Response to a Phil Elmore article

Who Are the “Armchair Martial Artists?”
By Phil ElmoreNot too long ago I got into a mild debate with some instructor or other – his name escapes me – at an online discussion forum. Reading too much into a single photo that was part of an article here at The Martialist, the instructor made what I thought were vague and condescending comments. He capped these with the delightful assertion that, as I interpreted it, the way he instructs law enforcement officials is far superior in application to similar material shared by others, especially those who don’t teach LEOs. He implied, in my estimation, that he could not share these effective techniques with the mere mortals frequenting a bulletin board, so all assembled would simply have to take his word for it.


As per usual, a boring, waffling and self-indulgent introduction outlining a personal disagreement with someone from “teh intranet.” Yawn, wake me up when it’s over.

Setting aside, for the moment, that anyone unwilling to share information shouldn’t be participating at an online discussion forum, let’s be clear about two things:
• Truth is not a function of one’s resume.
• There are no secret techniques.


Truth is indeed truth, regardless of who is saying it and what they have achieved. It’s a lovely non-sequiteur that has about as much to do with who is qualified to teach martial arts as stating that Einstein had a lovely moustache.

There are no secret techniques. Nope, that’s right. (Except for the techniques that the instructor knows but keeps from his students… What do you call those again? Oh yeah, secrets. Perhaps you meant that there should be no secret techniques?) But there are limits to how much you can write about a technique, when what is really required is doing the technique, showing, guiding, making physical contact.

Anyone who tries to assert differently should immediately earn our contempt. The first is a logical fallacy – the Appeal to Authority – and the second is just foolish.


Well, yes and no. It’s not as clear cut as that. Truth is truth, no doubt about that. But the martial arts are not always about what is intellectually, academically true. They are about experience, about skill, about knowledge. These things, in particular, often are dependent on your “resume”. For example (and this is only an example), it is a truth that, in the Japanese language, the verb often comes at the end of the sentence. That’s true, but not everybody knows that, and I didn’t know it, until somebody told me. Now, don’t give me the response that we can find these things out for ourselves. If that were so, we would not need martial arts teachers, or teachers of any kind, and we would simply bumble our way through everything discovering everything for the first time each generation. No, we learn from people, from their experience, combined with our own. Truth is truth, but one person cannot know all the truth in the world. There are plenty of truths in quantum physics, but can you tell me them? Probably not, because you have no idea about quantum physics. Would I take your word over that of a Quantum Physicist? Only if I were an idiot.

Let’s say I wanted to learn how to shoot a gun. On the one side, I had a man who had been in the army, shot and killed numeruos people, and recieved a sharpshooter’s award.

On the other hand, I had a guy who had read all there was to read about the theory of shooting guns, knew all the same “truths” as the other guy, but had never actually used a gun for its true purpose; combat.

Who would I choose to instruct me? Who would you choose? The answer is obvious. And that’s why your statement, that truths are truths no matter what your resume, is not a good one, especially when it comes to martial arts.

Anyone who makes an assertion (or who criticizes your honest presentation of an idea) but will not offer his or her own assertion in equal measure and detail is evading the issue.


Either that, or they are just lazy. Are you implying that when someone “honestly” presents an idea, that it should not be criticised? “I spent many hours in front of my computer writing honestly about what I think I know about fighting. You can’t criticise me until you’ve written at least 2,000 words on the subject and stayed up all night writing, too!” Sounds kind of crazy, doesn’t it? Yes, I realise that was a bit of a straw man, but this is basically what you are saying. Remember, truth is not a function of your resume!

He or she has learned that it is easier to criticize than to create. The loudest critics online are those who create little or nothing themselves. The Web is rife with them. They are armchair martial artists.


Funny – didn’t you, mere minutes ago, make the point that the truth does not depend on your resume? Couldn’t we therefore extrapolate that you don’t need a long resume of articles published online in order to refute a point that you disagree with? I also find your definition of armchair martial artists almost too hilarious for words – you are implying that armchair martial artists are those with little or no online presence, those who have not created something tangible for all to see. I know many an incredible fighter who has never put pen to paper with their ideas. Are they armchair martial artists?

My argument with the instructor – in which I ridiculed his responses fairly viciously, as I have no patience for online silliness related to the martial arts –


Do excuse me, I think I just choked on my noodles.

managed to anger the participants at a small, low-traffic discussion forum in another country. I gather that these participants either know, or know of, the instructor in question. They were very angry that I did not afford him the deference they felt he deserved. What all of them missed completely was the frank reality that respect must be earned.


How is respect earned? By the amount of essays you publish online? The amount of logical fallacies you can point out in someone’s response? The distance you can raise your left eyebrow? And especially in the martial arts, how is respect earned? By doing. Not by talking.

Anyone who offered the responses I ridiculed would have received the same treatment from me – for I brook no evasions when someone takes issue with me. I urge anyone reading this to do the same. This does not mean I am never wrong, of course. (On the contrary – I am always learning, as I believe we all should be. This is why I encourage dissenting opinions in print at The Martialist and online at our discussion forum.)

What it does mean, though, is that waving your resume around and demanding to know someone else’s law enforcement credentials and training (if any) doesn’t win an argument or settle an issue. In the course of venting their ire at me, the foreigners I managed to irk took a few shots at me (as one would expect). One called me an “armchair martial artist.” I read that and literally laughed out loud sitting at my computer.


I can imagine you would. How could anybody dare to criticise you? 😉

I’ve never claimed to be an expert of any kind. I will never tell you, “Agree with me because I am the publisher of The Martialist,” or, “I am right because I say so.” I do not, however, pontificate from ignorance. I train under two different instructors, spend a great deal of my free time researching the martial arts, and regularly publish this magazine. While that’s not the resume of a Jeff Cooper or a Chuck Norris (or even an Aaron Norris), it’s also not the profile of an inactive, uninvolved practitioner. I live and breathe what I do and I believe strongly in it.


Somebody who denies their position as an armchair martial artist by claiming to spend time researching martial arts and publishing a magazine about them is not doing much to help their cause. Those are exactly the activities of an armchair martial artist. What was it your old wing chun instructor said? That you hardly ever turned up to class?

Who, then, are the real armchair martial artists? They are the children (and the adults who behave like children) who comprise a vocal minority within the online martial arts and self-defense community. They’ll accuse you of egotism – because of a self-involved envy that you, not they, have taken the time to build something of value.


I’d really love to take this opportunity to ask you to stop citing this fucking bullshit strawman arguement. It’s very frustrating. I, personally, know of nobody who feels envy at what you have created. You are barking up the wrong tree here, so please stop it. It might impress your buddies, but not anybody else.

The reason people become angry with you is because you have built an entire website, career, persona, movement, publishing ventures… on NOTHING. You even say yourself, you’re nobody special. You don’t have much real world experience. You are by no means an expert. Then, what they hell are you doing in the position of an expert? Experts publish books. Experts lead discussions. Experts teach martial arts. Experts head up websites about the martial arts. I know, I know, it’s your “angle”. Hey everybody, I’m Joe Schmo, just like you. Hyuk hyuk. What in the world would make you think that I want to pay money to be taught anything by a Joe Schmo, nothing special, non-expert? You’d have to be insane to do so.

Just drop the act. How long are you going to claim not to be an expert? Until the day you die? Come off it. You’ve been training for over a decade (sounds more important than 10 years, doesn’t it?) and you consider yourself not an expert? Is that because you only attend class once a month, or are you just a slow learner? Why not have the confidence to say something and believe it – “I tell you this because I am an expert in this field. I have the credentials, I have the knowledge, I have the experience. Listen to me, I am an expert.” No, you use the line that you are not an expert as a kind of scapegoat. If you never portray yourself as an authority, then you can never be taken down a peg. If you never claim to be an expert, no one can accuse you of not being an expert. It’s devious, and I feel sorry for the people that fall for it.

The problem is, your words and actions don’t correlate. It’s like somebody claiming they love animals while stamping on a kitten. You say “I’m no expert” but you act like one.

They’ll happily criticize your efforts – while offering no efforts of their own. They’ll micro-analyze every photograph you publish – while offering for public scrutiny no photos of their own work.

Truth is not a function of your resume.
Some of your loudest critics have videos, photos, and writings of their own plastered all over the internet for all to see.

They’ll bitch and moan about the articles you haven’t written – because it’s easier to demand why a single article doesn’t cover the sum total of martial art since the dawn of time than it is to create even a single article of narrow scope. They’ll dash themselves on the rocks of their own anger, their own bitterness, their own insecurities – because you dare to have an opinion and defend it, committing the ultimate sin of failure to be convinced by their feeble efforts.


I’ll just sit here and drink my tea until you return from la la land.

These are the armchair martial artists, who may indeed go regularly to their dojos and kwoons and halls. They dwell in the armchairs of their minds – soft places from which they spew their envious vitriol while fleeing mentally from the truth of their own failings.


Wait – are you actually trying to make things easier for me? I think the common understanding of the term Armchair Martial Artist is someone who sits on his fat ass pontificating about martial arts rather than actually practicing them. Therefore, someone who regularly goes to the dojo or kwoon and trains hard is not an armchair martial artist. You’ve somehow actually got the definitions reversed – that the people who go to training but don’t publish anything online are the armchair martial artists, while those brave, valiant intellectuals furiously typing (and spell-checking) essays on martial arts are the true hereos.

To get up out of the chair, you must be willing to stand. You must be willing to create. You must be able to endure criticism, most of it ignorant. You must accept what Ayn Rand knew decades ago – that the good are often hated for being good. You must be willing to expend tremendous effort, knowing that you will receive few thanks but absorb much grief.


Ah, no. You must be willing to go to training regularly. That’s about it, dude.

I am proud to believe that among The Martialist’s readers there are no “armchair martial artists.” I know this is true because our readers contribute and because they participate. They get it – and I am honored to serve them while serving myself in bringing them, and you, this publication.


What if I make up an article for the Martialist based on common sense and tidbits I learned from the internet and mailed it to you, despite being someone who has never in their life practised martial arts, what would that make me? (Hint: an armchair martial artist.)

Helicopter pilot Ken Cox once spoke of how fascinating he found criticism – seeing himself through others’ eyes. He also referred, much later, to the hypocritical manner in which I believe the armchair martial artists hurl accusations at others. He called it “the pot calling the refrigerator black.”
The armchair martial artists know who they are.
They fear you.


The armchair martial artists fear everything, because they are wimps.

You started what could have been a great article about the definition of an armchair martial artist. (Who knows – it could have been as virally popular as your definition of trolls and been cited on at least two websites!) (Okay, I’m joking there. I have no idea about how many referred to it.)

Unfortunately, you give only a passing mention to the real subject, and instead carry on a personal quarrel (offering us no links or background or actual quotations). Did your psychiatrist tell you to write these articles, as a cathartic process? Maybe you should buy a guitar and write a song every time someone makes fun of you, instead. But then again…
(Cue the Martialist dramatic signoff line music…)
That would involve getting out of your armchair.

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