Saturday, May 31, 2014

Mutts and Purebreds in the Martial Arts

The martial arts are like dogs.

Hey!  HANG IN THERE, I promise it'll make sense in a minute.

This is the cutest blog post ever, promise.
The martial arts are like dogs, because just like dogs, they've evolved along with human beings as our situations and needs have changed over the years.  Once the arts were combative and practical, used for tribal conflict and wars.

Over time, arts evolved from war and combat into sport, and performance, and self defense, in a huge variety of strategies and skills, much like dogs evolved from their basic wolfish ancestors to the huge variety of breeds we have today.  With purebred dogs, we trace their genetic lineage as closely as many of us trace our martial arts lineage.

So, going with the metaphor, the version of the art that I study, Modern Arnis, isn't exactly... pure.

NOT pictured: a metaphor for my art

Of course, when you do Modern Arnis, what is "pure" is somewhat debatable, as the version of the art you practice seems to depend on when you (or your teacher) first studied with the Professor.  It's pretty well understood that the art the Professor taught in the Philippines is different than what he taught in the West,  which changed over time as he added in influences from Small Circle JuJitsu and Kyusho, and as he developed and emphasized his tapi-tapi.

My teacher, Mark Lynn, is ranked under the Professor as well as under his brother, Ernesto Presas. As a result, techniques from Kombatan are included in our curriculum.  If you add in the other influences of my teacher - Dan Inosanto, Hock Hockheim, Dan Anderson, Dieter Kn├╝ttel, and many others, plus he's training with a Pikiti Tirsia group currently - it's pretty obvious that what I study is a VERY hybridized version of the art.

When I'm asked what art I do, I still use the term "Modern Arnis", as 75% of the techniques and most of the strategy comes from there and would be recognized by others in my art.

In short, my Modern Arnis is a mutt.

The joke about sticks writes itself.

I don't think this hybridization process is unique to what we do at my school, or in my art.  Indeed, I think all of us are, in one way or another, practicing a "hybridized" art, with influences from many different sources.

Let's talk about weapons for a moment.  Most Korean TKD schools that I have seen teach weapons of some sort.  Usually looks like one of the two videos below:

This is a typical XMA bo form.

Before he lost the girl to a sparkly vampire.
Click here if you can't see the video.

This is a traditional kobudo bo form.

Sparkly vamps run from this guy.
Click here if you can't see the video.

Neither of these are Korean (XMA is American, kobudo is Okinawan). If you do this stuff (especially if you make it a requirement for belt testing) in a Korean martial art, you've hybridized your art.

I actually have zero problem with hybridization - naturally, given what I do - but I can understand why some folks have a real problem with it.  They say, "Whatever that is, that isn't [insert martial art name here] and they can't call it that."

Many of us want to maintain the "integrity" of their art, and see influences from anywhere else as watering it down. Some of us to keep it their art as consistent as they can with what they were taught, for historical accuracy and preservation.

I empathize with that attitude, I truly do.  But... I think "pure" arts, at least in the United States, are very, very rare.

If a person lives in a metropolis of any size, there's usually a lot of martial arts to choose from. It seems to be very unusual for a person to start in a martial art, stay in it, and only train in that art, never cross training with another at any point in their studies.

Sure, there's exceptions, but more often than not, once a person reaches a certain level in their art, they cross-train.  Maybe a striker studies grappling.  Maybe a kicker studies locks and throws.  Maybe a grappler adds in weapons training. Maybe someone explores a related, but different linage (say a different range, or a different strategy - on in my case, a different weapon).

It makes sense that you would not only incorporate those things into your personal style, but also into what you teach.  And that's how what we do become hybridized arts versus pure arts.

I think this is healthier for the martial arts in the long run, much like cross breeding is healthier for the overall dog population.  Pure bred dogs are highly susceptible to inherited genetic defects - my Pomeranian has had to have knee surgeries as a result of hers - and I think "pure" martial arts can suffer from the same problem (especially when the context in which they were developed change so much that the art is no longer useful).

So, what I do is a mutt martial art - and probably yours is, too.  We might not win best in show.   But we'll survive!

Is your art a mutt, or a purebred? I'd love to know!