Your mother lied to you (and so did your sifu!)

23 Feb

Do you remember when you were a kid? Your mother told you that you were really smart, you were good looking, everyone was going to like you and that you were special! Then you grew up and went out into the real world and realized that your mother LIED. A lot of people have had sifu (martial arts instructors) who have done similar things; telling them that they were learning a special (usually “secret”) method and that studying with them the student will eventually have unique, special skills and powers…. Sadly, there are a couple of differences here.


First, your mother loved you so much that she probably believed all those things. She had neither malice nor agenda. Your sifu? MAYBE he believed all those things he said. However, after mucking around for more than three decades in the martial arts community, I really doubt it. I’ll get into more detail in a minute, but your sifu most certainly had an agenda.

Second. While pretty much all adults eventually go out into the real world and figure out that mom was wearing rose tinted glasses, very few martial artists seem to go out into the real world (leave their comfort zones and/or test their arts) and thus they continue to hold onto the lies their sifus told them. Some hold on DESPERATELY, as if you told a Catholic that the Pope had been a Nazi youth, had coverd up decades of child sexual abuse and was going to abdicate …. But again I digress….


The thing about the real world is, it always is out there and it frequently shines into a fantasy world like light filters in through the bedroom shades in the morning. And when the light of the real world, the light of TRUTH, enters a kung fu fantasy world the results can be quite violent. Programed like a cult victim, they fight back to preserve their perverse world view. They construct elaborate rational to justify and legitimate their practice, in direct proportion to the amount of truth that often literally hits them in the face….

But going back to the original sifus, WHY did they lie to their students? Well, it is certainly a lot more “cool” to claim to be able to do and teach something no one else knows or is able to do. It’s also a pretty good business strategy, “old and no need for improvement, because it is already the best”! So called “internal arts” are always advertised as better than “external ones”. You may be a 98 pound weakling but with Taiji you can kick sand in the face of that Shaolin Neanderthal. Can’t find a “real” internal master with the secret Dim Mak death touch? You can still rest easy knowing all Chinese martial arts are more scientific, more effective and just plain better than those puny Japanese and Korean ones!


The truth isn’t quite as exciting or exclusive. It isn’t so cool to find out that not only are you not in an elite secret club, you are likely anything but special. Reality is, good instruction under a good instructor in ANY martial art and you are all going to ultimately learn the same thing. There are no secret punches or kicks. There are no fool proof methods of defense.

Wait! It gets even more mundane (and perhaps depressing). You spent 10 years learning to do Tai Chi push hands? A decent college wrestler who doesn’t know “chi” from Chicago pizza will still likely tie you up in knots and dump you on your butt with little effort.


More BLASPHEMY! Mohammad Ali, Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson all probably had better “Hsing Yi” than most of the “masters” you’ve met….. They just never hear of “form” or “will” and can’t name the 12 animals….

This is NOT to say there is nothing of value in these arts. There is quite a lot. But there is nothing “special” or unique in them. Stories and myths of these special secrets are nothing but marketing, which unfortunately have done a huge disservice to the world.



2 Responses to “Your mother lied to you (and so did your sifu!)”

  1. Bill. June 23, 2015 at 3:11 pm #

    This is probably the best piece I’ve read about the martial arts in the last 10yrs.

  2. Paul Read June 23, 2015 at 5:15 pm #

    Refreshing… keep going, the arts need updating and it’s gonna take a while yet 😉

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