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Monday, June 3, 2013

Swimming With Sharks

Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.
- Proverbs 17:28

"Take that meathead rhetoric to Bullshido."

"Don't post stuff like that on Bullshido -- they'll eat you alive."

"Are you going to challenge me to a fight like the goons on Bullshido?"

If you frequent martial arts-themed internet communities, you are likely to occasionally hear things like this. has built up a rather a scary reputation in the martial arts e-world, and I think it's fair to say its members like it that way.

Back in 2010 I decided to make a Bullshido account. I'm not sure what I was thinking; perhaps I got it into my head to go defend the honor of stylized, traditional arts like aikido against the evil hordes of MMA exclusivists rumored to dwell there. I never gathered up the courage to actually post there, but I'm sure that I had Bullshido in mind when I wrote "Haters Gonna Hate" in February of 2011.

My perception of Bullshido started changing last spring, when I began looking up information about infamous "ninjas" Frank Dux and Ashida Kim in preparation for the writing of "We're the Problem". In the cases of both men, Bullshido's Martial Arts Encyclopedia proved an invaluable resource, full of well-researched information from credible sources and solid investigating and reporting done by Bullshido members themselves. Perhaps, I began to think then, this was more than just a hangout for Tapout thugs.

Even that, though, wasn't enough to actually convince me to post there. I still feared an aikidoist like myself would be chewed up and spit out by Bullshido's famous "Bullies". Every once in a while, I lurked on the forums or read through the investigations on the Martial Arts Encyclopedia, but that was as close as I was willing to get.

What finally changed my mind a few weeks ago was a desire to start an "investigation" of my own (I won't go into the details here, but those interested can follow this thread on Bullshido). I didn't want to be that guy who shows up out of nowhere, asks for help with a particular matter, and then disappears, so I browsed around the forums a little bit, hoping to contribute a little to some discussion without stepping on anyone's toes.

Wonder of wonders, these supposed MMA-minded thugs had a whole board devoted to traditional Japanese martial arts. That didn't sound too scary, so in I went. Inside, I even found a thread about aikido. It was a longish thread, already eight pages, so rather than try to read it all and respond to everything, I just gave my two cents in response to the OP.

I braced for impact, not sure what to expect. A caps lock rant? A condescending lecture? A warning? A ban?

"I like this n00b," came the first response. "We shall keep him." It was one of the forum leaders.

It's a strange feeling having all one's preconceptions shattered by a few words.

It didn't take me long to figure out that I'd pegged the Bullies all wrong from the start. Bullshido, I quickly discovered, isn't about declaring the supremacy of a few full-contact martial arts, but about exposing the dishonesty and delusion that plague the martial arts world. Most of its members are more than willing to converse respectfully and open-mindedly with an aikidoist, so long as said aikidoist isn't delusional about the applications of his training and is willing to remain silent on subjects he doesn't know anything about.

That last point is one I can't stress enough. If the stories of Bullshido's single-mindedness about MMA are exaggerated, the stories of their harsh treatment of those who earn their disfavor certainly are not. I know of no faster, more effective way in the world to have one's ego taken down a peg than to spout off on Bullshido without being able to prove oneself.

The Bullies take their proof very seriously: anyone making a bold claim had best be prepared either to cite evidence from a credible source, to participate in one of Bullshido's many meetups, or to be carried away on a wave of condescension and ridicule.

This dynamic, while some find it harsh, certainly has its merits. Many martial artists claim to train "scientific" arts (some Wing Chun players come to mind), but Bullshido is the only group of people I've ever known whose approach to the martial arts resembles anything genuinely scientific. Their acceptance of a claim is not based on who makes it or how eloquently it is made, only on whether or not that claim can be or has been confirmed by experiment. Those who make claims that they cannot substantiate in this way can expect the same reception on Bullshido that a young-earth creationist might receive at a convention of evolutionary biologists.

The internet martial arts community is awash with horror stories about Bullies' disdain for traditional martial arts, and indeed for anything that doesn't belong in a cage match. Many of my friends from AikiWeb and Martial Arts Planet talk about Bullshido the way Tolkein characters talk about Mordor.

But I have experienced no such disdain, and the way I have avoided it is very, very simple: I don't make claims I can't back up and I keep my mouth shut unless I really know what I'm talking about. This humility and adherence to the rules have been the only prerequisites to my acceptance on Bullshido.

I have a hard time feeling sympathy for those who cannot manage these two things. About a month ago I watched the Bullies embarrass and then run off a Bujinkan stylist who was lecturing on unarmed defense against weapons but was unable to provide any evidence in support of his ideas. He seemed genuinely offended that people were not willing to blindly accept his words at face value, and mistook that unwillingness for a refusal to listen to him at all and a disrespect for his training.

He was a living personification of obsolete martial arts thinking: a guy with a black belt told me stuff, therefore I know all I need to know, and therefore anyone who disagrees with me is an ignorant fool. He probably still believes it all, and probably has added to the horror stories swirling around the internet about the evil place called Bullshido where there is no respect for traditional martial arts. The truth is that the lack of respect he experienced was only for him, specifically his willingness to lecture on things with which he had little or no experience.

Socrates tells us that the only true wisdom is the recognition of one's own ignorance. My message to my fellow internet aikidoists -- and, more broadly, to traditional martial artists of all stripes -- is this: if you are willing to accept the truth of your own ignorance, then you have nothing to fear from Bullshido. It is not the boogeyman, and it is an informative and interesting resource.


  1. Bullshido is definitely an interesting place, and I post there every now and then--mostly in the Traditional forum, but occasionally in other sub-forums. Every now and then I get a bit of vitriol in response to my posts because I support kata practice, but otherwise it's not as bad as it's made out to be. Your assessment seems quite accurate, to me.

    1. Thanks for reading and replying, Noah. I'm glad to hear others' experiences mirror my own. Since my aikido doesn't make use of the kind of kata you're referring to, I can't really speak to that issue with any authority, but I suspect most of the Bullies I've talked to wouldn't have a problem with kata as long as the one practicing them doesn't mistake them for something they're not.

    2. No problem, Matt. In the case of kata on Bullshido, it's more a situation where they mistake what kata are for. In their defense, most of them have only experienced strip mall kiddie karate, or Japanified, impractical karate, and in those cases I totally agree with them that kata is useless for anything except moving meditation and a bit of fitness. They don't like my reasoning for kata practice--that I do it because I am being taught practical applications for the kata, unlike what most people learn--because it sounds like a "no true Scotsman" argument to them. I'm fine with them feeling that way, so I don't make myself a target.