Misconceptions About Martial Arts from Pop Culture Debunked: Part Two
When something is popular, you can bet there will be misunderstandings about it. Misconceptions about martial arts abound just as with any other popular practice. The rich history and great rewards to be gained through a martial arts practice have made it a popular pursuit. Yet, unlike in real life, martial arts in pop culture isn’t bound by any rules or reality. Let’s separate the fact from fiction about martial arts.
Martial Arts Masters and Hidden Mystical Forces
Can martial artists really tap into powerful mystical forces? Addressing this misconception about martial arts is more complicated than you might expect. You can find a lot of videos of “martial artists” claiming to use forces like chi or ki (same meaning, though the first version is Chinese and the second is Japanese) to do things which are basically magical. You will see these “experts” fell their “opponents” (their impressionable students) at a simple touch, or even better (and funnier) at a single glance.
While these videos of martial arts magic are amusing, they aren’t accurate. They tap into the idea that there are mystical powers at play in martial arts. This is an idea that has been around for a long time in the West, partly born of a misunderstanding of concepts like chi/ki and Eastern philosophy. Additionally, martial arts in pop culture has been heavily portrayed as tapping into these magical elements, partly because it makes stories more entertaining. But what’s the reality? It’s true that real experts in martial arts can perform some pretty spectacular physical feats. It is also true that high-level practitioners can control pain response and do other things which may look almost appear magical to normal people. However, the videos you see of martial artists making people fall by tapping on them or looking at them are either fake or they are videos of what amounts to hypnotism. In other words, the instructor has convinced the students of their magical ability and so the students subconsciously “play along” with the exhibition, though they may genuinely believe it.
The idea of ki/chi is a very complex idea. It’s wrapped up in martial arts and it shouldn’t be made into a silly sideshow. However, it doesn’t emanate from the eyes of an instructor and knock you unconscious. Luckily, when it comes to this misconception about martial arts, you won’t have to worry about finding out these types of instructors in the real world—they lose their credibility fairy fast.
Nunchucks and Ninja Stars
For our next misconception about martial arts, we’re looking to the weaponry martial artists are often associated with. Movies, especially older ones, used to always portray karate specialists flinging nunchucks around. The reality is that learning traditional weapons usually comes later in martial arts training. Some schools don’t train with weapons at all, while others reserve training for special classes or for certain belt levels.
Remember, the word karate literally translates to “open hand” or “empty hand.” The point of karate is to be able to defend without a weapon. If you want to learn nunchucks, don’t expect to show up at your first martial arts class and be given access to an armory of weapons. Many martial arts don’t use weapons at all in any training. Those that do are exceedingly careful about the process. This is one myth that comes directly from martial arts in pop culture.
Kids and Adults Who Learn Martial Arts Become Bullies
For our next misconception about martial arts, we’ll call this one the “Cobra Kai” myth. You send your kid to martial arts class and they come back a mean bully who abuses all their classmates and friends. The reality? For most people, young and old, martial arts training increases compassion and makes participants more aware of the potential downsides of physical violence.
A very small amount of people might take techniques outside of the classroom, but this is highly discouraged by all instructors. Most instructors can identify these problem students and will discontinue training since their bad attitude shows up in the classroom first.
The Black Belt is the Highest Belt
Martial arts in pop culture is highly associated with the esteemed black belt. Some people think that a black belt is the pinnacle of achievement in martial arts—this is a common myth and flat out wrong. It’s true that obtaining a black belt is a great achievement and a worthy goal, but it’s certainly not the end of training, nor does it make you a martial arts “master.”
The reality is that many martial artists consider the first black belt to be “where training truly begins.” Most martial arts have many levels after black belt. Karate and other martial arts call these levels dan; they are signified in different ways, often with stripes or bars on the black belt itself. A few martial arts use purple or red to signify dan ranks higher than black belt. In Karate, most systems end at 5th dan, or 10th dan, though it depends on the school and their association. Regardless, the first black belt is almost never the highest belt one can attain—it is the first dan belt. All belts below black belt are called kyu belts.
It’s a great accomplishment to attain black belt in any martial art. Just know you have more to look forward to after you earn it.
Ready to Start Your Martial Arts Journey?
Now that you can separate fact from fiction when it comes to martial arts, getting your real-world training started is the next step. At Premier Martial Arts, we welcome students of all levels to enjoy the benefits of this ancient physical art. Find one of our many locations nationwide to start your own martial arts journey today.