Is there value in your art?
By Progressive Martial Arts Training Center
Over the years I have been very fortunate to have been under the guidance of some excellent instructors. One of the most important things they have done is help develop within me the wisdom to understand what is really valuable in the study of my martial arts. Have you asked yourself, Why do you practice the arts you have selected, what is important, what is the value you have obtained?
Do you study the art because of its reputation or because it looks good? Is it the lineage or a teacher that is important? Is it the notoriety or fame of the other people practicing the art? Do you practice for sport, for health, for self-defense? Are more forms better than less? Are forms important at all?
After much time of training and practice have you really learned anything that is of real value?
This is written in the hope of challenging the reader to think about these questions and find answers which are truthful for you. My instructors have encouraged me to look at all aspects of my training to think deeply and not be enticed by merely what is seen on the outside or surface of a martial art. They have done this by asking thought-provoking questions that forced their students to reflect on the principles and concepts they were trying to convey.
Consider that you have two cups. One is made of gold that is very expensive and beautiful. The other cup is a simple wooden cup, plain yet functional. Now, the gold cup is empty and the wooden cup is filled with water. Which one is the more valuable. In my opinion the empty gold cup, no matter how beautiful, is unable to quench your thirst or nourish the body for it is empty. Likewise, a martial art that “looks good” but has no depth will provide little true or lasting value no matter how many years it is practiced.
There are many good martial arts however, today’s martial arts society is very different than the past. The way martial arts are viewed and practiced isn’t the same, the focus is different, the training is different, and the relationship between instructor and student is different. Many changes have been for the good yet there is evidence that content and depth of many of the arts has been watered down even to the point of being lost. There are many martial artists who have many years of experience over me within their chosen arts. But, it is surprising to find many of these experienced practitioners cannot answer even the simple questions as to why they do their movements in the manner they do them. They have studied for years, decades, some even longer. They have studied many systems and styles, learned many forms, and won tournaments. They have studied with many famous persons yet, they cannot answer “WHY” they do what they do. The most used answers are, “This is how my instructor taught me” or, “That is just how it is done”. Does this show clear understanding? What is clear is that many practitioners have spent a lot of time and some have spent thousands of dollars in their studies. But what is their true knowledge or understanding? Practitioners who do not understand the WHY behind the requirements of their art have obtained little real or lasting value from their practice. Where does the fault lie? Is it the fault of their art, the fault of their instructor/s. Or, is this their own fault? Each serious practitioner must look within themselves and face these questions. You must ask also, What have I really learned that is of real value?” As a practitioner you must understand the difference between the “surface” and the “depth” of a martial art. Martial art forms represent only one aspect of the total art. There is more to martial arts than mere choreography. Too many practitioners focus just on learning forms and/or techniques thinking that this implies greater expertise or credibility as a martial artist or as a teacher. This view is flawed and misguided. Forms, exercises, and techniques mean little if the practitioner does not understand the principles beneath the surface.
Anyone can learn or copy any form or technique. At the lowest level they are only a sequence of postures and movements. The “secrets” in the martial arts do not lie in forms or techniques. The “secrets” lie in understanding the fundamental principles and how to use them to create concepts and techniques. There are instructors and publications that focus strictly on the mechanics of fighting to the exclusion of everything else. They practice or teach methods to improve fighting skill that do not properly address or account for the health of the body or the mind. At the other extreme, there are instructors and publications that remove all aspects of fighting skill from the arts they teach. Here they say their focus is strictly on fitness, or health, or whatever. And then there are the numerous variations between these two extremes. Whether due to a lack of proper instruction or experience, or some inherent deficiency or flaw in their approach, training methods are promoted that ultimately accomplish nothing. In many instances, these methods can actually cause harm to the body or mind and eventually lead to more serious problems in the later years of life.
We all desire good health whether or not you practice martial arts. Good physical and psychological health are required for one to excel in the martial arts, more importantly, for one to achieve a long and happy life. Today more and more people know some kind of chi kung training, but few have an understanding. What role does chi play in health and fitness? What are the source and the nature of chi? How do you breathe and why? What kind of movements do you do and why? What role does chi play in the development of fighting skill? How do you properly combine and integrate these methods to reach the pinnacle of your fighting art? When? Where? What? Why?
The point of this is if you cannot answer these questions, how can you continue to practice, or teach what you don’t understand. What is the benefit? Where is the value?
In martial arts we all desire great fighting skill. This is whether you practice kung fu, karate , or any other art. There are hundreds of systems and styles you can choose to follow. What remains the same is that no matter what martial art you practice, it is still based on the use of two hands, two legs, and one body. The key in assessing any martial art lies in how these body elements are coordinated and integrated into a cohesive and comprehensive method of attack and counters Fundamental to the effectiveness and longevity of any martial art are the principles that form the foundation upon which it is built. A system or style without sound proven principles is simply a collection of techniques. Just as a form without substance is mere choreography. Both are of limited use and limited value. You will eventually encounter an opponent who does something not covered by your repertoire. Then, what will you do? What has been the value of your practice? After reaching a certain level you may find that your progress has slowed or stopped completely. Ask yourself, why has this occurred? This circumstance often leads many practitioners to look to other styles to replace their original system. Is this a reflection of a problem with the practitioner or is it an indication of some inherent deficiency with the martial approach and/or its instruction? As age, poor health, or poor training methods begin to affect performance, many practitioners become frustrated at their lack of progress and eventual decline in skill. In the end most will stop practicing altogether because of either a loss in desire or a loss in physical ability.
What is the lasting value or benefit in this?
My instructors have helped me understand that a martial art that has depth is based on and emphasizes sound principles and balances both health and fitness needs with fighting needs. This kind of martial art provides the greatest lasting value and benefit to its practitioners. I have been fortunate to have studied with instructors such as Stephen Young, Francis Fong, Bill McGrath, and Dan Inosanto. Each of them has challenged me mentally as well as physically to strive for a high level of expertise and a deep level of understanding within my art. They have helped me to see what is really important in the martial arts and where the true value is. They have taught me to recognize the incredible and lasting value that the proper study of martial arts offers to the practitioners. They have challenged me to think deeply and I challenged you to contemplate :
What is the value in the practice of your art?