that mean his system sucks? No.
It only means that the world changed and his system hasn’t adapted to it.
Case in point 2: Jeet Kune Do
A while ago, I saw an interview with Dan Inosanto. He talked about many thins, including how a lot of people today talk all sorts of nonsense about JKD and Bruce Lee but they weren’t there back then. He was. One point he made was this: people asked him why there was such an emphasis on defending against the side kick in JKD. His answer was that in the 60’s and 70’s, that was what martial artists did: they threw a lot of side kicks. So Bruce Lee incorporated that into his style because in that day and age, it made perfect sense.
Nowadays, you don’t see nearly as many side kicks anymore, though they have made a comeback since Jon Jones started using lead leg side kicks in MMA competitions recently (I competed in Sanshou where the lead leg side kick has been a staple kick for decades, but I digress…). The emphasis today is much more on muay Thai-style round kicks. My guess is that if Bruce Lee were alive today, he’d be focusing on those kicks a lot more than the side kick.
Does that mean the JKD side kick defenses are useless? No.
Dos that mean JKD is an anachronism? No.
It means that a certain aspect of JKD was created in an era with a specific context. I believe it is strong enough as a system to evolve with the times to not become an anachronism. But in this regard, the disconnect with today’s reality is certainly there.
Case in point 3: The master
A while ago, I was talking to somebody who produces instructional videos. He mentioned a video shoot he did with a martial arts master (I’m not going to name him, there is no need for that) who is very famous in the US. Turned out that the shoot went horrible. The master didn’t perform well at all and both him and his assistant were out of touch with the realities of street violence. I later saw the video and he was right: the master was erratic and unclear in his explanations. His techniques and concepts were also the same ones I’ve seen him teach for decades. In short, there was no difference between what he did 30 years ago and what the does now. He was stuck in the past.
Does that mean he can’t fight? No.
Does that mean his system sucks? No.
It means his system hasn’t evolved to today’s environment and context.
These are a handful examples. I have many more, but I think I’ve made my point.
Are we all doomed to this fate?
Tempus fugit, for all of us. I believe there has never been a time when life changed faster than it does today. Society, culture, technology, everything changes more rapidly than ever before in the history of humankind. My grandparents wouldn’t recognize today’s world. My mother has a hard time keeping up with some of the changes. I remember a time before everybody had a computer. I remember my first cellphone. I remember what life was like before the internet. My children do not. They can’t imagine life without those things.
As I get older, I’ll start losing track of the changes like everybody else. I believe it’s inevitable that one day, I’ll be an obsolete old fart with not a lot of new insights to give.
The first time this concept came got through to me was many years ago when I read one of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles novels (I forget which one.) In it, an old vampire tries to convince a young vampire to be his companion. To help him connect with the era they live in, as he is from a much earlier age. Apparently, vampires who don’t manage this end up killing themselves. I don’t think suicide is the end result in real life, but the alienating from society part, that I believe might be true.
I don’t feel bad about this, by the way. I think it’s just the way things work. But that doesn’t mean I have to accept it quietly. That doesn’t mean I can’t try to minimize the damage. There are ways to do just that. Here are some of mine:
I never stopped listening to pop music. I’m a kid of the 80’s and still listen to some of that music (though I’m glad I don’t have to watch those haircuts anymore…) but I also never stopped listening to the charts in the last 20 years. Though there are usually enough songs that I like, I don’t enjoy all the music in those charts. That’s not the goal. The goal is to stay connected with what is going on with youngsters today, because change so often starts with them and popular culture is their primary outlet. This also doesn’t preclude listening to other music, not in the least. I enjoy classical music, rap, metal, you name it, I like it. It’s not either/or.
I watch all kinds of movies and TV shows. I watch the silly comedies my kids think are hilarious, just like I watch the latest Tarantino or Lars Von Trier movies. Same thing here: I don’t like all of it, but more often than not, there is enough for me to enjoy that I can keep on watching.
I train in both traditional systems and combat sports. There’s a place for both. There is a depth to good traditional systems you usually don’t find in modern combat sports. And there’s an liveliness in combat sports that is sometimes missing in traditional arts. What’s more, combat sports continually change as new generations of competitors come onto the scene. So it helps me stay up to date with my own stuff to keep track of it.
I read martial arts books and watch instructional videos. An now we’re finally here… I started doing this several decades ago and it helped me a lot as a martial artist and in life in general. I don’t see why I should stop now. I don’t know everything, I never will. But I also don’t have to stop learning. New generations of authors will have a totally different take on things than me, one that is formed by today’s society and not the one I grew up in several decades ago. Their views will be different from mine, so at the very least, I can learn from them in that regard and keep on evolving and growing. I don’t want to end up like that master I mentioned…
Why do I share the reviews here? Because I think it could help you or somebody you know when I explain what I like or dislike about a certain product. Like I said before, this doesn’t cost me a thing. It also doesn’t devalue my own books and videos. So why not do it?
I have to admit that I failed in keeping the meandering to a minimum… That said, I hope some of my motivations for blogging the way I do are now a bit clearer. This is just my take on things and certainly not gospel. I’m perfectly fine with people who disagree with this. But as this is my blog, I’ll just keep on doing what I want…