Because there just doesn’t seem to be much GoT-related Spongebob fiendishness on Tumblr. Or RvB. Or anything else for that matter.
Somebody please stop me.
So, as you all know, I have been going on and on and on about how Asian martial arts are very different from Western martial arts and that Asian/Eastern martial arts are not inherently better than Western martial arts just because they “look cooler” or have more followers. Just because our society has come to associate the term “martial arts” with Asia (Japan, China, Korea, and others), does not mean that it’s correct.
Eastern and Western martial arts are separate and distinct systems of fighting. One is not better than the other. There.
Now that I’ve properly separated them for you, let me say this: they are not all that different.
That may sound incredibly contradictory on my part, but just think about it. Yes, both cultures (in a broad sense of East versus West) have their own martial systems designed to defend against specific factors like plate/maille armor or lamellar armor, infantry using mostly spears/lances/halberds or infantry armed with bow and arrow, all the soldiers carrying swords or only the elite carrying swords and so on. Each martial system developed to suit its culture’s demands. Now, on the other hand, we are all human. We all typically have a head, two arms, two legs, and one torso. All of us are put together in the same way. That being said, kinesiologically we all move the same way. In terms of the swordy arts, there are only so many ways to hold and swing a sword.
One of the main arguments I hear from snooty practitioners of any Asian sword art, particularly young idiots participating in any Japanese sword art where the katana goes straight to their uninformed heads, is that the Japanese techniques are “better” or more elegant or more efficient. When asked to explain how that is, the answer is often “Well… because! It’s Japanese – everything’s better and because it’s a katana.” And apparently, as everyone should know, katanas are clearly superior to every sword ever made on this planet. Possibly because it’s curvy…
This should prove, once and for all, to those Nipponophiles that Japanese sword arts (JSA) or any other kind of Asian sword art is not superior to anything else on the planet nor do the “different” techniques of any JSA trump the techniques of the various Western martial arts (WMA).
On to the pictures!
*I apologize in advance: I will only be using postures from the German tradition within HEMA and the iaido and kendo traditions from Japan. This is mostly because I know the German tradition and it’s easy to get pictures of kendokas and iaidokas. Also, my Japanese is non-existent so, sorry if I get the terms wrong…
Exhibit A: Here we see the overhead guard known as Vom Tag (in the German tradition) and Jodan no kamae (from kendo). Oh look - they’re almost identical!
Note: Vom tag and what I’m calling low vom tag or lazy tag are the same guard, but there are (at least) two ways of performing them. Both positions are considered vom tag. As for the kendo/iaido guard, one source said it was called hasso while the other called it in no kamae. I have no idea which is correct :)
Shitty cropping and positioning job aside, these two (or three?) guards look identical too. See - there are only so many ways to move the body. Especially when there’s a large piece of steel in your hands.
Don’t ask me why, but Meyer’s student in the picture on the left is leaning really far forward. Then again, Meyer tends to exaggerate a little for clarity, I believe. I *think* the proper name for the kendo/iaido position is migi gedan no kamae.
An interesting note: in kendo and iaido, migi gedan no kamae seems to be used quite frequently. In German however, “alber” means “fool” and Master Joachim Meyer (whose manual most of the German example pictures come from) does not think highly of this guard. He goes so far to say “…in that from this Stance no successful finishing strikes can be made, one just uses them to gain an opening against the opponent through displacements to block strikes…” (Meyer 1570, trans. Mike Rasmusson)
Again, look familiar? Both guards are used to cover the exact same area in the same way.
Ah hanging point. This is a parry position to cover your head and, if the guy on the right is actually performing a guard, they are again identical. The only difference seems to be that with a katana, a kendoka or iaidoka can perform this guard one handed. I could not find the name in Japanese…
Now how’s this for coincidence: both einhorn and o gasumi are extended versions of ochs and ko gasumi/te ura gasumi. Exact same hand and sword placement, but the arms are extended forward. In einhorn’s case, the tip is pulled up a little hence the name Unicorn.
The exact same guards developed half a world away from each other. Pretty awesome, right?
And now for a lesser known (and possibly lesser used) guard:
Both are used to defend the legs. In the JSA, one hand can be used because the blade is far shorter than a longsword’s. For longsword, a two hand grip must remain on the sword or else your guard will be weak and useless.
In case you were wondering, yes even the cuts are the same. There’s only a couple ways to cut with a sword: up and down and on the diagonals. Here’s a cutting diagram from Meyer:
Gyaku kesa giri = diagonal upward cut = diagonal unterhau
Kesa giri = diagonal downward cut = zornhau
Kiri gaeshi = large diagonal cut (ending in waki gamae) = zornhau starting from zornhut and ending in nebenhut
Shomen uchi = cut to the head = scheitelhau
Kiri otoshi = dropping cut, straight down = oberhau (almost… there’s no dropping necessary with an oberhau)
Yoho giri = horizontal cut = mittelhau
So, as you can see… we’re not that different. There are no special “super-duper” techniques that I’ve hidden from you fine folks. Super special/secret techniques don’t exist in Asian sword arts OR historical European martial arts (of which most are swordy in nature). And both fighting styles/systems are AS SOPHISTICATED AS THE OTHER. We, as a society, know more about Asian martial arts because ours (er, descendants of Europeans) were lost to us when the gun was widely adopted. Unlike many parts of Asia (who did not adopt the gun until the West sorta forced them to), Europe embraced firearms and pretty much vowed to never look back. Also, we (the West) think Asia is some exotic, mystical place full of mystical people so we ascribe these traits to every traditional thing that comes from there. And then of course our own stereotypes of European sword fighting and knights comes into play when we actively dismiss our own fully developed and sophisticated martial system for another which appears more exotic and ridden with mystical teachings.
Humans are a silly species, but we have great capacity for logic and understanding. Make sure people understand that we, the descendants of Europe, too have a proud martial tradition and that we need not substitute one for the other nor belittle it. Every place on the planet has or had its own martial art and EVERY SINGLE ONE is equal and just as complex, comprehensive, and EFFECTIVE as another.
Take away message: If you are a Westerner and want to learn a traditional martial art that is “your own”, it does exist and it is not the brutish hacking that Hollywood loves to portray. If you want to learn a martial art from a different culture, that’s cool too. It’s a wonderful way to learn about other cultures especially when so many traditions are wrapped up it them. But remember - never assume one Art is better than another and don’t belittle the martial arts of your own culture just because someone said to.
*By the way, if I got any of the Japanese terminology (or anything else) wrong, would you all be so kind as to tell me?
Links for more info:
More Spongebob fiendishness. God, I am so going to hell for this.
*Updated: now with
59% 63% MOAR FIENDISHNESS. That last one was totally appropriate, though, I swear.