To the editor:

I read with pleasure of the Taiwanese American Student Coalition two-day event on self–defense. I feel strongly that everybody should have some knowledge of how to act when the fickle finger of fate points its finger at you and says ‘You are on stage right now, Defend Yourself!’ Since the end of two World Wars and a slew of anti-imperialist struggles, the idea of violence has been seen as something deviant. In conjunction with this attitude was the easy availability of firearms that seemed to make years of hard training in traditional combat arts of little use against guns. But this is far from the case. I have trained in traditional arts all over the world. From these apprenticeships I have learned not to ask what a martial art is supposed to do, but to look at the types of situations they train for. In the Anthropology of Martial Arts class I teach every summer here at BU, I tell my students the first thing you must ask yourself is has this art been used under battlefield conditions, with ritual male hierarchical contests or predatory attacks? The first category is self-explanatory. The second is what is seen late at night on State Street when two people meet and drunkenly punch and wrestle with each other to prove where they rank in the hierarchy of young men. The last deals with individuals who deliberately seek out the weak or the disabled. Here the goal is to shock and awe.

In the description of the self-defense workshop, day one was devoted to Muay-Thai. Muay Thai was developed in the 1930’s as a safe sporting variation of the older battlefield art of Kabri Kabrong where swords and spears were used in conjunction with kicking and kneeing attacks. Day two focused on Tae Kwon Do. Coming out of 1950’s Korea, this art arose out of mixing a diluted Okinawan Karate taught to Japanese University students and the traditional village pastime of Tae Kwon. Much like Capoeira, Tae Kwon was done to music, where two individuals take turns trying to kick and sweep each other. A fun pastime.

These are pastimes that allow people to get together and have fun and get fit at the same time. But as a form of self–defense they will get you hurt. In contrast, Martial Arts from the villages of Indonesia or the streets of Genoa begin students with weapons. Why? Because they recognize that attackers generally arm themselves. Second, these arts train the students to always be prepared to deal with two, three and up to eight people. Why? Because most attackers want to overwhelm you. They don’t want a fair fight; they want you to give up without a struggle.

Kicking someone on a beer and vomit-covered floor, kicking someone in high heels will get you seriously hurt. Be careful not to confuse “martial arts and crafts” with the realities of the street.

Michael Ryan
Research associate, department of anthropology