One of the quotes that I came up with several years ago that has since become a favorite is: “The greatest qualification that many martial arts ‘founders’ have is that they’re dead and don’t have to answer questions anymore.” As irreverent as that may sound, there’s a lot of truth to it.
First of all, let me make it clear that I have great respect for traditional martial arts and those who practice them. After all, a person can train in the martial arts for many reasons: fitness, flexibility, social activity, sport, cross-cultural experience, and self-defense. A good traditional martial art taught by an insightful instructor can typically satisfy most, if not all, of those goals. However, when it comes to pure self-defense and fighting skill, traditional martial arts are usually not the most efficient path to the goal.
Let’s think about it logically. First of all, ALL martial arts were developed by someone. In many cases, that “someone” had trained in some other art and then decided to change or combine the elements that he had learned to make his method better (or at least different). If we accept that truth, the concept of “mixed martial arts” actually becomes old hat. More importantly, we begin to understand that exploring, understanding, and redefining the most efficient and effective ways to fight is a never ending process–just as it should be.
However, if we put this into the context of the traditional martial arts, there is a serious disconnect. Let’s say that some guy develops a martial art, gives it a name, and attracts a bunch of students. While he’s alive, he continues to practice, train, think, and innovate and keeps the art and its evolution alive. His students love it and grow with the art and its instructor. Then, he dies. At that point, the students decide to “honor” him by documenting his teachings and his system. They focus on codifying everything he said and institutionalizing it. If they disagree (as they usually will), some students break off and start their own schools with their own interpretation of their teacher’s system.
If you study the martial arts to experience or preserve a culture, all that is fine. If in the process, you learn some usable self-defense technique, even better. However, you must realize that what is lost by this process is the teacher’s original spirit of and commitment to growth, learning, and evolution.
Let’s face it, people have been kicking each other’s asses for a long time. It’s highly unlikely that you will develop a proprietary, never-before-seen method of ass kicking that someone else hasn’t done before. That’s fine. What you can develop and refine, however, is the method of teaching that technique, training that technique, or applying that technique to situations beyond its original scope. That’s the kind of growth and evolution that all arts–and all practitioners–need.
As I write this, my good friend Mike Rigg has just completed the editing of Martial Blade Concepts–The Enhanced Version. This DVD is a revamped version of the original title, featuring about 50% more material. Why? Because since I shot and edited the original version, I have continued to learn and evolve. I have also had the benefit of feedback from hundreds of students who have trained with me and viewed the original version of that video. I am very happy to say that the vast majority of that feedback was positive. What they felt was missing, however, was an explanation of how that material related to my other DVDs (like the Fighting Folders series) and instruction on methods that they could use to train without a partner. The core information and material was still good. The overall scope needed to be more complete. So we made it evolve to meet the needs.
If the “art” (or my ego) were more important than serving the needs of my students, I could have left it the way it was. If I was lazy, complacent, and self-important, I also could have settled for the old version. Either way, I lose and my students lose.
Believe me, it’s tough teaching an experienced student and telling him”I don’t do it that way anymore.” However, as long as you follow that statement with “I do it this way now because ____ works better,” you’re good. In fact, you’re better than good–you’ve evolved.
Another famous MBC saying is: “The more you learn, the less you know.” Strive for understanding. Relate the things you know and find the common ground between them. Then apply those skills to as many different situational problems as you can and adapt your training to be functional in those situations. That’s the kind of martial arts legacy I’d like to leave when my time is up.
P.S. As you can tell from the lapse between posts, I am not a “bloggy” kinda guy. The idea of pontificating just to be saying/typing something doesn’t make sense. However, based on feedback from people who’ve read this blog, I realize that it is providing a service and folks seem to like what I’m sharing. As such, I’ll try to be more regular in my posts.
P.P.S. Martial Blade Concepts–The Enhanced Version is on the shelf now and available exclusively from Stay Safe Media at www.staysafemedia.com.