Sometimes Pictures (and the Paperwork) Tell a Thousand Lies
by, 05-28-2011 at 00:50 (2489 Views)
In the past few years I have seen a lot of people present their credentials in Japanese martial arts accompanied by a picture of them with the head teacher, as proof of their authenticity. While this is fine and good most of the time, and they are most likely akin to "family pictures" I have found that there is sometimes a darker underbelly in doing this. That reason is fraud, one that is sometimes propagated by the Japanese school not being careful about pictures being taken and under what circumstances. In the spirit of being amicable and polite to visitors and students, there is a naivety that allows people to take advantage of the situation that extends past the borders of Japan. There is a prevailing attitude worldwide that goes "pic or it didn't happen" demanding photographic evidence, and sometimes that very "show me" attitude can be very deceptive as what you see is not always what you get. Pictures can be faked, intent is lost without context and not all can be shown through a mere photograph. Many times a school will unwittingly allow this to happen, not thinking it through properly, and what was supposed to be a memento of a visit in Japan becomes one important piece of a deluded story. Not so long ago I was following the tale of a very, very delusional man and his stories of grandeur in the martial arts. He was of an advanced age and it seems he was not satisfied with his lot in life. So he set out to change that. It was either that or he was suffering from a mental illness. His stories, no matter how they were refitted and revamped to match arguments against him always came out with "evidence" in the form of a photograph. And so out the photographs were produced- of him with very well known martial arts figures and personalities. His stories never did jibe, but the pictures heaped up enough speculation to let the fraud carry on.
So, the denial of purely photographic evidence leads to the next logical step, which is to ask for paperwork. The rank, the attributes and award that one receives from labor in the martial arts. In general I would say if one has all the paperwork, more than likely one is the "real thing" with authenticity to one's claims. Yet again, as I have found, this can be misleading. There are plenty of people that have received "legitimate" rank for a myriad of reasons other than their proficiency in the martial art. Usually, frauds are easy to spot, especially with bloated ranks and titles, outrageous stories and lineages that further weave claims. With very little experience one can pick up on these types of individuals without a great amount of effort. However, the type of fraud that is the most dangerous is the one that has slipped through the gates- who has the rank, has the pics and has the paperwork- but is missing a key element: any type of skill in the school whatsoever. These folks are the bane of the martial arts community as they appear in all sense can become a "living embodiment" of the school. Yet, sometimes nothing could be further from the truth and in the long run more damage is done than good.
If you haven't guessed it by now what I am saying is that yes: there are authentic schools that have given out credentials (high ones at that) to people indigenous and foreign, without the recipient fully earning them. I know of at least three classical schools that have done this in the past 10 years, and know of others that have passed on the paperwork by default; in lesser cases the "family name" was at stake so a less competent facsimile of a teacher stepped in to take over, but that is a whole other issue. What I am talking about here is high rank given out not because of necessity, but for something entirely different. In any case the idea or notion that a pedigree *always* represents authenticity or competence is, how does one put this lightly: BOGUS. In my opinion, you should have the time in the school actually training under a competent teacher, putting in the work. Bottom line. Speed is not of great importance and neither is a slower pace. In a perfect world it should be competence and ability that are the measure of the paper. For many, this part was somehow skipped and they ended up with a rank anyway. Go figure, it's disheartening and painfully narrow-minded. Personally I would rather be the student of someone with time sweating it out on the mat without any rank, pictures or paperwork than to be the student of an incompetent clown that is passing themselves off as authentic.
Furthermore, in Japan this is not actually a new practice. It's something that has been carried on for generations and it's prevalent everywhere, especially in the "days of yore" that so many romanticize about. Honorary ranks and certificates were handed out to those that could prove to be valuable contacts to the school, a kind of dowry for a connection. More importantly, it was and is a type of social intercourse that allowed many people to gain rank without spending much time actually training or sometimes even stepping foot in a dojo. Unfortunately, it sometimes backfires and discredits the school which then follows to bothersome claims in lineage and propriety to the school and it's rightful successor. It was also a way to control people to ensure they would keep secrets and funding, working in a way to suppress the ill will of others and keep the money rolling in. While there are many schools that did not tolerate it, there are almost equally as many that did. At times, especially during downturns in the economy the schools outwardly sought to recruit others this way. A type of sponsorship and way to keep the gears oiled politically in a climate that was unfriendly. It's a shadowy gallery of back alley dealings and strange transactions that leave many people scratching their heads when hearing of them, muddying up history and creating dead ends to tracks that should have been cleanly laid. To be honest, this is the way of Japan in many of their dealings. I've had my critics say that I don't understand this simply because "I am not Japanese" and "this is not my country" so there is no way for me to fully know anything that they do or the reasons why they do it. Yet, I speculate that I know all full well what is going on here, and understand it without any delusion to who I am or what is being done. I don't simply glaze over and ignore it because it's typical behavior that I have become numb to and thus my "understanding" isn't deep enough.
So this is my call on to those old schools (and modern) which still carry on in this way. Making sure to leave very little to be speculated with my words:
I call bullsh!t.
I don't care how respected they are, how many connections they have, or how many golf balls they can suck through a garden hose. Shame on them. Shame on those going along with it and shame and shame on those around them for tolerating it. I can only hope that karma will catch up to them and history will put them in their place.