Acquired Stupidity Syndrome
By George Donahue
In the Japanese-English martial arts dictionary that Sara Aoyama and
I are slowly compiling, there is a condition we couldn’t translate
directly into English. So, when we were working through that section of
the dictionary about a half dozen years ago, I coined a new term: Acquired
Stupidity Syndrome. For short, I call this condition by its acronym, “ASS,”
and I sometimes uncharitably call its victims “asses.” I shouldn’t
do that, and I usually catch myself in time. That’s good for me,
because I don’t wish to be uncharitable toward the afflicted and
also because some of those afflicted are “hard asses” who
might make my existence a little less pleasant.
Acquired Stupidity Syndrome is a condition you often see in kids, especially
two-year-olds and teenagers, but it’s just a passing phase for the
former and the latter usually outgrow it after several miserable (for
all concerned) years, unless they’re ambitious for careers as bureaucrats
ASS is different from just plain stupidity, which can’t be helped.
With ASS, the sufferer must, in one way or another “volunteer”
to be afflicted. There are many preconditions for volunteering, chief
among them greed, anger/fear, emotional insecurity, and, for teens, hormonal
surges. There is also a paradox that comes with ASS—the deeper the
affliction, the stronger the afflicted person’s denial that he or
she is afflicted. The norm is that the deeper the affliction, the more
the afflicted person believes himself or herself to be unusually intelligent,
wise, and in all ways superior. In my work as an editor, I’ve found
this to be true with many authors, even with fiction writers. (Some, of
course, have accused me of being an ass, too.)
You also see ASS too often in martial arts. From an outsider’s perspective,
it seems as though whole martial systems or organizations are mired in
ASS. In general, however, it’s not the system itself that is afflicted
but its adherents, who somehow have managed to embed themselves into its
fabric and thus retard its expression and development. Unfortunately,
not many afflicted martial artists outgrow ASS. For them, it’s terminal—they
practice their martial arts in willful stupidity and they die, at best,
in ignorant bliss.
Why does it matter?
It matters because many of these asses are martial arts instructors, and
they, often with the best of myopic intentions, do their best to pass
along their asinine ignorance. There is an unfortunate preponderance of
asses in the higher ranks of martial arts organizations, too. On an immediate,
personal level, it also matters because sometimes the afflicted find themselves
in danger, and they are not prepared. In fact, ASS often leads the afflicted
into unnecessary, easily avoidable danger. It’s a sad reality that
ASS even renders afflicted students into easily exploited, manipulated,
and abused victims of unscrupulous instructors (who are a different sort
So how do you, as a sincere student of your particular martial art who
wishes to make real progress toward really mastering it, determine whether
your teacher is an ass or you yourself are an ass? Or, for that matter,
whether the martial way you follow is not itself thoroughly larded with
ASS? Unfortunately, it would take hours to list all the signs of the syndrome,
so making a checklist is impracticable. However, to get started, here
are some things to think about in determining whether you, your teachers,
or your system are afflicted by Acquired Stupidity Syndrome:
Does every exercise, drill, or technique your style or organization
requires come with a solid explanation of what purpose it serves, and
is it rooted in sound physiological, psychological, and legal ground?
Do questions remain unanswered or ignored, or worse, are they answered
perfunctorily and without the strength of reason? Or ridiculed?
Are style historical/authenticity claims mysteriously undocumented?
Are the social norms and expected behavior reasonable and productive,
or do you get the feeling that they derive from a third-rate anime movie?
Are training doctrines and techniques ever really put to a test?
Are you required to exhibit militaristic subservience or automatic,
reflexive denigration of outsiders (other styles, teachers, students)?
Are you required to buy into any cultish behavior in order to remain
in good standing?
Is fear of any sort used to keep adherents in line?
Does your wallet begin to seem like a cash machine for everyone but
We could go on, but that would be too depressing and I think you’ve
got enough to work with now.
About The Author:
George Donahue has been on the board of FightingArts.com
since its inception. He is a freelance writer and editor, providing literary
and consulting services to writers, literary agents, and publishers, as
well to advertising agencies. He has worked in publishing for more than
three decades, beginning as a journal and legal editor. Among his positions
have been editorial stints at Random House; Tuttle Publishing, where he
was the executive editor, martial arts editor, and Asian Studies editor;
and Lyons Press, where he was the senior acquisitions editor and where
he established a martial arts publishing program. He is a 6th dan student
of karate and kobujutsu—as well as Yamane Ryu Bojutsu—of Shinzato
Katsuhiko in Okinawa Karatedo Shorin Ryu Kishaba Juku. He was also a student
of Kishaba Chokei and Nakamura Seigi until their deaths. He teaches Kishaba
Juku in New York and Connecticut, as well as traveling to provide seminars
and special training in karate, weapons, and self-defense. His early training
was in judo and jujutsu, primarily with Ando Shunnosuke in Tokyo. He also
studied kyujutsu (archery), sojutsu (spear), and kenjutsu (swordsmanship)
in Japan as a youth. Following his move to the US, he continued to practice
judo and jujutsu, as well as marksmanship with bow and gun, and began
the study of Matsubayashi Ryu karate in his late teens. Subsequently,
he has studied aikido and taiji and cross trained in ying jow pai kung