Saturday, 18 November 2017

Where exactly is the art in all of this?

Not so long ago, in a Karate class, one of our Senseis said after a really good class:

"This is an art- let's make it look beautiful."
We have also heard a reference to "artistic fighters" in other classes.

Apparently I, with my love for unorthodox (yet classical) attack and defense patterns and spinning techniques, am labelled as such an "artistic fighter".

Is this what being a martial artist is about? Taking a fight and making it look beautiful?

I must confess that in my vanity I have often endeavoured to make my sparring matches worth looking at, but that is hardly the main objective of what I practice and what I have learned. 


That is also not why any martial art, be it Karate, Kungfu, Judo or anything else is called a "martial art" instead of just a "combat science", "fighting method" or "fighting system".

At the moment, for instance, I'd say that Krav Maga, which I regard as military CQC taught to civilians, can perhaps be more aptly described as a fighting system than as an art.

 To understand whether anything is an art it helps to understand what exactly an art does.

 Has any of you ever tried to draw a picture of someone or something? You have a picture in your mind, but getting that picture on paper is a different matter altogether. At the beginning you find that there are lots of factors that contribute to the picture on paper not being what you had in your mind- lack of focus, doubt, fear, distraction or any kind of intangible obstacle. Things such as these make the picture on paper look a lot different from what you had intended in the beginning.

With practice, however, each of these obstacles get removed, even if it takes a long time and lots of practice, until you are able to put the vision in your mind on paper.

Now- a Seoi Nage ( shoulder throw) is fairly easy to do if you have learnt the method, right?

Image result for seoi nage

We know, however, that having been told the method, even when remembering the method, is not enough to enable you to perform this throw.

Even in a pre-arranged setting we may find our minds wanting to do one thing and our bodies another. In a free setting we have issues like sensitivity, timing, opportunity and responses to deal with in executing the technique.

With diligent practice, however, we remove each and everyone of those obstacles until the mind and body are unified in executing the technique as intended.

In essence- we can say that art involves us making ourselves a promise we might not yet know how to keep and then working until that promise has been kept.  

 Image result for seoi nage

This of course, does not only apply to throwing.

In Karate we find that the training at beginner level is mainly concerned with how each basic technique has to look. At this stage things such as keeping the hikite (withdrawn fist) tightly at the side and the heel on the ground are paramount. At this stage of training actual sparring or combat is not yet an issue- or should not be.

In Kungfu we find similar methods that start with preparing the body for the ways in which it has to move in a fight.

At this initial stage close attention is paid to oneself.


During a sparring match or an actual fight preoccupation with yourself will get you a serious butt-whuppin' if you survive. Here the vision or objective would be doing the right thing at the right time.

We know that our respective systems have their methods for teaching students to block on time, evade at the right moment and to strike as the opening presents itself. This is not the type of ability that is gained with just knowledge. As we practice we remove those obstacles standing between us and perfection. We might never reach perfection, but the skills we gather along the way are just awesome!

Seeing things in this light can make you realise that living in itself can be an art. Whether the vision you have comes from the Bible, Buddhist Scriptures or just plain ethics, behaving in the way prescribed by those teachings are not always easy, but by sticking to our principles we grow closer day by day to being the persons we want to be.


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