Background: The informant is my father. The informant is well aware of the culture surrounding martial arts such as Tae Kwon Do and Jiu Jitsu as his children have been practicing martial arts for almost a decade, and he also practiced martial arts himself when he was younger.
Context: I spoke to the informant while eating dinner with my family and I addressed the topic of folklore to my father.
Main Piece: My father remembers hearing while at my martial arts academy that whenever a Jiu Jitsu practitioner washes their belt, they are believed to have lost some of their skills and techniques. The Jiu Jitsu practitioner is free to wash their ‘Gi’ (traditional Jiu Jitsu uniform), whenever they please, as not washing one’s uniform after training will leave it rancid. However, the belt is not to be washed as when one washes their belt, they are essentially washing away all of the techniques and skills they have learned.
Interpretation: When my father told me about this Jiu
Jitsu superstition, it rang a bell in my head because I had heard this multiple
times on the mat myself. I remember one day a black-belt admitted to cleaning
their belt and many people were poking fun at him and saying that he had just
lost exactly 75% of his techniques. Of course, this is more of a running joke
from my experience then an actual superstition that people still believe, however
it is still relevant. In my personal interpretation, when you wash your belt,
you are essentially getting rid of all the sweat and dirt that symbolize your
efforts to learn and grow as a Jiu Jitsu practitioner.
This is a story that is repeated in martial arts circles in the US and Japan. There are representations of this in Bruce Lees movie Enter the Dragon. The basic story goes; a martial arts master is on a boat in a harbor. As tends to happen in these stories, some guy is trying to make himself look cool and challenges the master. The master says alright, but not here on this crowded boat. He points to an island and says, lets go on to the beach and fight there. When they arrive at the beach, he insists that they take a given amount of paces before they turn and fight each other. The challenger agrees, they turn back to back and start pacing. The challenger takes his ten steps and turns around. The master is back in the boat rowing back to where they came from.
Andrew told me that he heard of this story at the end of 9th grade. He had decided that he wasnt content with how he was as a person. He wanted to change and one way he did that was to train in martial arts; he now practices 7 different forms of martial arts. He also said that he is the kind of doofus that whenever he becomes interested in anything, he researches it as much as he can. He also said that the story is one of the most repeated stories besides the tea cup one, but he hasnt really repeated the story much outside of the martial arts world. Andrew said that he heard this story from his master and many others in the martial arts world. He thinks that the meaning of the story is that brute strength and skill arent the most important, intelligence matters just as much if not more. I agree with Andrew about the meaning of the story. It seems to be a simple story about the importance and power of ones intelligence. I think it also serves as a cautionary tale that you should not show off or boast of your skills because that could get you into trouble. I hadnt ever heard the story before Andrew told it to me, but I agree with his analysis, and it definitely seems to serve as a lesson for those in martial arts and for others as well.
Annotation: This story is referred to in the Bruce Lee film, Enter the Dragon.
Enter the Dragon. Dir. Robert Clouse, Actors: Bruce Lee. Concord Productions Inc, 1973.