Martial arts as a folk art

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Talk' started by Flying Crane, Apr 20, 2017.

  1. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Grandmaster

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    It is my opinion that martial arts can be seen as a folk art, which implies certain things in terms of what, and how much material, make up a "system", as well as who has authority to teach it.

    In my opinion, as a folk art, defining the curriculum of a complete system becomes nebulous and difficult. The system is whatever and how much you know. And anyone who knows something, can teach it, particularly to the next generation and particularly to ones own family members.

    Any thoughts on this?
     
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  2. gpseymour

    gpseymour Grandmaster

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    That's fairly profound, and reasonably accurate. I do think the scope of any system/art/style is often defined by the knowledge of the person speaking. I can point out what I consider the "formal curriculum" of NGA, but I can also point to what other instructors teach that I don't, and vice-versa. And we're all teaching NGA. I don't look at John Carter and say, "That bit right there, I don't teach it, so it's not NGA." I just see him teaching John Carter's NGA, which isn't the same as Gerry Seymour's NGA.

    And even if we talk about principles, I'm sure each instructor will define and identify the principles differently, not to mention the differences in interpreting how they are applied. And I actually like that. I think it's a good thing when different instructors teach differently, understand differently, and excel in different areas. And that's a lot like a folk art. I could look at some "masters" of traditional Appalachian carving, and each would have a different emphasis. Some would show obvious influence from past masters and styles.
     
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  3. Martial_Kumite

    Martial_Kumite Green Belt

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    I agree, but what about when they go too far. Ther has to be some set guild lines Right? Otherwise they have the potential to completely change it over time.
     
  4. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Grandmaster

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    No, there doesn't, actually, and it is ok if it changes.

    It isn't a commodity. It is a skill they people have at some level or other, and they can pass it along.
     
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  5. drop bear

    drop bear Sr. Grandmaster

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    Your art if it wants to progress is driven by the practitioners not the instructors.

    The instructors basically develop the talent and then follow in its wake a bit.

    If we relied on one guy to drive the system then all we get is what one guy can do.
     
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  6. gpseymour

    gpseymour Grandmaster

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    I actually have no issue with something changing over time. It probably should. Knowledge, culture, the needs of the learners, and other factors change over time, and arts should, too. IMO, some arts have been frozen (or attempted such) at a point in time, as if they were perfect and complete at that point. That's an artificial and arbitrary point, though. They should continue to evolve. If it changes dramatically in a short period of time, it becomes a "new style". If it changes slowly over time, it's just the style evolving. And there's no clear delineation between those points.
     
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  7. gpseymour

    gpseymour Grandmaster

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    I agree with the intent of this, but it's difficult for a non-instructor to have much impact on an art from the inside, unless he or she is a highly visible competitor (a situation which won't apply to many arts). They can definitely affect their training partners, but that's a more limited scope than an instructor, by far. Of course, if they influence the instructor (if I see a better way from a student, it becomes part of what I teach), then they have an impact, but that still needs an instructor who's willing to change.

    The instructor develops the talent, and part of that talent is the next wave of instructors and coaches. That transmission to a talented set of "next instructors" is where the evolution comes. A single person will only have so much direct impact - even an instructor - but a good instructor who develops a few good instructors can have a much larger impact. This is exactly what we've seen (to use the most visible example I can think of) in the development of BJJ. Transmission to just a few people (the 1st-gen Gracies) who turned out to be good instructors (at least some - I don't know their stories well, so maybe not all?) who transmitted a dramatically new view to their students.
     
  8. drop bear

    drop bear Sr. Grandmaster

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    the difficulty isn't competition or not. The difficulty is isolation. With folk art there is constant interaction. So say with music people play. And because they play they have an opportunity to express their ideas.

    Martial arts needs to be out there doing it. Now competition is one avenue. But not the only one.
     
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  9. gpseymour

    gpseymour Grandmaster

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    Agreed. I used carving as an example because it's less interactive than the music. In the South of the US, Bluegrass music is a living folk art. In many towns, there are weekly blugrass jams, where bluegrass players will get together and mix in to play old standards with folks they don't normally play with. That interaction is part of how bluegrass has always been.

    Carving, by its nature, doesn't have that. Carvers see each other from time to time, look at each others' work, and share ideas. Sometimes they ask each other to show them how they did a specific thing.

    I think there's some of that kind of difference among arts, too. And I agree that arts, schools, and instructors need to avoid isolation. I like getting students who have significant background in something different - it brings a new perspective, new questions, and new skepticism. I like to see schools within an art come together and share ideas and differences (reduces the dogma within a group of schools when they openly acknowledge their differences). And I like to see instructors and students at least going out and taking seminars in arts different from their own, among other martial artists they don't know. Hopefully some of them come away with some new contacts and maybe even some new training partners they can work with on the side. All of these things help keep arts, schools, and instructors/students from getting isolated. Competition can accomplish a lot of this in a more systematic way.
     
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  10. Tony Dismukes

    Tony Dismukes Senior Master

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    In general, I agree. In fact (from what I've been able to tell) the whole concept of individual martial arts as being discrete entities with unique names and rules about who is certified to teach and represent the art and so on is a relatively recent historical development occurring over the last few centuries. (Timetables for this development vary by country and art. In some cases it happened 400 years ago, in others it still hasn't happened.)

    If you don't count a few months of Karate and TKD classes I took as a kid (I don't, since I really didn't understand what I was doing at the time), my first lessons in martial arts came from a cousin who was mostly self-taught. In my first couple of years really training, I took official classes from a qualified instructor for only about six months, due to lack of transportation and income. The rest of the time I was picking the brain of every friend I knew who had any martial arts background and practicing what I could learn from them. I wasn't any good, of course, but I did manage to improve from my starting point.

    Now that I've been training for 36 years (mostly under qualified instructors) and have teaching credentials of my own, I still frequently learn from junior practitioners who aren't certified as instructors in any art. If they have an idea or a technique or an insight that I can use, I'll snatch it right up and say thank you.

    What I don't care for is appropriating the specific name of some established art and falsely claiming credentials in that system in order to fool potential students.

    If you say "I love grappling, I grew up wrestling with 6 older brothers, here's a cool move that works really well for me", that's fine and dandy. Teach anyone who wants to learn from you. Maybe your move is great, maybe it sucks. Doesn't matter. It's the same as learning guitar from your friend down the block. You don't demand that he have a degree from Julliard to prove that he's not a fraud.

    If you say "I took 6 months of Judo, wrestled for a year in high school, and watched a video with Royce Gracie, let me show you what I learned," that's also cool (assuming your story is honest). You might not be particularly expert in any of those arts, but it's up to the student whether they care about that.

    On the other hand, if you say "I have a black belt in BJJ," then you damn well better have been awarded that rank by a legitimate BJJ black belt instructor with a direct lineage to Carlos Gracie or Oswaldo Fadda, or else we are going to have words. Invent your own art whenever you like, but you need to earn the public credibility for that art yourself rather than riding on the accomplishments of others.
     
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  11. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Grandmaster

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    I think that in a tribal or village society, there is a recognition that certain skills are useful, both for the individual, and for the society as a whole, if individuals have those skills. Combat skills would be included in those categories. So the elders and those with the knowledge made sure the next generation learned those skills to ensure the group's survival. Probably not every elder had the best skills, or was a true master. Maybe nobody was, as everyone had other responsibilities within the group and nobody had the time available to make training a full time job. So everyone with some amount of skill and knowledge took part in training the next generation.

    You don't need a teaching credential to teach your child arithmetic or reading. You don't need a coaching certificate to teach your kid archery or the fundamentals of baseball. Even if what is taught is not high level or sophisticated, it can still be very useful and effective, and for most people, would be enough.

    It is a more modern development and perspective to put learning into a formalized setting, with credentialed instructors. It wasn't always like that, and for many things, still does not need to be like that.
     
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  12. Tony Dismukes

    Tony Dismukes Senior Master

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    Western boxing and wrestling still are taught in the traditional "folk art" way you reference. No official ranks or credentials or much attention paid to lineage. Many practitioners start out learning from their dad or from friends or from whoever volunteered to coach the team at the local elementary school. If they reach for higher levels at the art, they may seek out an established coach with a personal record of training successful competitors. Said coach may or may not have ever been especially notable in their own practice of the art. Cus D'Amato had only a brief amateur career and Angelo Dundee never fought in the ring at all.

    By the standards often applied within Asian martial arts circles, Dundee would probably have been called the worst sort of fraud when he started training boxers. No significant experience or real accomplishments in the art he was teaching. No rank or certifications. He just hung out in the gym and watched what others did. I suppose after he produced his first few world champions, the accusations of being unqualified might have died down a bit. ;)
     
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  13. Flying Crane

    Flying Crane Grandmaster

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    Boxing and wresting are the examples I actually had in mind when I opened this thread. Lots of back yard and basement training with fathers or grandfathers or uncles, in those methods. I suspect that this held true in other cultures as well, at least in the past.
     
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  14. gpseymour

    gpseymour Grandmaster

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    This is true of most sports. Boxing and wrestling have been practiced as sports, and have benefited from this informal progression. I coached children's soccer (football) when I was 16, and again at 17. I was good at it, too (2 undefeated seasons, with more beginners than the other teams). I happened to also have several years playing. My mom coached my first soccer team, and she had never played soccer in her life. We weren't good that year (the goalkeeper was brand new, and spent most of the game thinking about whatever book he was reading that week...or so I've been told), but the next year she coached a team to 2nd place, and later teams to championships. All without ever actually playing in anything but pickup games, and with no real training at being a coach.

    Even with their formal ranking, BJJ has illustrated the value of an "instructor" with relatively little experience, with some blue belts out there leading study groups on the basics. And most of us have run into someone with great credentials who couldn't teach well.
     
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  15. Blindside

    Blindside Senior Master

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    Filipino martial arts until very recently were taught this way, the whole propagation of supreme grand masters and ultra guros is a fairly recent thing. Most groups are still not big enough to warrant getting out of the garage or backyard or park.
     
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  16. TSDTexan

    TSDTexan Master Black Belt

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    JKD, is a folk art, and a highly formalized one. It depends on the branch.

    Kajukenpo started as street fighting in Hawaii. It is far more formal today, but it could be well argued that it too was/is a folk art
     
  17. marques

    marques Black Belt

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    I like the idea of backyard training. If there are no witnesses, trophies, ranks or belts to be earned, it most be really a passion or something they honestly enjoy.

    The drawback is when people are put at risk, during the training or due to overconfidence in a conflict or... Or bad preparation for competitions or self defence. Some of them are now dead. And if you play music (for instance) badly, or learn nothing after 10h training... no big deal. Maybe someone will make fun of that, but you survive. :)

    Diversity is a value in itself. On the other hand, freedom is like knives. We never know how it will be used...

    PS: If someone asks, I say I know kickboxing. Specific enough to give an idea of my 'especiality', but generic enough (and small k) to avoid any Kickboxing police or fraud accusations. :cool:
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2017

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