Is It Ok To Create A New Martial Art?


A constant of martial arts has always been new styles popping up all the time. For as long as there have been organized fighting systems there have been people putting there own unique spin on them. Every martial art was of course created by someone and often they had rather short time in the arts. Take, for example, an upstart 22 year old who studied martial arts for only 6 years before creating his own art and later took the rank of 12th Dan, he called his art Judo. However, it seems that in perhaps the first time in history the creation of new martial arts is widely shunned.

It isn't really that hard to understand why; today it seems that people want to study for only a couple years and then create a new art declaring themselves 10th degree grandmasters. This happens all the time. In fact, I recently watched part of a taped martial arts seminar where high ranking martial artists were encouraged to come and share their knowledge and I saw a few even have the words "Grandmaster" printed on the back of their uniform.

There is a push-back in the martial arts against people creating new martial arts and if you really boil it down I think it is an argument for quality. There are a lot of actual masters out there that you could spend the rest of your life learning from and still find they have more to teach. In the rush to put out new styles people often don't uncover the depth of knowledge already available in the martial arts.

If you ask a lot of long time martial art instructors if they think it is OK to create your own art most will say "no." They will say that you should find great instructors and study what is already out there because there are lifetimes worth of information already in the arts. I certainly agree with this logic but I don't agree with it not being "OK" to create a new art. For me it is a matter of time spent in study.

When I was kid I found that I didn't really care for people my own age. Kids my own age seemed reckless and, well... stupid. After observing people for a few years I came up with the theory that anyone under age 20 was, more or less, stupid. People in their 20's I believed to be naive and it wasn't until a person turned 30 that I thought they had spent enough time on the Earth to begin to really get things down. I still hold this belief to a large degree.

Growing up almost all my friends were over 40. It was those people that I thought I could really learn from. When it came time to learn martial arts I looked at it the same way. I was lucky to find a great and very knowledge instructor who had been in the arts for over 40 years. He introduced me to people who had 35 to 50 years in the martial arts and I took the time to learn all I could from their wealth of information.

One thing I noticed from these men is that they didn't look so much as a person's rank as they did time in the arts. I found that "old timers" considered anyone with less than 20 years of active study in the martial arts to be a beginner. I knew some 6th degrees with less than 20 years in and it seemed weird to think of them as beginners.

Their reasoning is that it took about 20 years to learn the basics, get your technique down, get a higher rank, spend some time teaching, promote a few people to upper black belt, get some experience with other styles and points of view, and see some fads come and go to really get a grasp on how things worked. I took their word for it then but now that I have 25 years in I think that they're right. After 25 years when I see someone put on a black belt after only 3 or 4 years of study and think that they are an "expert" or that they're ready to teach I have to laugh. I want to tousle their hair and say, "go get 'em slugger" as I send them in to teach a couple colored belts they're new techniques.

In this world where everyone wants something right now, no one seems to have an patience, and most people only study the arts for a couple of years, I find that as I look for my peers I look at rank less and less and instead look for people who have been in it as long or longer than me Looking at it this way new arts are inevitable.

For someone who has been in the arts for 6 or 7 years and has maybe a 1st or 2nd degree in one or two styles they probably have the ability to rearrange the techniques they have been taught to look like a new art but they don't have the depth of understanding for it to actually be a new art. But what about after 15 years of serious study? After 15 years of study they surely have their own spin that they put on their material. They've taken their instructor's teachings and adjusted them to their personal body type and ability and added a few things that they picked up along the way from fellow martial artists.

What about after 25 or 30 years of serious study? What about after 40? After that amount of time you have two kinds of people: those that have devoted the entire time to only one or two arts and have put their own spin on their instructors teachings and have created their own unique version of their art, and you have people who have studied several arts over the course of that time. If you look at the way someone who has spent that amount of time studying numerous arts trains during their private workouts you will find a new martial art unique to their personal experiences, abilities, and tastes.

My principal instructor, who I learned with from beginning at age 8, just called what he taught me "Kenpo." It wasn't until I was much older and started asking specific questions that I learned that what he was teaching me wasn't one art but a mixture of everything he had learned over the 40 years of studying the martial arts. He told me that "this" was from Okinawan Karate which he had studied as a teenager, and "that" was from the Dragon or Cobra styles he had learned while in Taiwan, "that thing there" was from "Iron Palm," and "this other thing here" was from a style called "Choy Li Ho Fut Hung" that he learned from this master out in California that had a fondness for Hawaiian shirts. He called what he did Kenpo because after 40 years when he looked at the breadth of knowledge he had some of it was from the Japanese/Okinawan systems and some of it was from the Chinese systems. He didn't call himself Grandmaster or have a fancy title but he did teach a martial art that was uniquely his own.

So yes, I think it is just fine to create an art but I don't think that that should be your goal because if it is then it is probably simply self-serving. Instead I think you should study the martial arts in earnest and after 30 years or so you will have built a new art out of your experience and it will have happened by itself out of the simple wanting to learn more and get better each and every day.

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