Should amputees be allowed to compete with other martial artists?

I got an e-mail over the weekend from Eric Dexheimer, a reporter over at The Statesman, who was doing some research for an interesting article about an above-knee amputee MMA fighter, Jorge De Leon. The twist to the story is that despite covering his prosthesis with a protective foam and being physically fit for the event, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation fined the event organiser $5,500 and disqualified the event. To quote from Eric’s piece:

The official crime was that De Leon had broken a rule prohibiting fighters from wearing “metal, straps, buckles, necklaces, jewelry or other objects (including piercings) that may cause injury to either fighter.” “The leg would fall under ‘other object,’ ” explained Susan Stanford, a spokeswoman for the agency.

So, the question I rolled around in my head was – should amputees be allowed to compete with other martial artists?

The above is an interesting scenario – on the one hand, I think it’s awesome that he’s gone ahead and participated in an MMA match despite his disability, and feel quite strongly that he shouldn’t have been disqualified. On the other hand, knowing how much potential damage a prostheesis can inflict on a person, particularly some of the edges and parts relating to the knee, supporting titanium pole and so forth, I can see that there may be grounds in terms of safety of the prosthesis during a match.

In some ways, I’d argue that there simply being a prosthesis isn’t unsafe per se. The prosthesis is merely a tool that can used and manipulated as a weapon, no different to a knee, fist, elbow, etc. In fact, due to the greater degree of movement and kinetic energy that can be harnessed, it could be argued that these natural extensions of the body are no less safe than a prosthesis, it all comes down to the use thereof. For example, if I were to strike with a roundhouse kick, my prosthesis would likely cause a significant impact – however, due to the way kinetic energy can be manipulated via muscle and hard bone, I imagine that a roundhouse kick by a seasoned martial artist would arguably have greater impact. I have compared my kicking techniques to my instructors and other experienced martial artists I have trained with, and I would actually believe their strikes are actually more powerful than something I can generate. This is reflected in Eric’s article, noting that experienced athletic prosthetist Jan Stokosa found that while sparring with below-amputee Ron Mann, it was his real leg that caused greater impact compared to his prosthesis.

One of the disadvantages of a prosthesis compared to fully-functional limbs is that we don’t have the same degree of control compared to a physical leg owing to the lack of muscles, and this lack of control could well be grounds for arguing issues against its use (i.e. unintentional damage or injury due to the relative instability of the leg). Mind, contrary to that, I’ve seen some pretty scrappy MMA bouts, and I don’t think controlled striking is necessarily a universal component that all participants believe in; this does make sense in the spirit of MMA though, given its potential to simulate “real” combat, rather than point-based or light contact sparring quite common amongst “traditional” martial arts styles in the West. Mind, I certainly wouldn’t have the balls to compete in an MMA match, looks too full-on for my sensibilities!

As a point of comparison, if it’s relevant, whenever I spar with other martial artists I do two things – first up, I give them advanced warning to watch how they strike in case they unintentionally hurt themselves on the prosthesis. Secondly, I make it a habit not to actually strike using my prosthesis during sparring – this is more in line with my philosophy that I don’t believe I can control the leg to such a degree that I can guarantee there won’t be unnecessary impact to my sparring partner.

But MMA is arguably quite different to a lot of sparring I would do in class – if your body has a natural advantage (athletic, muscular, experience), does the presence of a prosthesis make much of a difference to the spirit of a match if it’s considered simply a function of the body, akin to the aforementioned attributes? When grappling arts like Brazilian Jujutsu were introduced into MMA competitions and proved an effective (and arguably essential) part of a combatants’ repertoire, the style wasn’t banned – rather, participants had to learn how the system worked and how to counter it. In that sense, is the presence of a prosthesis any different?

As an amputee, I can assure you that whilst there may be advantages to having a prosthesis during such a match, there are also a huge amount of disadvantages – balance, limited control, lactic acid buildup in the stump, incredible amount of energy expenditure to move/use the limb compared to an able-bodied competitor. The question is – do the disadvantages even out the advantages?

There’s also the fact that there aren’t many opportunities for amputee martial artists to be recognised and compete if they wish – I would be absolutely thrilled if karate or something similar would get introduced at a Paralympic level, as the only martial art currently available is judo, and participation is based on the basis of your eyesight-related disability. There is no avenue for amputees to compete.

I’m pretty on the fence with this one, hence why I’ve jumped back and forth on either side of the argument… I know it may be a little convoluted, but hopefully I’ve helped stimulate some discussion on the situation.

On a final note, for those interested in reading more about Ron Mann, check out the following sites:

He has also run some workshops and competitions at the Extremity Games – according to the website, the next one is happening next month in Texas. It’s definitely an event I’d love to go to, but putting aside the money factor (gotta love those Australian mortgages!), I’d want to get into more shape before thinking about heading over there to compete 😉

Huge props to Eric on his excellent report on this issue and for getting in touch – I just wish I checked my mail a little earlier so my response could have been more useful! I highly recommend you check it out to get the full story, it makes for a great read:

Not going down without a fight on his prosthetic leg: Agency says war vet’s bout broke law as technology and martial arts converge.

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Open your mind

Matt over at Ikigai posted an awesome and humble post on the importance of keeping an open mind when approaching the study and practice of martial arts. There really isn’t a whole lot more to add to what he’s covered, and I can see my journey through a lot of what he has said. While I don’t have anywhere near the knowledge and experience he has, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who has put the walls up and have tried to tear them down in trying to learn about martial arts wholistically as time has gone on.

For me, I have found that posting in good, open-minded martial arts forums (like OzBudo) have been one step in getting my mind out of the comfortable space it had setup with regards to martial arts, and attending seminars and training with people of varied experience also helps. While there are systems I still have a personal preference for over others, I’ve found I have really started to lower the irrational prejudice I had towards other styles, especially since at times they were petty or ill-informed, and to see things as wholistically as possible.

So this is a tip of my hat to you Matt – I’m committed to making it a habit to empty my cup 😀

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SA Martial Arts Newsletter #14 is out

Just a quick plug for this one – Chris has just sent out issue #14 of the SA Martial Arts Newsletter. For those who aren’t familiar with it, this is the spiel from the newsletter’s mission statement:

The SA Martial Arts Newsletter is a non-profit, non-political effort to promote friendship and fraternity in the Adelaide Martial Arts community. This newsletter aims to offer a free forum for local martial artists from any style or organisation.

If you’re interested in subscribing, give Chris an e-mail at samartialartsnewsletter@gmail.com. There’s also a Facebook page for the newsletter as well, which you can access from here.

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Congrats on the milestone Jesse!

I’ve finally started catching up on my blogs from the last couple of weeks, and I noticed on Jesse Crouch’s blog, The Martial Explorer, that he’s recently hit the 2-month mark for his blog. I’ve referenced Jesse’s blog a couple of times already – he provided the stimulus for the post I did on prosthesis technology, as well as offering some encouraging advice on achieving strength without necessarily increasing the bulk, which I blogged about here.

His site is currently in the links section locked into the right-hand side of my blog, so if you haven’t checked it out yet, please go and have a look – there’s plenty of content and is updated frequently. You can also click from the link I posted at the start of this blog if you can’t be bothered pressing the scroll button 😉

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Shonky martial arts movies – round 1

Source: Gisoku no Jutsu
Original post date: 13 April, 2007

Dodgy martial arts movies are a part of the movie scene. What of course contributes to their inherent dodginess will often depend on their country of origin. Hong Kong and Japan have a knack of producing some of te best in the world, whether they be littered with relatively unnecessary dialogue and little plot (Hong Kong) or melodramatic and long winded (Japan). This broad generalisation of course eliminates the movies emerging from, say, Thailand, China, Korea or other regions in East Asia; I only offer my tongue-in-cheek generalisation on Japan and China because I’ve seen more movies from there than anywhere else. While I’m certainly not taking a swipe at either country’s respective martial arts films (as I love them dearly), even the most ardent fan must see the cliches that riddle the genre. I personally wouldn’t have them any other way, as I believe that these idiosyncracies are what makes them special. I’m also a firm believer in keeping them in their original language – there’s nothing like gung-ho Johnny America voicing Jackie Chan to ruin a movie. Thank you DVD – dual languages and English subtitles, gotta love ’em. Though as a footnote, I have to say that some of the R3 discs I’ve watched have left me a little worried – I preferred the HK and Japanese martial arts films without the cheap digital effects. I’m not talking about the gorgeously lavish film were the effects are actually meaningful (like, say, Hero or something), but the cheap stuff with particle effects, 3D rendering… I dunno, kinda like Volcano High (which was awesome, but the CG was a little superflous) or Anna in Kung Fu Land (though the title should have been fair warning on that one).

But I digress. For the purpose of today’s short blog on wrongness, I’m going to touch on US martial arts films. I don’t know what it is, but until very recently, whenever Hollywood or anyone in the US pulled out a martial arts film, it was plagued by crap choreography, stupid one-liners, crap direction and was edited by someone afraid of letting the camera linger on a single shot for more than a few seconds. I mean, as much as its fun to pay out Van Damme, Steven Segal or what-not, they’re skills as a martial artist may not be too shabby (they’d be able to beat the stuffing out of me and run away with my leg, for example), but everything else… argh, the horror! And before anyone brings up The Matrix flicks, let’s get something straight – Keanu Reeve’s kung fu was shit. Check out the second Matrix film – Jet Li must have giggled when he had to fight a living Wooden Dummy. What The Matrix (and its craptacular but visually spiffing sequels) did right was to bring in the right guys to choreograph and film the fighting so it actually looked really good. Then, to the amazement of anyone who has ever seen an awesome piece of East Asian martial art movie goodness, Hollywood got hooked and kept on implementing the faux-HK choreography style that proved popular with The Matrix’s audience. Note I say faux-HK, because as much as the fighting action love has improved, it still has nothing on what the talent from HK or Japan has produced, and I would argue that HK style has definitely become more popular than Japanese martial arts choreography in Hollywood movies.

With all that pretext out the way, let me take you on a journey, back to 1995, and the year the world was graced with the latest in a series of poorly made movies based on video games. Despite a legacy of The Wizard (90 minute Nintendo commercial made awesomeness by starring Fred Savage, Christian Slater and one of the Bridges… and they play Nintendo), Super Mario Bros (Bob Hoskin’s musta needed the money. Or was drunk), Double Dragon (Scott Wolf! hahahaha! Didn’t catch it yet, might have to track it down for a laugh), Street Fighter (oh dear god no! A travesty that will necessitate a future blog methinks), and other acts of random stupidity (kinda like the movie based on DoA, starring the slutty girl from Neighbours, but of course is more recent, and not relevant to this rant), then somewhat-less-rich New Line Cinema (y’know, Lord of the Rings, anyone?) brought us… Mortal Kombat: The Movie!

Now, I’ll avoid video game history and trivia, as I’m a geeky boy and could wax lyrical about the state of gaming circa 1994/1995 for the purpose of background info; the only thing needed to be said is that Mortal Kombat was the more indie-answer to Street Fighter 2 (or, in movie land, Street Fighter: The Movie). The games were more brutal, there was blood and stuff, people could get chopped in half. In short – awesomeness in a can for prubescent young men. So it was with high hopes that Mortal Kombat was expected, especially following the piece of shit that was Street Fighter the Movie.

To its credit, it was far better as a fighting-action movie than Street Fighter – people actually fought. Y’know, a bit of biff and all that. And they did their signature cheesey special moves. With new-fangled CG effects (CG effects, being very new in 1995, were very much considered awesome even if they really weren’t necessary or looked a bit arse). And there was mid-90s doof-doof dance music that, when listened to now, either sounds like it should be played in a night club where men wear arseless chaps, or gritty underground like a dirty club in Manchester, both circa 90s.

The casting was better, and amusingly, much cheaper than Street Fighter. It also didn’t feature Van Damme being a silly army man, or Kylie Minogue under the pretense she was part of an elite group of British agents (if it was an elite group of attractive, arse-wiggling pop stars, then yes, she’s would have made a good choice. But she wasn’t, so she loses). There were a cast of nobodies, but at least they looked comfortable executing choice biff against the faceless bad guys. Except for Bridgette Wilson (aka Sonya Blade). She was crap. Amusingly crap even – watching her execute some biff proved a highlight when I watched the movie with Wifey last weekend. To the film’s credit, Christopher Lambert played Raiden, and he’s always awesome even if a movie’s crap (Highlander 2) or uber (the orginal Highlander). Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa plays Shang Tsung and pulls funny faces and spends most of the movie over-acting, but that’s okay, because that’s how he plays everyone, which is in turn golden. Robin Shou is awesome by default; he can’t really act, but his technique is good, and by all that’s uber, his boofy hair was a true highlight of the film. The dude who played Johnny Cage didn’t have too bad form when they filmed him during the Scorpion fight, so kudos to him. And then there was this guy in a crazy suit with four arms, Goro. It looks like the reason he beat everyone up was because they were afraid to lay into the costume, probably in fear of breaking something. Nowadays he’d probably be CG and still look arse, but in a CG-fake kinda way; unlike Kelsey Grammar in X-Men 3, who excuded Frasier-gone-animal, and pulled it off. Nice fighting there.

Now, where Mortal Kombat fall down is that the plot is wafer thin, the acting is pretty bad, the one-liners get old fast, the sets are pretty funny because a lot of the time they look cheap, and the music’s kinda funny. It’s full of cliches, and again, Bridgette Wilson looks so bad when she tries to fight. Not as bad as Keanu Reeves – at least a wooden dummy has form 😛 But to be honest, that’s why its awesome – its so cheesy, but at least the cheese is budget and cheap. It’s not trying to be awesome, it knows its place, and for a videogame licence, it wasn’t too bad. The fighting (bar Bridgette Wilson… though maybe her craptacularness could be a highlight ’cause its funny) wasn’t too shabby, but it still suffered from average choreography (above average for Hollywood at the time, though), pretty crap editing, and looked slow. Again, some of these guys were trained and had more in there, and the way it was filmed let it down.

But, let’s not get too critical here – it’s trashy cinema. It’s cheap. It’s dodgy. And hence it’s awesome. Kinda like Rapid Fire. The only thing it needed was Dustin Nguyen from 21 Jump Street, That would have been awesome. He could have played Robin Shou’s character’s brother. And they could have shown him sparring with him and being awesome. But then you’d have to round it out and have Holly Robinson and Peter DeLuise. Maybe the Captain from the latter-half of Season 1 could have been in there as well. Maybe Family Guy should come up with an excuse to parody or reference 21 Jump Street. That would be uber golden.

Okay, I’ve gotten sidetracked. I do that. So, thus ends my first rant on martial arts movies. I hope you enjoyed watching the funny trailer as I did looking it up on YouTube whilst at work trying to look terribly productive. I’ll bring more goodies over the weekend – I’m going to try to dig up some cool stuff on YouTube and Google Video 🙂

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