Double Feature

Potential Russia Grifter Foiled

How tragic it is when a young, budding Russia grifter attempts to leave the nest an falls like a stone. Jared Yates Sexton, a creative writing assistant professor with some work published in a handful of major publications, recently attempted his takeoff on the premier venue for instant-Russia experts, Twitter. Some of you may remember this tweet:

Oh the poor muckraker- all that work and then The Donald’s dumbass spawn scoops him by just tweeting out his emails. The life of an investigative journalist, am I right, folks?

Oh wait…No.

Turns out he’s just a fraud with a book to sell. Well that still managed to get him a mention on the Stephen Colbert show, which I’m sure is truly praise from Caesar for American liberals these days.

Well I guess Jared deserves at least a B+ for effort. Keep trying and don’t forget to spice up your Trump/Russia commentary with words like maskirovka and kompromat.

Russia Without Bullshido

As long-time readers might have guessed, I’m pretty much tired of Putin articles. Hell, I was tired of Putin articles in 2013 when I started this blog. But today I saw an article about the little man which piqued my interest as it concerns one of my hobbies. Apparently there’s a guy claiming that Putin may be a martial arts fraud. Sadly, the article fails to deliver on several counts.

Questioning Putin’s black belt credentials certainly has merit. Putin’s black belt is in judo, which is not only the origin of the belt-ranking system in modern martial arts but is also governed by highly centralized bodies. It did not take too long for me to find this article from 2012 about Putin receiving 8th dan level from the International Judo Federation. Reading the article, one gets the idea that this move was kind of political, but it’s an 8th dan, in other words- 8th degree black belt. This means he would have earned his actual black belt many years ago. I’ve also read that he has won competitions in the past, so there would be official records. The bottom line is that this is a very verifiable claim.

Rather than researching records and using the time-tested journalism technique of googling “judo,” the article relies on the blogger Benjamin Wittes, a martial arts practitioner himself who has apparently actually challenged Vladimir Putin to a fight. One would think Wittes would know what I already mentioned about judo and its regulating bodies, but rather than investigate that he seems to rely primarily on video evidence, or lack thereof.

According to Wittes, in every video of Putin doing judo, his opponents go down too easily. This is a bit ironic because one of Wittes’ martial arts is aikido, a very deadly art so long as your opponent is kind enough to give you their wrist and allow you to throw them. Perhaps Wittes has watched more Putin judo videos than I have, but in all the ones I’ve seen it appears that Putin is demonstrating some kind of technique. In other words, it is not randori, or free practice, where the opponent is actually resisting 100% and trying to win. When someone is just demonstrating or practice a technique, the opponent (uke is the Japanese term for the person being demonstrated on) should not resist at all. Sometimes, a person practicing or demonstrating may have the opponent give a certain amount of resistance to show the technique in a more realistic way, but they will still be compliant.

Is it possible that Russian media has produced videos of Putin supposedly doing real randori, and winning effortlessly? I can believe it. He certainly does this in his staged hockey matches. This does not mean he’s a complete martial arts fraud, however. Some of the techniques I’ve seen him demonstrate are rather advanced, requiring a good sense of timing and a feel for when the opponent is off balance. Such techniques would be hard to pull off even against a compliant opponent.

So is Wittes totally off the mark when he calls Putin a martial arts fraud? Maybe not entirely. He does point out that Putin has a lot of honorary diplomas in various martial arts. That 8th degree black belt I mentioned earlier was essentially honorary, but reading Wittes it seems that Putin has been given honorary rankings in martial arts he might not have actually practiced; they were given for his promotion of the sport instead. If Wittes didn’t come up with the smoking gun that proves Putin is a judo fraud, he certainly deflated Putin’s exaggerated image as a multiple-martial arts-practicing badass.

Furthermore, his point about the lack of video evidence of Putin’s judo prowess is valid if we’re evaluating his skill and not past accomplishments. Just when did Putin stop doing actual judo practice anyway? It does make a huge difference. Knowledge and practice in martial arts are hugely different things. Theoretically, I know how to do a helicopter arm bar in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Realistically, I’d never even attempt it in free practice even if I’d been training continuously for several years. Skill in martial arts, just like any sport, relies on muscle memory. If Putin hasn’t actually been practicing judo for 18 years or so, it’s possible that Mr. Wittes might be able to easily take him after all. Putin may also have been taught judo in a way that almost exclusively emphasizes throws, and thus he may have almost no ground game and he might have no experience dealing with striking. As such, someone trained in Muay Thai, for example, might easily front kick the little guy into a wall with no trouble. Basically, it’s entirely possible for Putin to be a legitimate judo black belt (which I believe is the case) and yet no longer be able to fight at that same skill level due to disuse.

Still, given the fact that Wittes’ martial arts are aikido and taekwondo, it might not be advisable to challenge Putin without more information on his judo skills. Otherwise, I’d say don’t wear a gi, use strikes, and practice countering harai goshi, which I’ve read is one of Putin’s favorite techniques:

 

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