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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

Lost In Translation

I often contemplate language as a metaphor for martial arts training.

Think about it.

Our basics are alphabets and grammar and basic sentence construction. As we get better at the martial arts, it becomes more like paragraphs and short stories, and some of us get so good at the language that we can write a novel or compose an award-winning poem.

Thus, different martial art styles are like different languages. Some styles are close enough to each other it's more like a dialect of the same language (like, say, different lineages of karate or taekwondo or in my case, Arnis/Kali/Eskrima). Other times, it's different languages but enough in common that you can understand parts of it - like the differences between the Germanic or Romance languages.

And sometimes, the differences are profound, like, say, Shona and Inuktitut.

Recently my teacher and I tested for rank in Presas Arnis under Datu Tim Hartman and the World Modern Arnis Alliance.

The WMAA teaches Presas Arnis (among other related styles), just like my teacher does. This is primarily a blend of Modern Arnis and Kombatan but there are other important influences as well.

The thing is, the WMAA version of Presas Arnis has different influences than what my teacher does in his "Presas Arnis". The material is organized a bit differently, and they use different terminology than we do at my teacher's school.

It was kinda like being a native English speaker and trying to understand Frisian, the language most closely related to English.

Or rather, it was like a native English speaker having to take an important test in Frisian.

Sure, my teacher and I did well enough at the test - he was recognized as a 5th degree Black Belt, and my current rank, 2nd Degree, was confirmed under the WMAA. It was nice because Datu Tim recognized how difficult the translation is for us on the test.

But we both have a lot of work to do, because we both have to be fluent in the WMAA version of Presas Arnis. At least, we do if we want to progress in rank under them, which we do.

As I have trained in other styles before, I am sort of on the fence on whether or not it's harder to learn a very closely related style versus one that's very different. I mean, I do know most of the material, and I've studied it long enough I'm competent at it.

On the other hand, I easily get confused trying to do the "translation" on the fly. My brain works double-hard as I try to keep pace and get to the point where I don't have to think so hard. Getting there is a struggle.

I imagine it'd be a lot like a person going from, say, Gojo-Ryu to Shotokan. Or from Praying Mantis to White Crane.

Like going from Presas Arnis to... um... Presas Arnis!

Ah well. Time to start studying Frisian.

Have you had to "translate" from one martial arts style to another? What helped you make the translation? Let us know in the comments!

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