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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

Corrosion of Conformity

A notable thing about Modern Arnis (and the blend I study, Presas Arnis) is that it is a martial art that conforms itself to the individual.  That is, it's flexible enough that it does not require a person to abandon things learned in other arts, nor does it require for proficiency that person solve problems in the same way as all other students in the art.

Lots of other arts are the other way around.  They require the individual to conform itself to the art.  This is how you can see a group of, say, tae kwon do or karate stylists doing a form and they all move exactly the same way.  There is nothing wrong or bad about this.  In fact, this can be really impressive:

Thus, if you've come into a dojo from another art, you end up needing to "forget" that art in order to do your new one well.  Through instruction and repetition, over time, a group of people in these arts will all look and move in nearly identical ways.

Modern Arnis doesn't require this.  Sure, we have certain concepts that may conflict with some prior training, such as keeping your weapon hand - usually your strong hand - in front, versus the rear in an orthodox fighting stance (keep your weapon between you and the bad guy is a basic principle).

When we do forms - our anyos - you're going to see a lot of variation in how they are done.  You'll see people with karate backgrounds doing them differently than people with kung fu backgrounds, and this is actually okay.  We don't have to abandon that stuff do do arnis, or to do our forms well.  Some variation is expected!

Other arts require this conformity for very good reasons.  You want a karateka to move like a karateka.  You need to be sure that all students understand and can execute the core strategy of the style.  And honestly, a lot of these arts come from somewhat conformist societies to begin with and that comes through in the culture of their martial arts.

This can mean that it can be very difficult for some individuals to succeed in that style.  The person can't get the "ideal" way to do some thing down.  This is especially true for arts that concentrate on going for the single most powerful shot they can make - the 'kill shot" attitude many arts have.

In Arnis, we instead train to take what we can get that is the simplest and fastest thing for us to execute.  This can be different for each of us, and sometimes we just can't get that knock-out blow, so we have to keep hitting them until they stop wiggling.

There are some things we do that work really, really well for a short middle aged dumpy woman like myself.  There are other things that simply don't, especially given I am rarely up against someone my own size.  Not that I shouldn't and don't learn those non-ideal things - I have and I can teach them - its just not my go-to move on a personal level.

I appreciate this lack of conformity because I think it allows for people with various disabilities and strengths to take what they need for our art and make it useful for them.   People can "flavor" their Modern Arnis with prior training (karate folks tend to do Arnis very differently than, say, people with kung fu backgrounds).

My art is known as "the art within your art" in the West, so this nonconformity is sort of built-in to how Modern Arnis works on a fundamental level.  It benefits people with backgrounds in other martial arts, and people like myself, who are basically "stick natives" and have Arnis as our primary art.

For someone who is also a bit of a nonconformist and anti-authoritarian in other parts of her life - it's doubly suitable for me!

Does your art conform itself to you, or the other way around?  What do you like or dislike about that?  I'd love to know what you think!

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