Sunday, February 11, 2007

Technology and Tang Soo Do: Part 2

Culture and History: from fringe users to the mainstream.

Much like the advent of the printing press, the internet has revolutionized the way in which information is shared. The technology of the day has often been embraced by martial artists. The invention of the printing press in Europe brought with it manuals on fighting being produced and distributed. The invention of the photograph was no different, as such legends as Motobu Choki, Funakoshi Gichen, Kyan Chotoku, and were persuaded to pose for photographs while performing the martial arts. It is probably no coincidence that these names are still clearly remembered to this day. The permanence of the written word and developed photograph had clear advantages to the oral traditions of previous generations. Techniques could be quickly remembered or transmitted from teacher to student as accurately as the teacher learned from their instructor.

Also not new are the concerns of some martial artists that this new technology was troublesome and dangerous for the future of the martial arts. Many did not see the need to share their knowledge with a reader who they would never meet. In a time when many arts still had a closed door policy – entrusting the secrets of their art to a select few – it would have been almost sacrelige to share these teachings with just any reader. Later, a growing concern that students could learn new material before they were ready became a pressing issue.

Others still were envious of this new distribution of information, as their role as the central dissemnator of information had become lessened. A book published by someone more famous could contradict the word of the instructor, and affect the student's perception of their instructor.

This problem has been in existence for some time. Take for example the media of video. The 60s and 70s brought with it 8mm video cameras. While most of these were used to document family reunions and holidays, there were a group of “fringe” users who recorded martial arts tournaments, demonstrations and clinics, and traded these recordings with others. The advantage was obvious: seeing a high ranking Master performing a hyung once compared to being able to see them again and again without dealing with an imperfect memory.

With the 1980s came the advent of the VCR, and with it catalogs dedicated entirely to martial arts instructional tapes. Now, what was a fringe passion for a small group of extremely dedicated collectors was opened to the masses. Most people owned a VCR, or had access to one. It was possible for a student of the martial arts to be exposed to other arts and ideas at considerably less expense than before. At the same time, camcorders became a more affordable consumer item. With their low cost, and compatability with the VCR, many instructors and students began taping themselves for reference and instruction.

The internet is a similar phenomenon. In fact, the internet has been tied to martial arts and martial artists since its beginning days. In the days of text-driven message boards and BBS (bulletin board systems) the audience was largely hobbyists and a small portion of the general population. One of the appeals of this new medium was discussing pasttimes and hobbies with people outside one's normal sphere of influence. Early internet users, of which some were also martial artists, used this new communication medium to share their information with others and, quite naturally, learn more about their own art. Contrast this to a previous generation, where a student’s sphere of influence rarely extended beyond their own dojang or local tournaments. Whereas 20 years ago it would be a once in a lifetime experience to see the arts of the Shaolin temple, the Beijing Wushu team is now a few mouse clicks away.
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