Medatsu

There is a term in Japanese, Medatsu (目立つ). It is usually translated as “to be conspicuous, to stand out”. But that is not actually a very good translation. In English to stand out is a good thing. It connotes people taking notice of your positive attributes. Standing “head and shoulders above the rest” is something to aspire to. But in Okinawa and Japan a well known saying goes “the nail that stands up gets hammered down.” In other words, deliberately standing out means that instead of respecting you people will feel you need to be taught how to be a better member of society. When I first came across the word medatsu it was in reference to the bosozoku, groups of teen motorcycle riders in Japanese cities. They ride about making lots of noise, acting “bad”, and drawing lots of attention to themselves. They certainly stand out, but not in a good way. Their antics are juvenile, and rude. Being a nuisance is not the same as being noticed. Medatsu implies that you are drawing attention to yourself for no good reason. You are, in essence, acting the fool.

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Awesome.

There is not actually a good equivalent verb in English, at least not one I can think of. But especially in the martial arts we really could use one. Getting attention is not a bad thing. If your efforts are recognized  there Is no reason not to feel some pride at being noticed for them. But drawing attention to yourself, insisting you get noticed whether you deserve it or not, runs contrary to both what I think the essence of budo is and my sense of what is in good taste.

For me, multi-colored gi, patches saying Master, Black Belt, and so on, and the screaming announcement of whatever you are doing to the entire group are just medatsu. Constantly making sure everyone knows your rank is medatsu. Wearing your obi over a tshirt is medatsu. (And a pet peeve!) Using grammatically and culturally incorrect titles like hanshi, soke, or shihan is medatsu. Reminding everyone you meet who you have trained with and the awards you have won is medatsu. Jumping up and down and shouting when you overcome an opponent or succeed in a grading is medatsu. These things are not budo they are showmanship. They look foolish.

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Martial arts or showmanship. You decide. (Either way, Elvis is cool.)

To me they speak of insecurity, and of a desire to be noticed doing instead of a desire to do. It is better to come to the dojo and train, day in and out, and never be noticed than to spend your time attempting to draw attention to yourself. At least I think so. It certainly speaks to a more secure and tempered life. So for my two cents I would suggest you avoid medatsu. You might not get much recognition, but you won’t look like a fool.

5 thoughts on “Medatsu

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