Thursday, June 27, 2013

Question Everything: Critiquing

Search for “taiko” on YouTube and you’ll get about 345,000 hits.  Some of them aren't actually taiko drumming, but most are.  And that’s not even counting all the “other” taiko clips where the descriptions are in Japanese, or people put it up as “Japanese drumming” because they don’t know what taiko is, etc.

Mind you, that’s just what’s posted on YouTube!  There’s stuff posted on Facebook, Vimeo, other video sites – and yes, even taiko that’s NOT recorded and uploaded to the internet *gasp*.  The amount of taiko performances around the world is a number I don’t think anyone could estimate well.

So with that many groups doing that many performances, you’re going to get a wide range of quality.  There are a countless number of karate dojo out there and there is an equally wide range of quality.  I came across this clip a few weeks ago:

I bet I can guess most of your reactions.  Some of you are appalled, others greatly amused.  Still others are thinking that maybe this is a group of special needs students (but it’s not).  Some of you may even be hoping these are the beginners, but alas these are the BLACK BELTS, some of them above the 1st-degree.  There are many other clips of this group, sometimes doing the same kata and other times sparring, but it is always the same visual.

Some of you may not see anything wrong with this clip.  People are moving with intention and effort, after all.  However, there is more emphasis on speed than technique, and as we get older, speed decreases while technique can improve.  Stomping the ground looks more important than stance, which is basically style over substance.  Even some martial arts that focus on the “pretty” for tournaments have a beauty and grace to them, which this video lacks.

So we have an example of one style, one school of karate that is really hard to watch.  And it’s really easy for me – or any of us – to make derogatory comments.  Here’s where I struggle, though.  What if this spectacle is bringing people joy?  What if it gives students much-needed self-confidence and stress relief?  What if the people you see have family or partners that are delighted watching their loved ones perform?  What if people see this and get inspired to do karate or martial arts themselves?  Would it then have worth?

On top of that, if you were at an event where you saw bad taiko or bad karate or bad something-you-practice, would you go over and tell them you thought it was bad?  Would you risk shattering someone’s self-esteem just to have your say?  Are you ok with being labeled a jerk?  What if one of them came up to you and asked your honest opinion?   Then what would you say?  Would you lie and say you thought it was great?

It’s easy to critique from afar, but when there are consequences to the words you say, how much changes?

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