The Backyard Complex

Not knowing what you had until it’s gone is a very common literal device. There are countless stories of people who had everything they could ever want,  but didn’t realize it until it was gone. In my years in martial arts, I have found that this very same phenomenon is built right into our martial arts mythos. I have lovingly coined this the “backyard complex”.

The concept first came to me during my time in the Philippines. The most common question I was asked while abroad was what brought me to Manila, and my reply (Filipino Martial Arts, or FMA) was always met with surprise. I received a range of responses, from “why didn’t you go to Japan?” to “we have our own martial arts system?”.  I found this confusing, as I had traveled halfway across the world in search of Grandmasters to a country whose own residents were unaware of their local art!

When I asked my hosts about this, they nodded in understanding and explained that this was the result of colonial mind set – the concept that nothing of value is derived from the native land, but from outsiders. This really hit home for me, being from Canada (a country built on colonialism) and having come to a foreign country in search of knowledge.

As martial artists, we have all had the fantasy to travel to a far off place and learn ancient secrets – even Danielson had to go to California. This is built right into the mindset of martial arts. Was the fact that I had traveled so far part of that mindset? This got me thinking about my instructor, Professor Worden. When he travels, his seminars quickly fill with eager students (200 people in Germany!), yet in his own city, his classes attract only a small group of people. The next time I saw the Prof, I talked with him about this strange phenomenon. At the end of our conversation, he agreed with my assessment that people don’t realize the resources they have available in their own backyard.

The deeply-seeded ideal of having to travel far away to find certain truths is, at the core, the reason why (as Rory Miller says) instructors always have the most trouble filling up seminars in their own hometowns. The next best thing to going somewhere is to attend seminars taught by those from other places.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t travel to train, just remember that the place you dream to train is another people’s everyday home. Number one? Always explore your own turf – just because it’s local doesn’t make it any less valuable. Number two? When you do travel, make sure to educate unknowing locals of the amazing resources they have available in their own backyard!


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