Saturday, 21 January 2017

Let's start a discussion- Learning by yourself

It is not often when I see something from Jackie Bradbury on Martial Arts Forums, these days. Her latest blog post has struck a chord with me, though.

The post titled "The State of Filipino Martial Arts Today" confirmed to me that martial arts all over the world face the same dillema. Or maybe not the arts themselves, but the people trying to keep others interested in them (and those who earn money from teaching them...)

In her post Jackie invited the reader to comment and give his input.

With Karate in this country- when it reaches this point- they don't ask the public what they want or what their views are. A Shihankai (Masters' Group) meets and then decides the fate of karate for all who study it.

And a lot of changes were made this way-

Shotokan had gone from full contact sparring to non-contact to semi contact to full contact with head gear to semi contact without headgear to full contact on the body with minimal contact to the face- with no headgear....

Katas' bunkai (practical applications) got changed. Even moves within the katas change over years.

Grading syllabuses have also changed over time.

This essentially means that the karate that got studied 20 years ago is not the karate people are studying now and more changes are coming.

Those who are Second Dan and up have most likely stuck around through all these changes.

Reasons that were given by instructors for these changes are:

1. The rise of MMA;

2. An incident in which an 18 year old competitor ended up in a coma;

3. The need to keep people interested.

O! And for some reason the majority of Instructors think that they will have more students staying if they hold more tournaments. The only Sensei in the entire world who actually said something different is the legendary Sensei Iain Abernethy. 

Now- let's assume you want to learn a martial art- not to have a sport to participate in (really, Jocks- if that is what you like I totally respect that and all these schools are yours to take over!), but because you want to learn to defend yourself or, as a lot of Chinese like to say, for health reasons, how will you feel joining up and after 2 years realise that you have only been learning basics and competition sparring? But hey- you have to stick around until you reach the much coveted degree of Black Belt, right?

Well- what if I told you that as a Black Belt you will find that you end up doing the same basiscs- just different combinations and now full contact competition sparring?

So- what do you do?

Well- I know that a lot of instructors out there do not encourage people to do this, but what I did- I went out and learnt what I wanted to learn by myself. Well- not exactly by myself now, is it? Ms. Chen's guidance and the people who wrote those books (among them the late and great Bruce Lee) all gave most valuable help and support.

Knowledge got acquired. Skills got developed and confidence got gained.        

Self study is nothing new. The martial history of China as well as Japan is rich with accounts of precious books and scrolls that provided the reader with the means to develop martial arts abilities and skills.

Master Wong Kiew Kit for instance points out that for acquiring a skill like the Iron Fist you have to consciously make that your goal and then persist in the exercises provided by him for as long as it takes (often 1-2 years)  to have the ability manifest.

Once you have the ability there shall be no belt or certificate to say that you now have it, but you shall know for certain that you have developed a new skill.

Since joining my Shotokan club I have paid close attention everytime new useful information was given. That by itself did not improve my fighting, however. Practicing by myself was what made that information into new skill. This is the same thing that I have done with whatever I have learnt from books as well.

I imagine that your town or city might not have exactly the type of dojo you want either. Self study with good books or online material might be just the thing. I have been told of groups of friends in the US that learn martial arts like this as well. I had groups like this last year and we had lots of fun learning and discovering together.

For Jackie and the instructor from Bamboo Spirit Martial Arts I can only say- I preferred not to study Escrima because I had an idea of what that was. That same idea might be what draws someone to an art like Escrima. Go and mess with that and you will end up losing the student- maybe before he/she even starts.

Lastly I shall openly admit that I am not a soldier, policeman, assassin or even a professional fighter. Martial Arts is my way of life, my hobby and my favourite leisure activity. It is fun. I shall keep doing it as long as it stays fun. Part of keeping it fun is not allowing other people to spoil it.

Sure- you can make it tough and tell people "If you cannot take it it is not for you. Then leave." Look around you, though. There, outside the walls of your dojo, are dozens of people who are content not even knowing about martial arts at all. I don't see a very bright future for especially the traditional martial arts if more people end up choosing to join them instead.

Now- before I go on about the cult schools of the 90's- let me wish you a good week.

I know this is not Youtube, but I want to give a shout-out to my dear friends Miki Yamaguchi and Naoko Inoue from JKS, Osaka!

Train well and have fun until I see you again!

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