Technocracy is a column about technology and personal liberty, about how advances and innovations in technology – or abuse of the application of technology – affects your life as a citizen of what is, ostensibly, a free society. I have in the past used this column to advise you concerning a very important aspect of technology. This is self-defense, the use of technology as training tool and force multiplier to better your odds of success in applying physical force to an aggressor.
The topic of self-defense is one many do not normally associate with technology (but they should). Hidden beneath this layer of technology's application – self-defense as topic and as industry, never before more readily available than it is now on the Internet's network of networks – are many subtopics, most of which never find their way to the forefront of most Americans' consciousness. One that should, however, is the subject of fantasy martial artists – individuals who use technology and its many venues of telecommunication, self-publishing and self-promotion to create false images of themselves.
The idea of using the Internet to define or reinvent yourself, to create for yourself a persona that may not be accurate, is not new to most of you. You may even have an inkling of what I'm describing: self-proclaimed martial artists, street fighters and "masters" of self-defense whose self-aggrandizement clearly marks them as legends in their own minds. You may wonder what harm is done to you or anyone when such people indulge in their fantasies. You may believe that allowing people to delude themselves is ultimately a victimless crime, for the person who thinks he is someone he is not is really just a harmless Walter Mitty. You may picture him living out an inner dialogue that makes his day-to-day existence more tolerable, more interesting, at least (and usually only) to him.
The problem of fantasy martial artists is that they are not harmless. Their crime is twofold. First, in propagating and promulgating faulty, unfounded or misguided information on self-defense, they spread myth and misinformation on a topic that can be, quite literally, a matter of life and death. Caveat Emptor has never been more appropriate to the self-defense industry than it is now.
This is a state of affairs unchanged in hundreds of years, for even famed Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi complained of a martial arts field "rife with flamboyant showmanship, with commercial popularization and profiteering on the part of those who teach the science and those who study it." Barriers to entry to the field of self-defense are now much lower than in Musashi's time. Now, to become known as a self-defense instructor or martial artist, you need only create a website and tell the world that you are one ... then threaten anyone who criticizes you online.
This brings me to the second crime, the greater danger, of the fantasy martial artist, and it is here that many previous Technocracy columns collide. Previously I wrote of the Internet as The Incubator for Narcissism, on which many would-be or could-be John Hinckleys hide in plain sight, often making overt death threats facilitated by technology. Just three days ago, these columns came together to demonstrate to me – and to you – that martial artists on the Internet are frequently not whom they claim to be. Their fantasies do not just betray their lack of professionalism or ability. In some cases their willingness to act on their delusions endangers the public as consumers ... and your children as clients.
In my capacities as a freelance journalist and a martial arts instructor, I often review self-defense products. Recently I published written and video (on YouTube) reviews of a silly little product that, as any person reasonably acquainted with the mechanics of physical force would conclude, simply is not effective for individual self-defense against a resisting assailant.
I abhor solutions that wander the self-defense industry in desperate search for problems. I dislike anything that over-complicates the task of self-defense, and I hold in contempt any product that makes more complicated an already ineffective idea. This is technology applied foolishly to what should be a simple problem. It is misguided and devotion to this "tool" as a means of self-defense marks the practitioner as a fantasy martial artist – someone ignorant of both self-defense and realistic use-of-force. I said so about this product, truthfully and bluntly. The response was not long in coming.
The inventor of the device first told me online how he would "slap me around." He then made a YouTube video smashing a watermelon to which he had affixed a picture of my face. A call to his local police got the video pulled – but the fact remains that this man, who was so quick to make threats of physical assault, has his own school where, one presumes, he teaches martial arts to the public. This man could, right now, be teaching your husband, your sister or your children. He may be demonstrating his self-defense product(s) at a seminar at your local dojo, dojang or kwoon at this very minute.
That is the real threat of the fantasy martial artist. If you encounter him online, he may inflict his delusions on you, yes. He may become hostile when you refuse to affirm and validate him. He may angrily denounce you, stalk you or threaten you when you disagree with him. He may make it clear, if you oppose him, that he means to do you harm. More important than any of this, however, is that in an industry with few legal checks on its participants (for imposing such restrictions would create more problems than it solved), such an individual may be endangering your friends and loved ones simply by "teaching" them. Unless you're aware of such a person's history and behavior, you will have no idea the problem exists.
In a dangerous world, we are all potential customers of the self-defense industry. We must, then, know when the fantasies of its "teachers" endanger their clients.