Five years ago I was frantic to throw out everything I knew about fencing, and find a new approach. All that carefully built up study into Capoferro, Marozzo and Fiore had left me feeling like I was still missing something. Checking into what everyone else was doing didn’t reveal anything new, it just showed me that everyone was either on the same path as me, or catching up. It wasn’t hard to look down the road and see what was to come…more refinement, better translations, arguments over minutiae…but nothing essentially new.
Which is not a bad thing, it showed an approaching maturity to what was being developed. Historical re-creation had essentially worked, on one level. It had created a new martial art that fit the perception everyone had of what it should be. It was growing to be consistent and acceptable to a wider martial arts community. Five years later, and that’s where we are. And it still makes me uneasy.
Which is also not a bad thing. There never will be one perfect martial art. There are universal principles that apply to each discipline, and can never be ignored…at the base, every martial art is the same…but everything past that is flavour. All forms of Karate are the same, and come from one base art, somewhat lost to history, but each form of Karate has things they prefer to work on. To an expert, the differences can appear dramatic and challenging. And even within a style, different approaches can make it look like a practitioner or school is doing something very different.
Most people would not watch Lyoto Machida fight in the UFC and make a connection between his fighting style and the very traditional style of Shotokan Karate. Most martial artists wouldn’t see the similarity either, and even many Shotokan stylists would only see a few familiar techniques emerging from a completely different style. With an expert eye, it’s easier to see the core, the true heart of the Shotokan style, at the base of everything he does. But that base has been expressed through a very different training regime and environment.
I’m not making radical changes anymore. I’m not throwing things out, either. I’m still changing things, adding polish. What was a confused mess years ago grew into a rough clay outline. Now it’s just the last finishing touches before the art is put in the fire to harden and temper, in the hope that it will hold water. We’ve got the workout, the weapons and the techniques down, and now we are just trying different combinations of strategy and tactics. Some things work, some don’t. It’s just a shuffling of parts now, trying to get the finished pieces to fit together correctly.
It’s fascinating that the closer we get, the more what we are doing feels and looks like the more rigid historical arts we started from. I think what we end up with will be true it’s origins, and be a recognizable blend of strict styles. There will, of course, be some catch up. We’ve spent a lot of time building a different base, and that won’t translate to demonstrable fight skills for a bit yet. As usual, it’s harder on the experienced students. We have to make the most changes. The new students just eat up the classes and perform.
When I started teaching western martial arts, lo those many years ago, I wanted a method that was a shortcut. I wanted efficiency…no waste in learning. I still want no waste, but I’m not after a shortcut anymore. No more shortcuts, just more value for the students. Who knows? Maybe the stronger foundation and well rounded base of skill and fitness will be it’s own kind of shortcut.