Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Racism in Martial Arts

Racism has been a hot topic in the news and some have compared todays racial tensions with that of the 1960s. As we do not have another Martin Luther King Jr. I'm going to start this blog off with a quote from the man himself;

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

-Martin Luther King Jr.

We know racism was an everyday occurrence in the past... Even Bruce Lee was a victim of Racism, oh here in the US sure but Lee was 1/8  German. He was stopped from going any further in Wing Chun because was an "impure Chinese" and so Ip Man was pressured into no longer teaching him. This is why Bruce Lee fought William Chow over Lee's refusal to "not teach Blacks kung-fu." Ronald Duncan, the Grandfather of American Ninjutsu was teaching it well before Stephen K. Hayes brought the Bujinkan Dojo's Togakure Ryu Ninpo Taijutsu (what they called it before changing the name to Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu)  to the US.
It is sad to say that racism is a part of human nature and that racism is everywhere. I had a friend in the Army who joined the US Army to help get his US citizenship & he did not like black Americans. I don't like the term African-American because as I see it, we are all Americans and our entitled to the same rights and respect regardless of our skin color tones. Unfortunately, racism is as much a part of culture as is anything. My friend Harry was black but being born & raised in Africa, he had a different cultural outlook then Americans and resented Americans claiming a culture they had nothing to do with. He'd get angry and start cursing every time someone used the term "African-American." He was interesting to be around, to say the least... but regardless of where your ancestors come from you have to apart of that culture to understand it.
I'm part Cherokee and proud of that fact, almost everyone native to West Virginia is as a matter of fact, this area was first colonized by the Irish and Scotts-Irish so its not uncommon to meet people with Native-American blood in their family tree. I however, actually was taught about Cherokee culture. Before I was born, my mom worked with an older Cherokee woman and they became friends. My mother in her younger days looked like a slightly paler and blue eye Cherokee. This older women taught my mom about Cherokee traditions and my mom taught me. In the Army, I got jumped by three Navajo boys because I was part Cherokee, the Cherokee sided with whites during the colonial era prior to the Trail of Tears. Me being "white" who practiced some of the Cherokee traditions, really upset a couple of them. I guess it reminded them of a conflict they never experienced but was a cultural memory passed down from their parents. What I took pride in knowing about knowing about myself, they saw as a reminder of what they were taught was betrayal.
To call myself Cherokee is an insult to Cherokee, I know bits and pieces of traditions, my bushcraft is most certainly based on Cherokee traditions. I burn white sage and I've learned to "speak to the wind" but I am still not Cherokee. I'm part Irish but I'm not Irish, I know less about Celtic & Irish culture then I know about Cherokee. When it comes to my American history,  know that West Virginia before it was a part of Virginia was territory inhabited by Scotts-Irish and Irish who married into Cherokee and other tribes. Neither Cherokee nor "white" these people developed their own unique culture, half-Cherokee and half-European. And as time went on and technology adapted we "Hillbillies" have developed our own culture. With it comes a cultural memory, stories passed down and tales that everyone believes. It doesn't matter if its true or not, doesn't matter if you have first hand knowledge or not... You know it & have accepted it your whole life or part of you life.
Its funny really, I had a Platoon Sergeant I really hated and he hated me... He hated me because in Chicago he had been told everyone from West Virginia was in the KKK and there were not black people in the state. So when he found out I was from West Virginia he assumed I was racist and being spoon fed these ideas his whole life, I became a target of what he felt was his "pre-emptive self-defense." So when people filed complaints on him with the Sergeant-Major he went straight for me, assuming it was me. Now at certain point I did file a complaint, my Sergeant-Major had me stand in another room and "guard the desk" while he talked to this sergeant. That's when this Sergeant assumed some kind of kinship with my Sergeant-Major because they both had dark skin, said "You know how those people from West Virginia are they are all in the Klan and he probably never saw nigga till he joined the Army." At which point, my Sergeant called me into the room, and dismissed me. My Sergeant-Major was from West Virginia & he was black, so you can only imagine the conversation they had but I didn't have anymore problems except for those I brought on myself. By this point I was in full on rebellious anyway, so caused myself some added hardship being hardheaded.
I address this to address both racism and the cultural memory effect... Much of racism is based on a cultural memory, something learned and passed on. For the Navajo who resented my embracing of Cherokee culture to a racist douche bag NCO who thought I was racist so he had to be racist in turn. How we define were we come from, defines how we see our present. Many white Americans cannot see why their fellow black Americans feel the pains of slavery, segregation and inequality decades and a century after those policies have been removed. Failing to realize it is an aspect of cultural memory... Yes we have people like Al Sharpton who fan the flames but most people don't think about how Martin Luther King day and Black History Month spread these cultural memories. Think about it (I'm not saying drop MLK day), why do we have a special month for famous black people, can't we address their contributions to history and progress along side their white counter-parts? And Martin Luther King should be then a "greeting card" we should study his life work and philosophy on more then just "lip service" for his holiday.
And I'm getting off on current American politics more so then addressing martial arts but I want to leave you an example you can understand. Because if you think this is talking about racism, you've never seen Asians or Middle Easterns at work. They have cultures and cultural memories that span centuries. It hard for Americans to understand, but these older cultures (unlike America) often value older things believing they have survived the test of time. Dr. Karl Friday a University of Georgia Professor of History states that most Japanese Ryu-ha (schools) exaggerate their age to show a symbolic worth... (, more so said cultures tend to define themselves by philosophies of previous years. The Iranians for example, don't think of themselves as being people from Iran an Islamic Republic established in 1979 but as Persians & modern extension of the Persian Empire. Likewise, the Chinese do not think of themselves as a "new nation" established under Mao Zedong 1945 but as the modern branch of the Chinese root reaching back to Xia dynasty of 2100 BCE.

To these cultures, we are merely "children" a young nation of only 239 years, they believe they are superior because they have a longer history. Their cultural memory is filled with a great depth of historical examples. Eastern martial arts, newly favored in Western Nations and the US especially, are seen as superior traditions that are older and more experienced as historical narrative. This explains the reasoning behind Ronald Duncan's story in his interview. More so, cultural pride will never let someone outside the culture be considered to be of greater skill or knowledge of someone from that culture. Meaning whether you are speaking of a Japanese, Chinese or Korean national, they will hold a greater standing then a someone outside the said culture. This was why Bruce Lee could no longer be taught by Ip Man, he was of a greater skill then many who resented him for such skills. Because Lee was 1/8 German, he was not fully part of Chinese culture.

More so, may know the organization of the Kokuryukai, the Japanese Black Dragon Society, was instrumental in spreading the propaganda of Japanese/Asian superiority. The Koyosha & Genyosha were also developed around & colored by the Prophecy of Emperor Jimmu in 660AD (Ashuka Era) called the Hakko Ichiu (All eight corners of the world under one roof) a prophecy that colored the thought of the Japanese Empire that was in place & being developed as a national philosophy/policy since 1868 became a rally cry for a Pan Asian Philosophy. Though at the time of the prophecy the Emperor was speaking only of the Japan, China & Korea what he knew as the world at that time. Judo was a tool used by the Kokuryukai to establish the first spy ring in Russia and to infiltrate Russian military bases as "judo instructors" prior to the Russo-Japanese War 
 Even with the defeat of the Japanese Empire during World War 2, the Japanese traded intelligence on their enemies and allies a like to escape war crime charges. Just as an Filipino, Korean or Chinese citizen (Koreans especially) and they hate the Japanese. The Koreans have a cultural memory of abuses during the second world war. Okinawans, though considered "Japanese citizens" see themselves as a wholly distinct culture from the mainland Japanese. A Japanese-American for example being a lesser Japanese to a native Japanese. And what about the Hakko Ichiu prophecy?
 From: Infidel Bloggers Allience:
Hakko ichiu, translates into English as "all the world under one roof," meaning world dominance by Japan. It was first used as a political slogan in the early 20th century by Japanese nationalist Tanaka Chigaku as his interpretation of a "divine command" issued by Jimmu, Japan's first god-emperor, believed to be a direct descendent of the sun.

The Japanese people believed themselves to be descendants of gods, destined to rule the world and all its people. Their religion of Shinto decreed that all living people must imitate the ways of the gods, in a system as detailed and all-encompassing as that of Islam's Sharia law. And like Islam, Shinto had permeated its culture for many centuries. But since 1870 the state had forced into the practice of Shinto the doctrine of hakko ichiu. The combination was deadly, because to the Japanese it justified any treachery, brutality, rape, and torture used against non-Japanese. In 1940, the Konoe administration proclaimed for Japan "a new order in East Asia aimed at establishment of world peace...". The meaning of hakko ichiu in relation to "peace" was about the same as that of Islam: submission.

And an These on Hakko Ichiu from Teshima, Taeko of the University of Arizona: goes onto explain this philosophy as philosophy of world dominance, even in the post World War 2 Japan.

The simple truth remains there are two elements to the study of Japanese martial arts, one is a cultural aspect of learning about Japanese terms and history devoted you the art and, other is good techniques. However, some Japanese system require an absolute devotion to Japanese culture and historical studies and those that are headed by people devoted to the Hakko Ichiu philosophy believe that Japan will yet conquer the world through the spreading of its culture, philosophy and religion. Yes, there is racism in martial arts and perhaps more so in Japanese martial arts. By contrast if you lo at Brazilian Jiujutsu, students of the art are not required to learn Brazilian language (Portuguese) or culture. Most karate & judo schools do not force the study of Japanese culture or religion upon the student, beyond basic dojo commands and technique names. Yet some schools of Ninjutsu, Aikido & Kendo demand an almost fanatical study & observance of Japanese culture, reigion and history rather teaching cultural aspects along side martial arts, they are teaching martial arts along side cultural aspects. Sometimes these cultural aspects are less about culture and more about cults like the Oom Yung Doe

The Japanese, Chinese and Koreans will never let a non-Asian be considered a master or become Soke of an art, as such many non-Asians establish their own arts & systems. Even Stephen K. Hayes & Robert Bussey had to break way from the Bujinkan and establish their own systems, to become "Soke" of their own traditions, though they never officially used the term. Bruce Lee created Jeet Kune Do as a philosophy that was a counter-cultural movement to the Chinese cultural racism that prevented him from becoming a "master" in Wing Chun. Bruce's words, at 3:38 to 4:39 in the video below, reflect this awareness...

Racism exists, it is a part of the human condition and it is not something to be proud of... It much be accepted however, accepted in the way we much accept cancer or war or, hurricanes. We do all we can to reduce the effect but understand that it is something we can never be rid of. We can educate our fellow man and seek out those who do not share such views. The worst we can do is accept the belief that we are being discriminated against when we are not. Sadly, racism is a large part of martial arts, especially Asian martial arts...

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