Wednesday, March 27, 2013

New project!! (Need your input)

So GiFreak has been like...a  HUGE learning experience. It seems like the brand has been growing and changing non-stop since it first launched.

Well, it's up and moving again in the form of a new blog. The entire idea is to talk about all the stuff that we do off the mats...our stories, our art, our history, culture, bodies, business...the whole shebang. BUT...we'll all write it. I'm envisioning a central place where all these great stories and information about BJJ can be gathered. I've already gotten some great contributions, but would love to hear from everybody...submission, critique, questions, anything. Check it out!!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Business in BJJ: GSP, Hayabusa and Comfort Women

Branding lesson here? Do your cultural homework.

Take pretty much any intro to marketing class, and you'll run into humorous lists like this one, offering entertaining cultural missteps like Nova being marketed to Spanish speaking audiences where the name translates to "Does not go." A few have been proven to be urban legends, but the lesson still stands...before you go appropriating, or selling to another culture, thumbing through a Frommer's isn't going to cut it. You need insight from someone (and possibly multiple someones) intimately familiar with not only culture, but history and nuance.

It may amount to nothing, but Hayabusa seems to have made one of these missteps a while back. Earlier today, fellow fighter, Chan Sung Jung, "The Korean Zombie", posted this on his Facebook in reaction GSP wearing the Japanese-themed gi.

"Dear Mr. Geroges St. Pierre

Hi, My name is Chan Sung Jung from South Korea. As one of many Koreans who like you as an incredible athlete, I feel like I should tell you that many Korean fans, including myself, were shocked to see you in your gi designed after the Japanese 'Rising Sun Flag'. For Asians, this flag is a symbol of war crimes, much like the German Hakenkreuzflagge. Did you know that? I hope not.

Just like Nazis, the Japanese also committed atrocities under the name of 'Militarism'. You can easily learn what they've done by googling (please do), although it's only the tiny tip of an enormous iceberg. 

Furthermore, the Japanese Government never gave a sincere apology, and still to this day, so many victims are dying in pain, heartbroken, without being compensated. But many westerners like to wear clothes designed after the symbol under which so many war crimes and so much tragedy happened, which is ridiculous.

I know most of them are not militarists. I know most of them do not approve unjustified invasion, torture, massacre, etc. They're just ignorant. It's such a shame that many westerners are not aware of this tragic fact. Wearing Rising Sun outfits is as bad as wearing clothes with the Nazi mark on it, if not worse.

Since you're influenced by Japanese Martial Arts, your wearing a headband designed after Japanese flag is understandable. But again, that huge 'Rising Sun' on your Gi means something else.

Many people say GSP is the best Welterweight fighter throughout history, to which I totally agree. This means you have a great influence on every single fan of yours all around the world. And I do believe your wearing 'the symbol of War Crime' is a very bad example for them, not to mention for yourself.

So, what do you reckon? 
Do you want to wear the same Gi next time as well? "

I consider myself to be decently culturally sensitive and aware...still...even with my knowledge of the Imperial  version of Japan's flag, the implications of this gi completely eluded  me, even with my posting on it on GiFreak, even having visited one of areas in Japan most famous for "comfort women" (mostly Chinese and Korean sex slaves), even having taken this picture at a Hong Kong memorial to the Chinese that died in both World Wars.

"In memory of the Chinese who died, loyal to the Allied cause in the wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945."

It's estimated that over 6 million Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos and Indonesians were killed by Japanese forces during WWII alone. Considering their history (one that is seldom taught to those of us in the West), it's no surprise that a symbol like the Kyokujitsu-ki is not exactly a neutral image.

I understand why Hayabusa used it...I don't even necessarily think they (or GSP) were being intentionally insensitive. That said, as Chan pointed out, it's not like Hayabusa would have had to fly to Asia to find out why it could have been a problem...a light Googling or trip to Wikipedia really does reveal the controversial nature of the image, almost immediately. I very much believe that if you're going to benefit financially from a global market, you have to take the difficulties along with the advantages.

I'm curious to see how the company and the fighter handle the issue, especially considering they were called out by such a high profile name. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

"Men are encouraged to suck."

It's been a weird cat woke me up just in time to run into a text from my brother that led me into the Internet purgatory known as, specifically a piece by David Wong.

I had intended to sleep a bit late and head over to the gym for our semi-annual belt promotion ceremony (Ryan's going to black and GinasticaInstructor's going to brown!!), but instead, I've spent the early morning wondering about men. Not just because of Cracked, but also because of this article that Georgette posted recently about the Avellan brothers and their mind-blowingly original use of half naked, contorted women to sell a jiu jitsu product.

I watched a couple of the clips...a bit stomach turning first thing in the morning, but I pushed through. (I'm becoming almost desensitized to racism and sexism these days because, well, a lot of people in positions of power-and weakness-have taken the attitude that they're entitled to them and they're plowing ahead in reactionary full-force.) What ended up striking me most (yes, even more than the bad technique) was the complete lack of respect for the intended audience (and for jiu jitsu, but that's a post for another day). Talking with men who trained has highlighted this tendency in male entertainment for me, but in this case, it was disgustingly blatant.

It's easy in the talk of sexism...any ism, to get stuck completely on the oppression of the weaker party. For good reason or bad, that is the most obvious, and I believe most important reaction...still though, there is, inherent in almost every institutionalized -ism, a self-degradation of the oppressor. Objectification of a living creature is not a one way street. It requires a dabbling in emotional suicide. I didn't realize this until I read the section on slave masters in this book, and how, after spending days in the fields, physically and emotionally destroying their chattel,  they were simply unable to come home and be good fathers and husbands. Basically, the lives of White families were being destroyed slowly, internally, along with the human beings they had acquired, supposedly for their own benefit.

That principle is forever burned into my mind.

The Cracked article--just a few minutes later, I read this, and #5...the idea that men are trained by society to think they are owed a "hot girl"...struck me. Culturally ingrained entitlement, be it family culture, gender culture, or whatever else, is never a service. This video made me wonder...can disrespect for the consumer possibly be so blatant and intentional that it overrides even disrespect for the subject in an ad? If it can, these videos are wonderfully twisted first steps. (Before anyone replies with "it's just entertainment", I do not believe in neutral media. I do not believe we are left unchanged by any interactions we have in life, no matter how convenient it may be to think so.)

BJJ provides things I think men need, especially in modernized societies. It provides things I think off the mats, some try to reclaim in acts of sexism and misogyny. That's why I say these videos are twisted. They remove (possibly intentionally) so much of the power of jiu jitsu...all the potential to improve, uplift and transcend...erased with the flick of some hair and a pair of hot pants.

Still, even with the tacit agreement of Cracked, I had to get some outside insight from a live male perspective--so I talked to my brother. He responded with the title of this blog post. He qualified that with the fact that men are encouraged to improve and achieve externally and tangibly, but anything beyond that...anything involving integrity, personal development and relationships..."We're encouraged to lie, cheat, flatter, flirt, brag, boast, bluff, one-up, demean and destroy. Sports? We're definitely encouraged to hurt other players-physically and emotionally, but all within the rules". (See Keith Owen's blatant refusal to improve as an instructor thinly veiled by cries of unfair treatment and insincere efforts to "help".)

I never expected it, but training has taught me more about heterosexual male culture than I ever thought possible. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Business in BJJ: The Big Bad Wolf

I'm afraid of the Big Bad Wolf--and we have a massive one right now in the world of Jiu Jitsu.

In this case, as with most, I'm more afraid of the concept than I am the individual. There's something detrimental about having an obvious bad guy...the Chris Browns, Bernie Madoffs, Lloyd Irvins and Snidely Whiplashes of the world, even in their downfalls, create problems much more far-reaching, and much more difficult than we'd like to think. They allow us to think that wrong is distant, impersonal and easily contained. They allow us to think that wrong is an "other". They allow us to cozily and comfortably forget John Lennons, the Levites, and even those annoying little bits of ugliness that live inside us.

I am glad, proud, relieved and thankful to see the reaction that parts of the BJJ community has had to our recent scandals. I am even more so though, to see that it is giving birth to reform and alternatives...efforts and movements that will hopefully contribute in doing away with the communal factors that allow evils like the ones we're seeing play out in our community to flourish like they have. 

The most recent I've seen are the efforts of Tom Callos in sharing his decades of martial arts experience in guiding martial arts school owners in more ethical business management. It's kicking off with a free conference call. More details to come on his Facebook page.

Throw in the simple, yet easily overlooked act of unsubscribing from LI email lists , and any list that uses similar types of marketing (list of participants below taken from this link over at Sherdog) and the wolf isn't looking quite as scary.