Idiosyncrasy

Gyakuto

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Some schools of martial arts are so idiosyncratic to the person who founded them that they alone are able to perform them as intended. Certainly, their senior students might get close to the founder’s vision but the truebessense of what makes them a new school is sometimes impossible to be taught/transmitted and will be elusive to others. I‘m not referring to peculiarities in physique like limb-length ratios, tendon insertion differences etc (🤔 well, perhaps neural cytoarchitecture) but something beyond the physical that makes those founders, and their arts, unique.

I’ve yet to see anyone approach Bruce Lee‘s performance of Jet Kune Do. Hironori Ohtsuka’s performance of Wado Ryu is markedly different to his senior students. Ip Man’s Wing Chun looks unique to him.

Are we kidding ourselves that we can even approach performing the uniqueness of some arts and if so, why study that system?
 
EXCELLENT question...... lemme ponder that for 3 weeks or so!
It’s not an easy one, it’s just a hypothesis and I’m open to it being ‘disproved’.

It seems that the more idiosyncratic the art the less likely it’s essence can be transmitted. Take the wonderful Shotokan Karate for example, which I think is great, but there’s nothing in ‘particular’ about it. There are no little ‘weirdnesses’ to it. You kick strongly and directly, you punch fast and hard, you deflect an incoming punch to the side to the side and counter attack back. Beautiful, big kata with strength and power. Shinto Ryu seems similar too but has many circular techniques. There are many, very proficient practitioners of these two schools…many!

Wado Ryu has this unusual tai sabaki (body handling) evasion principle at it’s heart where one twists the body, at the last moment, out of the way to let an attack ‘slip by‘ but keeping you in range to counter really effectively. It’s not unique, I’m sure but was refined by Otsuka sensei and is a subtlety that requires accurate timing (and fearlessness!). But watch even high-grade Wado Ryu practitioners sparring and you’ll seldom see this hyper-effective principle…almost never. They could be practising Shotokan or Shinto Ryu on casual observation. It that ‘nagasu’ be a peculiarity to Hironori Ohtsuka? Is this an example of what I’m putting forward?
 
I've been thinking about making a related post for a while, but haven't taken the time to organize all my thoughts yet. But I'll throw this out for you to consider.

Follow this link to the Youtube channel of The Modern Martial Artist. Check out his breakdowns of the technical style of various great boxers - Tyson, Ali, Duran, Leonard, Foreman, Lomachenko, Louis, Pep, Frazier, etc.

Watching these breakdowns, I've noticed a couple of things.

First, the styles of these individual fighters are as different from each other as any two styles of karate are from each other. In some cases they're as different as a randomly selected karate style might be from a randomly selected kung fu style.

Secondly, almost all of these great champions have at least some element of their style which contradicts what you would typically learn from your coach as a beginning boxer. In some cases they do things that your coach would tell you never to do.

So I'd say that the goal of studying a style is not to become a clone of Bruce Lee or Morihei Ueshiba or Mike Tyson or whoever. It's to learn whatever lessons that system has to teach you and to make those lessons work for you in a way that suits your own strengths and limitations.
 
I’ve yet to see anyone approach Bruce Lee‘s performance of Jet Kune Do. Hironori Ohtsuka’s performance of Wado Ryu is markedly different to his senior students. Ip Man’s Wing Chun looks unique to him.

Wado Ryu has this unusual tai sabaki (body handling) evasion principle at it’s heart where one twists the body, at the last moment, out of the way to let an attack ‘slip by‘ but keeping you in range to counter really effectively. It’s not unique, I’m sure but was refined by Otsuka sensei and is a subtlety that requires accurate timing (and fearlessness!). But watch even high-grade Wado Ryu practitioners sparring and you’ll seldom see this hyper-effective principle…almost never. They could be practising Shotokan or Shinto Ryu on casual observation. It that ‘nagasu’ be a peculiarity to Hironori Ohtsuka?
It's maybe a side tangent, but in the case of founders and "grandmasters" who were not professional fighters I would caution against judging them as having unique abilities based on available video. Those videos are generally technical demos or sparring demos against their own students and may not be representative of what they could actually pull off against a skilled, unfriendly opponent who was actually trying to beat them.
 
So I'd say that the goal of studying a style is not to become a clone of Bruce Lee or Morihei Ueshiba or Mike Tyson or whoever. It's to learn whatever lessons that system has to teach you and to make those lessons work for you in a way that suits your own strengths and limitations.
I knew the ‘don’t copy, innovate’ idea would appear, but surely the point is these people are worthy of slavish imitation (if that was even possible). The fact that I am not a noted martial artist but they are, suggests I could do worse than trying to emulate their uniqueness as closely as possible.
 
Secondly, almost all of these great champions have at least some element of their style which contradicts what you would typically learn from your coach as a beginning boxer. In some cases they do things that your coach would tell you never to do.
You had me hooked already, but this comment cemented the idea. I look forward to reading your post.
 
It's maybe a side tangent, but in the case of founders and "grandmasters" who were not professional fighters I would caution against judging them as having unique abilities based on available video. Those videos are generally technical demos or sparring demos against their own students and may not be representative of what they could actually pull off against a skilled, unfriendly opponent who was actually trying to beat them.
I’m under no illusion that MA are particularly effective forms of fighting. I really don’t think they are for most of us. MAs work well within one’s own school where the ’constraints’ of the art are well characterised, but pit them against a boxer/MMA then they wouldn’t fair well. I sometimes think that the 7th and 8th Dan of my art would end up as sashimi against an ordinary level samurai or even ashigaru (I’d never say it in public).

No, these are physical arts akin to dancing (or ice skating 😉) for most of us. But they give the flashy appearance of effective martial arts. But the premise still holds
 
I'll give you a truly honest answer dude.

My kung fu journey (more of a mission statement, really), came in the mid 2000's. I'd already wrestled extensively before that, but very little striking practice (other than being punched in the face multiple times). Knew some kata, but nothing I did regularly since I was a kid. Loved ninjas. Still want to be one.

At some point I saw a Youtube video of some young guy doing kung fu forms in a soccer field, and though to myself "wow, I want to be able to do that". This guy was gliding around a field like nobody's business, the whole place was his battle ground. Powerful but graceful.

Now, I don 't know if he was an actual soccer player but thought that would be cool...dude trains with the ball to compete, but also prances around this field in some sort of old Chinese ritual fight dance to spiritually own the field. I'd seen this stuff before...in Muay Ram. Hooked, I was.

So, I started learning kung fu. Best decision I ever made, it's kept me alive and fit and eager. Since then I've trained many different martial arts, with actual instructors, and others like Aikido I can honestly evaluate.

What did I learn? To unlock my body's potential. Agility, power, speed. The forms themselves were a tool along the way, and I still practice in entirety certain ones so as not to forget them (I've learned, forgotten, and relearned fist sets).

But what you say is true. Forms can be a trap for the mind, some people learn forms and stay there.

Then I remember how it was I came to forget the Five Animal Fist. It took me a year and as soon as I was done, I was already bouncing all over the mats like an animal, most full of Qi I couldn't contain myself. Didn't nee the form anymore. But now I want to go over it again, so I started over with the whole thing. 200+ movements, at Level 0.

And here I am trying to recapture that energy from my youth. that's my story.
 
I'll give you a truly honest answer dude.

My kung fu journey (more of a mission statement, really), came in the mid 2000's. I'd already wrestled extensively before that, but very little striking practice (other than being punched in the face multiple times). Knew some kata, but nothing I did regularly since I was a kid. Loved ninjas. Still want to be one.

At some point I saw a Youtube video of some young guy doing kung fu forms in a soccer field, and though to myself "wow, I want to be able to do that". This guy was gliding around a field like nobody's business, the whole place was his battle ground. Powerful but graceful.

Now, I don 't know if he was an actual soccer player but thought that would be cool...dude trains with the ball to compete, but also prances around this field in some sort of old Chinese ritual fight dance to spiritually own the field. I'd seen this stuff before...in Muay Ram. Hooked, I was.

So, I started learning kung fu. Best decision I ever made, it's kept me alive and fit and eager. Since then I've trained many different martial arts, with actual instructors, and others like Aikido I can honestly evaluate.

What did I learn? To unlock my body's potential. Agility, power, speed. The forms themselves were a tool along the way, and I still practice in entirety certain ones so as not to forget them (I've learned, forgotten, and relearned fist sets).

But what you say is true. Forms can be a trap for the mind, some people learn forms and stay there.

Then I remember how it was I came to forget the Five Animal Fist. It took me a year and as soon as I was done, I was already bouncing all over the mats like an animal, most full of Qi I couldn't contain myself. Didn't nee the form anymore. But now I want to go over it again, so I started over with the whole thing. 200+ movements, at Level 0.

And here I am trying to recapture that energy from my youth. that's my story.
That sounds truly amazing and the motivation is as valid as any I’ve heard. But there will come a time when you simply cannot do this. The body won’t allow it and it creeps up on you, inexorably!

But have you identified what makes your art unique for other? Are you able to emulate that ‘thing’ or could only the founder do it?
 
I’ve yet to see anyone approach Bruce Lee‘s performance of Jet Kune Do.
I was thinking about this the other day. JKD is a principle that should be replicated, but not a technique or style that should. As I understand it (which is a surface-level understanding), JKD is a personal journey and not a specific art. For me, with experience in TKD, wrestling, HKD, and BJJ; JKD would be different than someone who started in BJJ and then learned wrestling, HKD, and lastly TKD. Even more different if they did completely different arts.

MMA seems to be the principle applied at the art level instead of the individual level. This is a concept that is appearing in many technical professions. For example, cybersecurity used to be about "security through obscurity". You can't beat my algorithm if you don't even know what it is. Lately, it's been more about security through peer review. You can't beat my algorithm if all of these other experts have helped me plug the holes in it. Another example is AI learning. CodeBullet on Youtube does videos in which you can see hundreds of AI simultaneously attempt to accomplish a task in a game. The AI that are most successful are copied into the next generation; what works is kept, what doesn't work is moved out.

TKD (at least in my organization) seems to be JKD applied at the school level. There are a minimum number of requirements from the organization. But the individual master or instructor can bring in their experiences and their curriculum. You'll get a much different experience at a TKD school which is focused on Kukkiwon material than you will on one where the Master is including their knowledge of Judo and Muay Thai. I imagine this is what happens with JKD classes as well. It's the teacher's JKD put into a single style that is then taught to all of the students.

This kind of goes back to the original question. Part of the question is "what is the art?" Is the art about teaching what the founder knows, or about developing in a way the founder developed?

If an art is all about repeating what the founder knew, then the art will inevitably deteriorate over time. You are not likely to add to it, because it was already considered "complete". But you will be taking away from it with every generation that missed something from the generation before. Similar to a game of telephone. I might tell you that "I like Taekwondo" and you turn around and tell the next person "I like Aikido" and by the time it gets to the end it's somehow changed to "Jessica and Chris are getting married."

Let's say I create an art that has a dozen techniques. I teach you this art. You learn four of them as thoroughly as I know them, four of them to an acceptable level, and four of them you struggle with. You then move on to teach your own students. The ceiling they have for these techniques is four they can do great, four they can do okay, and four they will never really learn, because you never really learned it.

But your students miss some things, as you did before them. This isn't an indictment on you or on them. Nobody is perfect. Nobody has the same aptitude with all techniques. But, your students learn my style from you, and they take two of the things you did great and only learn them to a mediocre level. And they learn two of the things you did well and don't really get it.

By the time we get to the third generation of schools, there are two techniques that are really good in the art. There are four techniques left that are okay. There are two techniques that "My master could do it better." And there are four techniques that they are already two generations removed from seeing any practical use of.

There are two ways to fix this. The easiest way is to trim what you don't understand enough to teach, and then add what else you do know. I said above that people have different aptitudes. Well, there's probably things you do well that I don't. Things I didn't include in my original vision of the art, but you can make work. The other way is much more difficult, is to reverse engineer and figure out why it worked before. If there's something you didn't get, maybe one of your students can figure it out. That might delay the degradation of the art. But without being injected with new ideas, a copy of a copy of a copy will eventually fade.

The other alternative is arts that develop the way the founder developed, instead of parroting the personal style of the founder. BJJ and MMA are great examples of this. There are constantly new techniques and strategies being devised. Old ideas are figured out. However, these run into other issues, which I don't feel like going into in this thread.
 
I do think we people involved in the MA slightly delude ourselves into thinking we’re trained into battle-ready warriors (or ninja😉). I have no issues with that speaking as a 15th Century warrior-monk-lady’s man at all. It’s a bit of fun in an otherwise dreary world of the grind where all we have to look forward to is the sweet release of death…😐

But back to the central issue. Do you see you peers and seniors able to perform that idiosyncrasy that makes your art different, or, when they’re sparring or whatever, do they appear generic in there form?

There was a great youtube clip (which I can no longer bloody find) in which various arts were pushed and pushed in the direction of free-sparring and the film maker pointed out that eventually they all subtended to the same general ‘kick-boxing’ style with a bit of grappling…MMA, in fact. It was very surprising!
 
That sounds truly amazing and the motivation is as valid as any I’ve heard. But there will come a time when you simply cannot do this. The body won’t allow it and it creeps up on you, inexorably!

But have you identified what makes your art unique for other? Are you able to emulate that ‘thing’ or could only the founder do it?
The way I look at it, I'm starting off at a better place. If we're all doomed to decline, at least I found a perch to watch it all happen from, and the view is decent. Every old person doing Tai Chi in a park might have been a total badass earlier in life.

Since my personal art is a mashup of stuff, if I look at any of the various founders, I can understand what their goals were, and a lot of them weren't unique, just basic human values and survival.

On the CMA side, there is definitely a lot of healing and medical triage training that seems esoteric until you consider why. Splints, liniments etc. Concoctions. But that's also part of straight up boxing, cutmen, ice, painkillers. So I don't see that sort of thing as unique to either modern boxing or ancient CMA. Fighters get hurt, they need healing.

I think I could show Gordon Liu a solid representation of his Iron Wire routine at the beginning of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. I don't know what Wong Fei Hung or Tid Kiu Saam would think, they'd probably correct me a lot.

And I'd love every minute.
 
But back to the central issue. Do you see you peers and seniors able to perform that idiosyncrasy that makes your art different, or, when they’re sparring or whatever, do they appear generic in there form?
I'm with Skribs on this. I've trained under some talented people and at age 67 will never develop that level of skill. But there are a few things I've learned about the arts I've trained that I do better than my teachers did.

Martial arts do not just begin or peak with the inspired "idiosyncrasies" of one individual and then inevitably decay and devolve with each succeeding generation until they die out. They may. Or they may not. What they will do is change.
 
If an art is all about repeating what the founder knew, then the art will inevitably deteriorate over time. ."
Will it? You might not be aware that the koryu (old schools of Iai) are never changed. They stay exactly the same because, in part, we are not deemed correctly experienced in actual combat, slaying others etc compared to those who devised the kata. ZenKenRen Iai, being a modern standardised form based loosely on the koryu, are changed all the time! So things can remain stable (or stagnant, depending upon your point of view) if the training and examinations are up to it!
 
I’m under no illusion that MA are particularly effective forms of fighting. I really don’t think they are for most of us. MAs work well within one’s own school where the ’constraints’ of the art are well characterised, but pit them against a boxer/MMA then they wouldn’t fair well.
Boxers and MMA practitioners are martial artists. I think the distinction you might be reaching for is that a casual hobbyist who trains for fun 2-3 days per week along with other casual hobbyists is not going to do well in a fight against a serious competitive combat athlete who trains every day along with other serious combat athletes in preparation for full contact matches against other serious combat athletes.

There are also people who train boxing and MMA casually for fun. The main advantage they might have in a match against casual hobbyist practitioners of other arts is that they are more likely to have coaches with real fight experience to steer them in a productive direction.

Also boxing and the typical modern MMA synthesis are high quality martial arts in terms of their curriculum and training methods. Not all martial arts are of the same quality. But I'd put that as secondary to the level of training. I wouldn't put someone who trains boxing twice a week for fun against a karateka who is fighting professionally in the Karate Combat league.
I sometimes think that the 7th and 8th Dan of my art would end up as sashimi against an ordinary level samurai
It depends. Samurai was a social class. There were periods of peacetime where a given samurai might spend most of his time doing administrative paperwork and might not ever have cause to use a sword. But if you're thinking of a seasoned veteran of the battlefield who grew up training spear, bow, sword, and horsemanship full-time under the guidance of other seasoned veterans ... then yeah, a modern Iaido mater who has never even seen a real sword fight is probably going to be outmatched.
 
It's maybe a side tangent, but in the case of founders and "grandmasters" who were not professional fighters I would caution against judging them as having unique abilities based on available video. Those videos are generally technical demos or sparring demos against their own students and may not be representative of what they could actually pull off against a skilled, unfriendly opponent who was actually trying to beat them.

10th planet as repeatable idiosyncrasies
 
Boxers and MMA practitioners are martial artists.
No they are not. The practise a combat sport. ‘Martial’ relates to war and fighting too, but not sports.

I think the distinction you might be reaching for is that a casual hobbyist who trains for fun 2-3 days per week along with other casual hobbyists is not going to do well in a fight against a serious competitive combat athlete who trains every day along with other serious combat athletes in preparation for full contact matches against other serious combat athletes.
Pitting a martial arts person (Karate/Aikido/Tai Chi Chuan/Jet Kune Do etc) with some of equal experience and training time in boxing/MMA isn’t going to fair well.

There are also people who train boxing and MMA casually for fun. The main advantage they might have in a match against casual hobbyist practitioners of other arts is that they are more likely to have coaches with real fight experience to steer them in a productive direction.
Yes. No basic up an down the dojo. no kata or three step sparring.
It depends. Samurai was a social class. There were periods of peacetime where a given samurai might spend most of his time doing administrative paperwork and might not ever have cause to use a sword. But if you're thinking of a seasoned veteran of the battlefield who grew up training spear, bow, sword, and horsemanship full-time under the guidance of other seasoned veterans ... then yeah, a modern Iaido mater who has never even seen a real sword fight is probably going to be outmatched.
I was thinking of samurai before Sekigahara rather than the salarymen samurai. Although I bet they were pretty handy 😉
 
No they are not. The practise a combat sport. ‘Martial’ relates to war and fighting too, but not sports.
Pardon me while I go get my skull enlarged so I have enough space to give this comment a worthy eye-roll.
 
Gonna step in here before this gets ugly.

"Martial art" comes from a Latin term that goes back to medieval-16th century European combat/knight training and wrestling was a big part of it. Not sure about boxing etc but probably. Not a HEMA guy.

And, Chinese imperial armies have also used wrestling competitions to train soldiers for thousands of years.

So technically wrestling sport covers a certain range of martial arts tactics, using the original definition.

 
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