Recently I had a chance to chat with Adam over at Low Tech Combat. He asked me some great questions surrounding traditional martial arts and their suitability for self defense training. Check out the interview here.
Low Tech Combat is a great site focused on applicable, scientific means of self defense proven through study and case scenarios. I’ve always enjoyed Adam’s work there and was pleased to represent some of the traditional side. Although I hardly speak for everyone, I felt like it was a good chance to discuss the differences between classical and traditional training, and how valuable each can be to real self defense.
One of the best ways to stay hungry for improvement and stave of complacency is to get exposed to high level martial artists.
Observing top practitioners of any classical style can quickly fill you with a mix of emotion (admiration, uncertainty, self-consciousness, inspiration, etc). It can also be a surefire way to stay humble.
If you think about it…a martial artist who trains with 10-15 people will eventually start to base his/her sense of ability on how they perform against those other individuals. If said martial artist starts to dominate, he/she could easily lose perspective and let ego grab hold.
If that pool of people were much bigger and included some top practitioners, the artist would be much more inclined to keep perspective.
I’m fortunate in that I have the Heilmans and their four Kyoshi to keep me in check routinely. But this last weekend’s IKKF Annual Training served as a reboot for every student present.
At our annual gathering we get a chance to train under premiere instructors like Bill Hayes (Shorin Ryu), Jody Paul (Motobu Udundi), and Miguel Ibarra (Aikijujitsu). But this year we also had the pleasure of hosting some of most senior Okinawa Kenpoka such as George Epps, Larry Isaac, Vic Coffin, and Al Louis (some of whom also brought senior students from their respective dojo). Put that together with the Heilmans and their Kyoshi and what you have is a gigantic soup of experience.
While all the teachers no doubt enjoyed reconnecting and sharing with each other, we (the students) were the lucky ones as we could not turn around without seeing or learning something interesting. I was in attendance for all three days and still couldn’t attend a seminar by every instructor.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
If you find yourself training in a vacuum, constantly re-convincing yourself that you know enough and are the keeper of “the truth”, I highly recommend making an effort to connect with other respectable martial artists. They can be within your own style, or from something completely different.
The key of course is to use such connections to enhance an already strong foundation. Being a seminar jumper or video collector without a core operating system results in a lot of surface level, superficial understanding. But, when done right, such experiences can help you keep that classical mindset of humility and curiosity.
When it comes to traditional martial arts, we often see a lot of posing, costumes, and dramatics. If you go to a modern tournament that’s about all you see.
Is it any wonder that the rumor regarding traditional styles is that they are simply too rigid, too caught up in themselves to be efficient in the modern world?
The last question in our series makes no bones about it – the asker wants to know if the nature of traditional arts (and the abundance of style-blindness) makes traditionalism ineffective, not worth the time and effort of individuals who need something that can be relied upon in a pinch.
Check out my perspective on the matter. Once again, please forgive my brevity on certain matters as this is a big topic and I didn’t want people nodding off in front of their monitors.
In the video I mention trying to dig back to classical styles rather than traditional. This is a symantic matter that I use to distinguish between arts that seem to have evolved out of effectiveness and are more inclined toward rank, showmanship, etc, vs the original arts which were designed for straight life protection. There are plenty of folks who don’t use the same symantics as I do, so please don’t consider it any sort of textbook definition.
I use karate as my primary example simply because that is my area of study, along with certain Japanese Budo. However I do maintain that the core principles and methods as passed down by classical/traditional styles are, fundamentally, as valuable now as they ever were.
Breaking through the rigidity of practice is a matter of maintaining creativity and patience. However, as I have seen in practitioners far more advanced than myself, it is well worth it even in modern society.
Building an individual completely (character, technique, spirit, fitness, wellness, combat readiness, etc etc) is a monumental task. Classical styles attempt to accomplish just that, which is important to remember when comparing an old method with a modern fight sport (not better or worse, just different goals). Rigidity is a gateway of the self, and true classical sensei can guide you passed that to levels you didn’t suspect you were capable of.