Martial Artist or Martial Arts Practitioner?

This idea has been rolling around in my head for several weeks now. I debated posing this question on a discussion thread; but ultimately decided to use the blog format.

Am I a Martial Artist... or am I simply a Martial Arts Practitioner?

This distinction first began to grow in my mind while listening to a martial arts YouTuber discussing the term "martial artist". The points of what was said that stood out to me included:
- An 'Artist' in the broad definition was a creator.
- A painter may study Picasso; and eventually learn to paint just like him. If this is all that painter ever did, however; he/she would be viewed as a failure.
- The Martial Arts (especially the Traditional Martial Arts) are perhaps the only art form which frowns on anything but strict adherence to what came before (to put it another way; they demand plagiarism).

Now perhaps this definition is too narrow. Actors, dancers, or musicians are commonly referred to as 'artists' also. This term is not only used if they are also script writers, choreographers, or composers as well.

In discussing this line of thinking with a friend recently; it was suggested to me that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners may be considered more 'artists' than practitioners of systems which require more strict adherence to precise curriculum. It was posited that with the endless combinations that make up an individual's 'game'; each person may be considered an 'artist' by this definition.

For several days I agreed with this assessment... wondering if perhaps BJJ contained the last true martial 'artists' to be found. Then it struck me. A grappler's 'game' is a 1to1 comparable to a striker's 'game'. Everyone takes the principles provided by their system and applies them in their own way. A grappler's strategy for how they set up sweeps and submissions is little different than a striker's feints, footwork, and 'go-to' attack combinations.

Maybe these unique methods of implementing any particular system are enough to consider those executing these methods as artists in their own rite. Conversely, should this accolade perhaps be saved for those who did the original creation of the thing now being performed? A compelling argument could surely be made for either opinion on the matter.

My current mindset is that 'artist' is used too liberally.

My education (and lifelong obsession) with the martial arts truly began at 15 years old (when my parents finally gave in and enrolled me in Tae Kwon-Do classes). In the subsequent (nearly) 24 years, I have worked to perfect my abilities and understanding of this art form (and dabbled in several others).

What I have not done is attempt to create something new or unique. I have devoted my time more towards trying to maintain and pass along the version of Tae Kwon-Do that was handed down to me (as there are so few of us left). While I see great benefit in protecting this (or any other) art form from extinction; I question if I'm perhaps more museum curator or history teacher than artist.

There are certain people who clearly have a claim to the title of artist.
- Ueshiba, Morihei (Aikido)
- Funakoshi, Gichin (Shotokan)
- Kano, Jigoro (Judo)
- Helio Gracie (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu)
These (and many others) put their stamp on martial arts history by taking what they were taught; and then creating something new. More recently, I would give similar recognition to Eddie Bravo (10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu). He pioneered several innovations to the No-Gi practice of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu/Submission Grappling; and deserves acknowledgement for that.
(The above names are by no means intended as a complete list).

I have no doubt that there are also many teachers who have done similar innovations... just on a smaller scale. We may never hear their names, but I'm sure they are out there.

For myself, until such a time that I create something that can truly be considered unique (even if only a new twist on what came before); I will be referring to myself as a Martial Arts Practitioner (or teacher). I believe this allows for a distinction between those of us who pass along the knowledge and work of others... and the true creators/artists who made it possible.

Comments

I think your concluding definition of "artist" being only someone who invents a system is too narrow. I agree more with the definition you put forth earlier in your piece - an artist being someone who can take an existing system and apply it in their own individual way. This, however is just the starting point on the way to artistry. When excellent physical execution of techniques comes with little effort, flows naturally and can be spontaneously rearranged (substituting or improvising techniques as required) and strives for perfection, I would call artistry. Mastery would be the next level.
 
I have studied Tracy Kenpo and finally Ed Parker Kenpo and then some Aikido. I have taught and practiced "my" style of American Kenpo. I have taught for years and at age 78, I still teach two adults at my home studio.
I have created new techniques, which I teach along with what I learned.
I consider myself a Master (Master: one who has practiced his art for fifty years or more and has added new moves, techniques, etc.)
Because of all the new techs I have created and years in study, I consider myself a 10th degree black belt)
I find Kenpo to be an excellent way to keep my body limber and fast.
Puyallup, WA.
aikikenjitsu_black_belt@yahoo.com
 
I have studied Tracy Kenpo and finally Ed Parker Kenpo and then some Aikido. I have taught and practiced "my" style of American Kenpo. I have taught for years and at age 78, I still teach two adults at my home studio.
I have created new techniques, which I teach along with what I learned.
I consider myself a Master (Master: one who has practiced his art for fifty years or more and has added new moves, techniques, etc.)
Because of all the new techs I have created and years in study, I consider myself a 10th degree black belt)
I find Kenpo to be an excellent way to keep my body limber and fast.
Puyallup, WA.
aikikenjitsu_black_belt@yahoo.com
So... blue belt under Tracy. Brown belt under Parker. And then self-promoted to 10th Dan. I'll ask you to excuse me a few minutes while I enjoy a good laugh.
 

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