The last few weeks have been full of two things: transitions and writing. I will post on the prior soon. The blog’s immediate future, however, is focused on the latter activity. Over the next week or so, I’m going to be sharing a lot of under development writing, and I’d love feedback. Though much of it will be related to Anthropology, technology, and media theory, today’s piece is related to Martial Arts.

Our school is in the process of updating its website and I’ve used this as an excuse to write out some ideas that have been developing in my head for quite a while. As you will see, the essay below is written with beginners (or really perspective beginners) in mind, but I hope that there are ideas in it for students at all levels. As always, I’d love feedback on it — especially in terms of tone and suggestions about material to condense or remove outright (as usually it’s longer than I would like).

On Fighting and the Purpose of Martial Arts

The the truth shall set you free (but first it will make you uncomfortable) – anonymous

Since you’ve arrived at this page, you’re most likely interested in learning more about the martial arts and possibly taking lessons. So, let’s have a frank discussion about what you’re getting into:

At some point in your life you probably heard one of the following:

  • “The Martial Arts are about peace”
  • or “The Martial Arts are a great workout”
  • or “The purpose of Martial Arts is to improve confidence and focus”
  • or “The purpose of the Martial Arts is to make you into a better person.”

While well meaning, all of these statements distract us from the far simpler, and perhaps uncomfortable, truth:

Martial arts are about learning how to fight.

When you study a martial art you are learning a collection of ideas, strategies, and tools for overcoming physical conflict. When you commit to taking lessons at a good martial arts school, you are learning how to how to hurt someone seriously enough to stop them from hurting you or someone you love.

Motivation and Benefits versus Purpose

“Learning how to fight” doesn’t have to be the main reason you take martial arts lessons. Some students at our school primarily study for the fitness and focus benefits. Other students come because they find fulfillment in constantly testing themselves in an environment that unites and challenges both the mind and the body. And many people appreciate the sense of community they find, both with their school and within the larger martial arts community.

All of these are great reasons for getting involved in the martial arts. But you must remember that all of those benefits — improved fitness, increased focus and confidence, making new friends, fun and fulfillment — are all byproducts of diligent study, not the purpose of it. In fact, the dedicated practice of just about any sport or hobby can bring you similar benefits.

If your sole purpose is to get in shape — and you don’t want to learn to fight — you probably are better off taking up to something like running, swimming or weight training, as all of those activities will get you fit much more quickly than the martial arts will. On the other hand, while committing to exercise will get you fit and help you develop a “never quit” attitude — both critical to overcoming conflict — they are not going to teach you how to fight (and there’s nothing wrong with that).

Regardless of your motivation, the purpose of martial arts is to teach you how to fight, and if you commit to studying, you need to accept and commit yourself to that purpose.

Purpose and Responsibility

Martial arts are not all doom and gloom — walk into a good martial arts school during class you’re likely to encounter a positive atmosphere, hear laughter, and see smiles. Understand that fun training environment based on the fact that everyone training has made a serious commitment to  learning to fight and each person knows that they are responsible for each other’s safety in multiple ways:

When you become a student of the martial arts, you are placing your trust, and ultimately your safety (and even the safety of your loved ones) in our hands. As instructors, it’s our responsibility to teach you material that will always work for you (and not just us). Self defense that only works if your a world class athlete (or a Feudal warrior) is stuff that will get you hurt.

It’s also your responsibility to do what it takes to learn and execute the material — as good as our instructors are, they can’t fight your battles. You are ultimately responsible for yourself. What we teach are simple ideas and techniques, but that doesn’t mean that they will work without practice or some fitness. The less time you put in, the less likely it is to work.

Studying the martial arts — learning to fight — also means taking responsibility for the safety of others in two ways:

The first is obvious: you’re promising not to hurt each other. In order to learning how to do varying amounts of damage to the human body, you need a body to experiment and practice on. And, believe it or not, to understand the martial arts you also need to have your body practiced on. Working with a partner means controlling your actions to keep both of you safe during training.

The second responsibility to your partner is less talked about but equally important: you are also promising to help each other get better. If your partner is “letting” you escape, you only think you learning that escape. If you refuse to let your partner hit you during a controlled drill, you not only are not learning what it means to be hit, your preventing your partner truly learning how to hit. Imperfect practice guarantees bad things for both of you when push-comes-to-shove.

This is serious stuff. The only way for everyone to stay safe, both inside and outside of the school, is for everyone to remember that martial arts dealing with dangerous material (btw, most physical activities involve some danger, for example, swimming always inherently involves the risk of drowning). If everyone isn’t on the same page, people can get hurt, or worse, learn bad habits that can literally hurt them (or lead to getting hurt) down the line.

Assertiveness versus Aggressiveness

You can’t learn to swim without getting wet. But that doesn’t mean that you have to live in the water. Likewise, you can’t learn martial arts without learning how to hurt people, but that doesn’t mean you must become a violent person. Rather, the work of learning a martial art — practicing and perfecting a wide range of physical and mental skills — develops in you a self-awareness and self-control that can help you become more assertive.

Being assertive — recognizing and accepting that you always have the power (and responsibility) of choice — is the key to controlling your life. If you choose to take lessons and choose to learn, you are taking the first steps in learning to control yourself. Gaining control over yourself positions you to control your response to the situations and conflicts you find yourself in; that could mean verbally defusing a situation; it could also mean physically attacking your attacker. The key thing to understand is that taking control means consciously choosing and committing to act — in other words asserting yourself.

Learning a martial art provides you with both the framework to help make that choice and the “flight-time” — practice under pressure — to learn to trust yourself to make the best choice for that situation. As our head instructor says: “a key focus of the martial arts is developing tools for conflict resolution.”

Final thoughts

Ultimately the bottom line is this: If you commit to learning a martial art, in addition to punches and kicks, you will learn a lot about yourself; you will become more fit, more confident and more assertive; and, along the way, you will have a lot of fun. But that self-improvement can only come if you are ready and willing to fight for it — and that means being ready and willing to learn how to fight.

When it comes to practicing the martial arts, gravel changes everything… it really does.

Our martial arts school, Renaissance Martial Arts, recently moved to a new location in Rochester’s Neighborhood of the Arts. Though I knew it was coming for a while, aspects of the move have been tough. Our previous space, 34 Elton  Street, was our program’s “home,” even if it wasn’t technically our first space.

Renaissance Martial Arts officially started ((I say officially because prior to that we trained in a traditional “underground” way, having no name, gaining students through word of mouth, and making our home in basements and backyards.))  in 1999 in the backroom of a Karate school in Henrietta. We moved to Elton in 2002. When we got there the space, which had last been used for some sort of electronics work, was completely run down. Our first three months were spent renovating — removing a drop ceiling, building changing rooms, refinishing the floor after first digging out all of the little pieces of wire and sodder embedded in it. We literally built the school ourselves.

Times change, and accepting hard realities, we change with them. A core tenant of our approach to the martial arts is the concept of “adaptive flow.” And adapting always involves movement – sometimes even literally moving to a new home.

And that gets me to our new home at 46 Sager Drive and gravel.

[An arial view of our new home, and the alley along side of it]

Though the size of the (traditional) training floor is smaller than at Elton Street, 46 Sager Drive offers a staggering range of “supplemental” training spaces. For example, a few weeks ago, Sifu Mark (Sifu being the title for “instructor” in the Chinese martial arts) helped us understand what it means to work our backs “to the wall” by holding a number of classes in the narrow hallway that runs alongside the school. Yesterday he held class for the first time in another of our supplemental spaces — the alley directly to the right of our building (picture courtesy of Google Maps).

Martial Artists often talk about the dangerous environment of “the street” — hard pavement, gravel, broken glass (some, tongue-firmly-in-cheek add “lava” to the list). We all accept that it’s bad news. But I suspect that only a few have had the experience of actually practicing in that environment.

Gravel changes everything. The same can be said for brick walls, chain linked fences, dumpsters, telephone poles, and a ton of other environmental elements.

It changes one’s willingness to “take a fall.” I’m a teaching assistant — in the martial arts that’s a euphemism for punching dummy — and one of my responsibilities is to be the one that things are demonstrated on. In other words, I get thrown around a lot on a lot of different surfaces — mats, grass, indoor tracks, astro-turf, hardwood floors, and even smooth cement. But in that alley, standing on rough pavement and gravel, when faced with the idea of taking any sort of breakfall my body and mind responded with a resounding “hell no.” ((The response, a physical versus a verbal one, from the Sifu was a simply “yes, you will” was delivered by gently depositing me to the hard pavement at the end of a demonstration. You can’t always get what you want… but you find sometimes you get what you need))

Gravel changes the way one stands and moves. I can’t count the number of times I slipped and skidded. This usually happened while working a partner drill, meaning that in many cases this was happening at the “worst possible time” — i.e. when I was trying to get out of path of an attack. And as bad as the momentary lose of physical stability was, what was worse was the loss of mental stability. In that “oh crap, I’m slipping on gravel moment” my mind all  too often focused on me slipping versus the person trying to punch me in the face.

Brick walls change things too.

One of the exercises we worked dealt with getting backed into a wall. The challenge was to “accept” (for the purposes of the drill) that you are so focused on the person who is threatening you that you unintentionally back yourself into the wall. The goal here is not so much to hit the wall, as to learn what to do when you do “hit”, or at least bump into, the unexpected barrier. Try as I might, I could not make myself unknowingly back into that all too real wall behind me when there was a “threat” in front of me. ((Instead, I’d take a few “natural” steps backward and then shift into a more “tactical” way of backing up while gaging how much space I had. Note that from an application point of view, this is a good thing. But from a training point-of-view, my inability to control myself didn’t allow me to practice the drill as intended. That’s a not-so-good-thing.

That inability to control myself also displayed, well, an inability to control, or rather regulate, myself — to actively be in the moment rather than letting habits drive me. Again, in push-comes-to-shove application, not a bad thing, but to learn and progress you need to be able to put even good habits aside at times.)) Like the breakfall, this is the type of thing I’d have no problem doing inside the  “safe” environment of a traditional classroom.

Gravel changes everything.

But it also changes nothing.

It changes nothing, because, at the end of the day, we were still thinking,  working, and practicing the same ideas and techniques we worked in the normal classroom. Despite harder and, at times, slipperier surfaces, punches were still  punches, kicks were still kicks, and the human bodies involved still all had one  head, two arms, and two legs, all connected by and to a central spine. Because everyone, new and old student alike, used those concepts that have  been driven into us through countless repetitions on our usual, traditional,  training floor, we all transitioned with relative ease to the uncomfortable brick and gravel of that alley.

We’re all looking forward to going back to train there soon (not to mention bragging to the people who missed class that we — and not them — got the chance to train in the alley. That’s what happens when you miss class).

I’ll always miss our old home, but experiences like last night’s show me how much there is to love about our new one. More importantly, they serve as a reminder that who we are — the fundamentals of our practice and our school, even each of us as students of the martial arts — don’t change just because our environment does. If they had then they wouldn’t be fundamentals.

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  • #feminist and #STS scholar ?: anyone familiar with "Critique to Care" (or possibly "crit with care") @ can share references? #
  • @muzenews Really @muzenews, that's awesome. @megpickard rocks online and in person! #
  • @megpickard Hey I gotta give a fellow anthropologist her props. BTW, looking forward to chatting at that engagement event in May… #
  • @muzenews I did… she rocks. We'll get the chance to hang out in a couple weeks too! #
  • Latour: I naively believe in some facts because I am educated, while others are too unsophisticated to be gullible – http://bit.ly/eeiCPB #
  • Thnx @amitorit lookin forward to reading through that later this week. #
  • Anyone know of any good histories of the "#" (hash tag) on twitter? Folk or academic would both be great… #
  • @sopphey – Thanks! That's perfect. #
  • My first build on @vitorious critique of Open Source culture: A primer on Feminsim – http://bit.ly/gAdNuQ #
  • @kat_braybrooke – we should talk at some-point… have you seen @vitorious post? http://bit.ly/e2Moa7 #
  • RT @vitorious: @kat_braybrooke @justinpickard Also see @ginatrapani's eloquent and experienced response: http://bit.ly/hEoEUj (+1 to that) #

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tl;dr.: Why we should stop worrying about stereotyped feminism and learn to love (or at least appreciate) what it is really about

About a week ago, in a post entitled Designers and Women in Open Source, Usability (UX) designer Vitorio Miliano argued that Open Source culture isn’t as egalitarian as it sometimes promises. Pulling together a bunch of discussion threads, Vito argued that Open Source Culture, while promising to be welcoming to all, tends to marginalize the input of people who cannot/do not code (including, but not limited to designers). In particular, I was interested in the fallout from one particular passage of Vito’s post…

in Vito: I believe the problems with open source not being able to handle non-programmers in their projects is the same problem as the rampant sexism: open source culture is not feminist. (Designers and Women in Open Source)

Via Twitter:
Joel Johnson: @unruthless @anildash That just made me realize why I hate the term “feminism”. And why I may be wrong. 6 days ago

Anil Dash
: @joeljohnson i find everyone who hates the word “feminism” defines it differently from those of us who identify as feminists. 6 days ago

I’ve been working on a long response to Vito’s beautiful short post. In the meantime, I thought I would post a subsection of that response that might help frame the conversation about feminism and Open Source culture.

Consider this a brief, easy-to-read, Primer on Feminism to help folks who are not familiar with it move beyond some of the stereotypes and excesses of the movement. ((And it’s also an argument for why I’m a feminist and you should consider being on too))  Note that this is my version of feminism and its story. It’s a history and definition that is, for the most part, shared by a lot of feminists who I know and work with (so it’s not completely out of left field).

Feminism, like any movement, is an constant state for flux. So what it appears to be now is different than it was ten years ago and is different from what it will be ten years from now. Accepting that there are multiple forms and approaches to feminism is, in itself, a key feminist move.

Generally speaking, feminism arose out of efforts to combat discrimination against women in Western culture. From voting rights, to issues of equity in salary, to birth control, the first wave of Feminism identified areas in which culture treated women as being *less* than men. These fights happened in all areas of society: from government and politics, to the private sector and the home, to the academy. Generally speaking, the goal was quantitatively equal treatment between men and women.

A key tool that emerged out of this phase was the “binary” – Men and Women. Moral and Immoral. Good and Evil. Marked and Unmarked. 0 and 1. – pairs of objects and ideas that define each other through their relation to each other. At the time they were often thought of as hard oppositions: you could only be one or the other. In theory, binaries are said to be equivalent (of equal value). Feminists and others who were simultaneously attacking other forms of discrimination, argued that, in practice, they never were. One was always valued more than the other within a system.

As real gains toward equality were happening in the political and social spheres, feminist activists began to investigate how that original Male/Female binary, with it’s embedded power relations, was built into every aspect of society. To do this they asked big provocative questions and took extreme positions: because human made, subjective (female) ideologies were part of every system, pure-objective (male) science was a myth; pornography was fundamentally abusive to women and therefore immoral. These sorts of positions, typically the stereotypical version of feminism represented in (especially conservative) media, came to be labeled “second wave” feminism.

The third wave (what I consider current feminism) arose out of critiques of the second wave. Female and male scholars and activists recognized that second wave feminists, in their attempts to push through the dominant cultural ideologies,  had sometimes thrown the baby out with the bathwater. ((I have to admit that I’m in a constant struggle about how to fairly represent Second Wave feminism. It’s clear that it was necessary and it’s clear that in the long term it helped get things to a better place. At the same time, there’s just so much of it that is so far outside of my own pragmatist thinking/ethos that I just don’t know what to do with it.)) In particular, three important lines of thought emerged:

  1. This wasn’t about binaries. You not only could not reduce the world and it’s problems to Man/Woman, but such a move often created new discrimination in that it implied one universal “man” and one universal “woman.” Race, nationality, culture, sexuality, age, class, religion, you name it, had to be removed to make “man” and “woman” work as categories (and the moment you remove any of those pieces, you create blind spots in your ideology).As an extreme simplification: feminism was at risk of becoming trapped by its tools: turning the world into one big nail.So as Donna Haraway, a matron saint of third wave feminism would say, attention refocused to the fact that are no universals, and that groups have as many differences as similarities. This attention to non-gender differences has led feminism to addressing inequalities of all types — including those that simply cannot be reduced to gender.
  2. Second, if there are no binaries, then we need to rethink the entire opposition thing. Third-wave feminism works to accept the world as a “messy” place — contradictions not only exist, but live quite comfortably along side each other in “real life.”This move resolved many of the perceived extremes of the second wave: some porn could be misogynistic, but there could be feminist porn as well. Likewise, it might be impossible to have a completely “pure” objective science, but that didn’t negate the fact that we could come to a shared objective understanding our world (forces like gravity happen).
  3. Finally, recognizing that binaries and oppositions had stopped being productive created an opportunity for third-wave feminists to escape the trap of snap moral judgments. Instead of imposing the fundamental “us vs them” binary on every situation (with us being “right,” “good,” “innocent,” “oppressed,” and “moral” and them be “wrong,” “bad,” “evil,” “oppressors,” and “immoral”), it allowed a space to see people as, for the most part, trying to do the best they can with what they had. It opened up the possibility of working within the system to transform it rather than starting from the position that the system needed to be burned to the ground and rebuilt by “us.”

Third-wave feminism is still concerned with inequalities (including gender). And none of this should be taken to suggest that morals or binaries have been completely abandoned.

But beyond being critical (telling people what’s wrong with a system), it’s also interested in helping work to change the system (drawing upon the activist roots of the feminist movement). In other words it critiques with care and out of caring.

From my perspective:

  • Just pointing out gender discrimination is not feminist. Refusing to engage with systems that discriminate is not feminist. Working to identify and work with a group to address issues of discrimination is feminist.
  • Calling anyone caught up in a system of discrimination an evil bastard or a slave of ideology is not feminist. Starting from the position that, until they prove you wrong, those people are just trying to do what they think is right and are open to collaborating to make things better is feminist.

Modern feminism, as I understand it, is about trying to live ethically in world full of contradictions and inequalities. It’s about finding ways to balance the needs of individual and groups, relativism and absolutism, and objectivity and subjectivity. It’s about finding ways to approach situations where all too often, in the moment, there are no hard and fast rules for how to interact. It’s about accepting that sometimes someone has to be hurt or excluded and then trying to find ways to protect that individual. Finally, it’s not about my knowing what’s right for others, but rather collaborating with others to find what’s best (not perfect) for “us.”

So Vito’s post has started a conversation about the issue of discrimination in Open Source Culture. If all it does is generate moral recriminations or resigned acceptance of the problem as it exists, then it (and the conversation it generated) is no more feminist than the culture it critiqued.

I’ll spill a lot more pixels on this by the middle of next week… In the meantime comments are definitely welcome.

 

About a week ago, in a post entitled Designers and women in open source, Usability (UX) designer Vitorio Miliano argued that Open Source culture isn’t as egalitarian as it sometimes promises. Pulling together a bunch of discussion threads, Vito pointed out that Open Source Culture, while promising to be welcoming to all, tends to marginalize the input of people who cannot/do not code (including, but not limited to designers). In particular, I was interested in the fallout from one particular passage of Vito’s post…

 

in Vito: I believe the problems with open source not being able to handle non-programmers in their projects is the same problem as the rampant sexism: open source culture is not feminist.

joeljohnson Joel Johnson @unruthless @anildash That just made me realize why I hate the term “feminism”. And why I may be wrong.

anildash Anil Dash @joeljohnson i find everyone who hates the word “feminism” defines it differently from those of us who identify as feminists.

 

I’ve been working on a long response to Vito’s beautiful short post. In the meantime, I thought I would post a subsection of that response that might help frame the conversation about feminism and Open Source culture — consider this a brief history and definition of Feminism. Note this is my version of feminism. It’s a history and definition that is, for the most part, shared by a lot of feminists who I know and work with (so it’s not completely out of left field). This is an attempt at a quick-and-dirty primer to help folks move beyond some of the stereotypes and excesses of the movement.

The first thing to understand is that Feminism, like any movement is an continuous state for flux. So what it appears to be now is different than it was ten years ago and is different from what it will be ten years from now. Accepting that there are multiple forms and approaches to feminism is, in itself, a key feminist move.

Generally speaking, feminism arose out of efforts to combat discrimination against women in Western culture. From voting rights, to issues of equity in salary, to birth control, the first wave of Feminism identified areas in which culture treated women as being *less* than men. These fights happened in all areas of society: from government and politics, to the private sector and the home, to the academy. Generally speaking, the goal was quantitatively equal treatment between men and women.

A key tool that emerged out of this phase was the “binary.” Men and Women. Moral and Immoral. Good and Evil. Marked and Unmarked. 0 and 1. Pairs of objects or ideas that define each other through their relation to each other. At the time they were often thought of as hard oppositions — you could only be one or the other. In theory, binaries are said to be equivalent (of equal value). Feminists and other’s who attacked discrimination, argued that, in practice, they never were. One was always valued more than the other within a system.

As real gains toward equality were happening in the political and social spheres, feminist activists began to ask how that original Male/Female divide/binary, with it’s embedded power relations, was built into every aspect of society. To do this they asked big provocative questions and took extreme positions: because human made, subjective (female) ideologies were part of every system, pure-objective (male) science was a myth; pornography was fundamentally abusive to women and therefore immoral. These sorts of positions, typically the stereotypical version of feminism represented in (especially conservative) media, came to be labeled “second wave” feminism.

The third wave (what I consider current feminism) arose out of critiques of the second wave. Female and male scholars and activists recognized that in their attempts to push through the dominant cultural ideologies, second wave feminists had sometimes thrown the baby out with the bathwater. In particular, three important lines of thought emerged:

(1) This wasn’t about binaries. You not only could not reduce the world and it’s problems to Man/Woman, but such a move pretended that there was one universal “man” and one universal “woman.” Race, nationality, culture, sexuality, age, class, religion, you name it, had to be removed to make “man” and “woman” work as categories (and the moment you remove any of those pieces, you create blind spots in your ideology). As an extreme simplification: feminism was becoming trapped by its tools — a specific strain of feminist ideology was turning the world into one big nail. So as Donna Haraway, a matron saint of third wave feminism would say, the attention focused to the fact that are no universals, and that groups have as many differences as similarities. This attention to non-gender differences has led feminism to addressing inequalities of all types — including those that simply cannot be reduced to gender.

(2) Second, if there are no binaries, then we need to rethink the entire opposition thing. Third-wave feminism works to accepts the world as a “messy” place — contradictions not only exist, but live quite comfortably in the world. This move resolved many of the perceived extremes of the second wave: some porn could be misogynistic, but there could be feminist porn as well. Likewise, it might be impossible to have a completely “pure” objective science, but that didn’t negate the fact that we could come to a shared objective understanding our world (forces like gravity happen).

(3) Finally, recognizing that binaries and oppositions had stopped being productive created an opportunity for third-wave feminists to escape the trap of snap moral judgments. Instead of imposing the fundamental “us vs them” binary on every situation (with us being “right,” “good,” “innocent,” “oppressed,” and “moral” and them be “wrong,” “bad,” “evil,” “oppressors,” and “immoral”), it allowed a space to see people as, for the most part, trying to do the best they can with what they had. It opened up the possibility of working within the system to transform it rather than starting from the position that the system needed to be burned to the ground and rebuilt by “us.”

Third-wave feminism is still concerned with inequalities (including gender). But beyond being critical (telling people what’s wrong with a system), it’s also interested in helping work to change the system (drawing upon the activist roots of the feminist movement). In other words it critiques with care and out of caring.

From my perspective:

Screaming gender discrimination is not feminist. Refusing to engage with systems that discriminate is not feminist. Working to identify and work with a group to address issues of discrimination is feminist.

Calling anyone caught up in a system of discrimination an evil bastard or a slave of ideology is not feminist. Starting from the position that, until they prove you wrong, those people are just trying to do what they think is right and are open to collaborating to make things better is feminist.

In many ways, modern feminism, as I understand it, is about trying to live ethically in world full of contradictions and inequalities. It’s about finding ways to approach situations where all too often, in the moment, there are no hard and fast rules for how to interact. It’s about accepting that sometimes someone has to be hurt or excluded and then trying to find ways to protect that individual. Finally, it’s not about my knowing what’s right for others, but rather collaborating with others to find what’s best (not perfect) for “us.”