Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Butt Whippings

Butt Whippings

I’m standing ringside at a martial arts expo watching various people demonstrate their styles when one particular master catches my attention. “Yes, the Okinawans had such powerful kias that they could knock the squirrels from the trees.” Huh? I thought. Knock squirrels from trees? I didn’t know they squirrel hunted on Okinawa. And besides, why shout at a squirrel when you can shoot it? Then the master continued demonstrating the power of Ki by taking an arrow in one hand and trying to push it into the chest of a student who was performing Sanchin kata.  Naturally the student’s skin wasn’t pierced because an arrow is a projectile weapon that requires velocity to penetrate its target.  Plus the master was ever so slightly bending the arrow’s shaft as he pushed to ensure the student’s safety. To the untrained eye, or those just needing to believe in hocus-pocus, the whole thing looked very impressive.  I, on the other hand, thought: Butt whipping. If the master had had a proper Butt Whipping he wouldn’t believe in such nonsense.
            Butt Whippings are an essential part of learning because they shatter our illusions about life, love, violence and the world in general. Take me for instance.  One of my first Butt Whippings occurred when I was five years old.  That’s when I thought shooting my dad with a BB gun would be funny.  And it was very funny watching him jump and holler after being shot in the back with a Daisy rifle.  However, the Butt Whipping he administered shortly there-after convinced me that what I had done was not funny, nor was it something I would ever repeat again. 
            Butt Whippings used to be an essential learning tool in karate.  I mean after all what better way is there to learn you’re not a bad hombre than by getting your butt whipped? However today, in this overly commercialized world run by the martial arts industry, instructors realize that whipping a student’s butt results in the loss of revenue. And heaven forbid a commercial school owner admit they’ve had their butt whipped because that’s sinking the Titanic before she leaves port. For unlike full-contact styles (Boxing-MMA-Kickboxing etc) where butt whippings are a source of pride, in the karate world they’re rarely spoken of.  Hence the reason why martial myths abound, common sense is tossed out the door and all these deadly masters, who are over-weight and out of shape, are talking about knocking squirrels from trees. Yes, I know. You’re a master and that’s not your gut, but three- decades of chi hanging over your belt buckle. Go ahead, pop the top again and tell me another story.*
 The following is a quick run down on some martial myths and the Butt Whippings incurred from believing them.
  • You’ve just been promoted to black belt and now you’re hands are deadly weapons, so its time to celebrate. You call up a girl, ask her for a date and take her to a swanky restaurant. The lights are dim, elevator music is playing and you’re both getting cozy making small talk and sipping mixed drinks with little umbrellas in them. From the next table over some drunk makes an off hand comment about the girl you're with.  Defending her honor, you stand and ask him to step outside, but before anything happens the bouncers arrive and they make the guy move to another table. You sit back down feeling confident, but more importantly your date is impressed. Before long the incident is forgotten and after two more drinks the call of nature arrives. Saying “excuse me,” you stumble to the restroom where after a moment’s fumbling you unzip and make use of the urinal. All’s going well, but just as you’re about to put Willie back in the barn, there’s an angry tap on your shoulder. Turing around you spot the guy who insulted your date standing very, very close. “Sum-beech” he says with a menacing grin. Uh-oh, what should you do?  Put up Willie and fight or, fight then put up Willie.  Too late, the matter is already decided.  A thundering right cross breaks your jaw and you slump to the floor unconscious with Willie out of barn and as lifeless as you are. What’s more embarrassing though is that when paramedics carry you out on a gurney everyone in the restaurant sees that you got whipped, plus your date realizes that you’ve been lying to her for the past week.  Lesson learned: Believing you’re undefeatable + oversized ego + not paying attention to your surroundings = Major Butt Whipping.
  • It’s Friday night and you’re out drinking with some dojo mates after a hard workout. The beer is cold and tastes good.  So good in fact that you drink more than usual. You’re a black-belt and you want to impress the lower ranking students so you talk loud and demonstrate kata between tables. Someone complains and the bouncer comes over. He looks old and tired and out of shape. True, he has muscular forearms covered in tattoos, but that means nothing to you because you’re a black-belt. “Quiet down, please” he asks in a polite tone. You consider his offer but, the other students are watching so you decide it’s a matter of honor. “Buzz off pops,” you rely. The expression on his face never changes and for a brief moment you actually believe he’s intimidated, then the world comes crashing down and suddenly you realize this man is a seasoned fighter.  Someone who experiences more violence in one night than you have in your entire life and as he’s dragging you from the bar into the parking lot, you try apologizing. But too late, the police are there to take you away. Lesson learned: Ego + Stupidity + Alcohol = Butt Whipping and Jail Time.
  • There’s a new guy in class who used to box and you’re trying to teach him how to punch the proper way, but he keeps retracting his punches.  Soon you move onto blocking and as you’re explaining a rising head block you state “this is designed to stop a boxer’s jab.” “Oh really” he says. “Well show me.” Determined to teach the new guy a lesson you assume a deep stance and tell him to “give it his best shot.” Birds sing, bells and whistles go off and stars float above in the heavens. You come to with a bunch of people standing over you, one of them the new guy who keeps repeating “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry” over and over again. Lesson learned: Ego + Stupidity + Inexperience = Butt Whipping.  Or, in laymen’s terms you’re not the only Sad Sack who can throw a punch.
  • You’ve been practicing pressure point fighting when a friend invites you to their Judo class.  You accept, knowing before hand that it will be no problem defeating mere grapplers. As you step out onto the mat there’s a strange sensation in your gut, but you choose to ignore it.  I mean after all, you know pressure point fighting and once in close there’s no stopping you. You take hold of your opponent’s gi, assume a low stance then the world turns upside down and you crash to the floor. And for the rest of the night you become a throwing dummy, despite the best pressure point techniques you can apply. Lesson learned: Ego + Stupidity + Assumption = Butt Whipping.
  • You’ve come to the conclusion that kata has no real application to fighting. It’s obsolete, archaic and far too rigid. You decide to make your own kata complete with high kicks, spinning techniques and secret techniques learned from a deadly arts book you bought on-line. Things are going well and before long you’ve discovered the hidden secrets of karate.  Secrets too deadly to pass on to others. Two weeks later you’re attending a kata seminar hosted by a funny talking guy from England, who is in his forties and has no hair. I can take him, I know I can, you think.  But when he grabs you by the hair of the head and punches you in the faces and says “this bunkai is from Seisan,” you suddenly realize there may be more to kata than what you perceive. Lesson learned: Ego + Inexperience + Unchecked Ambition = Butt Whipping. Never forget traditionalists can fight too.

Now having covered some real life scenarios can I get an Amen for Butt Whippings? I mean don’t you think the world needs more of them, especially the karate world?  And if you’re in a school that believes in Butt Whippings then consider yourself fortunate because you won’t be plagued by those dangerous illusions which haunt most folks. As a matter of fact this might be the start of a world wide movement. Just imagine it. Butt Whippings international, or Butt Whippings 4-U. There’ll be license plates, bumper stickers and seminars. The possibilities are endless…

About the Author: Although slightly delusional, Michael Rosenbaum is a very traditional Southern storyteller who has been involved in the martial arts since 1966. Since that time he has had his butt whipped on numerous occasions, both nationally and overseas.

*Southern speak for open a beer.

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