Saturday, May 11, 2013

Martial art superstitions

As an international news reporter, I have an opportunity to see and experience many cultures and traditions. Some factoids -- like the Dan Brown-ish ones -- have baffled, but are fascinating nonetheless.

Superstitions tell you a lot about a culture's belief systems and traditions. One blogger has set up a website investigation superstitions worldwide unfortunately she's left out Antarctica!).

There are already some interesting entries in there. I gave it a whirl and left a long entry, focusing on martial arts. I've been practicing martial arts -- Taekwondo mainly, and Kendo in the past -- and investigating the topic as a journalist for close to a decade. (Entry 1, Entry 2, Entry 3, Entry 4)

So here goes. Please be aware that this all comes from hearsay and observations. Superstitions are an inexact science. There's a lot of rivalry between martial artists from different styles, but this covers an entire range.

1) Some never wash their martial arts belt for fear of losing the knowledge they have already gained.

2) Tang Soo Do has a "midnight blue" belt instead of your traditional black belt as the color black is considered bad luck. South Korea also has a Black Day, which is a sort of anti-Valentine's Day where individuals come together and celebrate being single.

3) Many martial arts forms are tied to tradition, which are heavily tied to belief or superstition. Really depends on how you view it. Specific Capoeira moves in modern times still reflect as a dance form in how slaves protected themselves in the past.

4) Similarlty, Kung Fu forms inspired by animals and other objects have heavy ties to Asian beliefs on protection, wealth, long life and good health.

5) During bouts, Muay Thai fighters have good luck charms in the  form of amulets or bracelets.

6) Ninjutsu itself was built heavily on superstition tied to superhuman feats and paranormal activity. The ghost-like images of ninjutsu were in fact devised to protect them from the Samurai. Those thoughts carry on again, but Samurai ain't hanging out in Starbucks or pubs anymore.

7) Like so many martial artists, some of my friends in Taekwondo believe their belts are good luck charms. Or they believe specific uniforms or color combinations are good luck charms during tournaments.

8) This one's hard to explain: Some martial artists believe they can air-fight or defeat opponents without touching anyone. It's through what they call "chi" or "qi", or flow of energy (also claimed to be used for healing). Highly creative stuff, and it seems like a superstition that works for those who believe in it. The central topic of chi or qi is tied to many superstitions in Japanese, Korean and Chinese cultures.

9) Lots of Wizard of Oz-ish sorcery and black magic are central to many martial arts.

All said, there's a fine line between the beliefs and traditions in martial arts, and what may be considered superstition. I believe martial artists are only as good as the amount of work that is put in.


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