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Author Topic: "What it means to be a Martial Artist" a post by Kevin Murakoshi.  (Read 5819 times)

Thorsteinn

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I just had to cross post this. It was on the forum for the HEMA Alliance, and it just spoke to me. It spoke right to the core of what it means to be a martial artist, and what it means to be Knightly in that intent and dedication.

Thank you Kevin. You truly made my day better, and me a better person.

---------
Re: The Bastard Sword by Sir Marc de Arundel.

Post by Kevin Murakoshi on Wed Mar 02, 2011 3:30 pm

The question about whether SCA heavy combat is a martial art is far from a settled question even in SCA circles. There was a really good thread on the armor archive debating exactly this point. (See http://forums.armourarchive.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=115112)

To be clear, I do not participate in SCA heavy combat, I do SCA rapier and cut and thrust combat which is a different game.

I think that it's problematic when we start deciding things are "martial arts", and "not martial arts." Too often these discussions end up as "What I do is more badass than what you do, so we're a martial art and you're just posers". This is doubly problematic when you use the lowest expression of that activity as your basis for comparison. There are plenty of guys in the SCA who fight in wars, and maybe go to practice once a month. They're not really any good, but they have fun and it's a way for them to unwind with their friends. They are clearly not people who participate in a martial art. On the flip side, there are plenty of guys in the HEMA/WMA world who can't fight, haven't read the books, and are horribly out of shape. I don't think I'd call them martial artists either.

The argument that to be a martial art you must come from a martial heritage is clearly false. There are plenty of Martial arts that were invented in the modern age out of some amalgamation of EMA/traditional martial arts, and "stuff that works". This doesn't make them any less "martial arts."

Further, the idea that a martial art must be a "REAL KILLING ART" is clearly false. Aikido is clearly considered a martial art, yet has non-violence as one of it's basic tenants.

The idea that there exists a distinction between "martial sports" and "martial arts" is problematic since there are so many "martial arts" that hold large sporting contests. Examples include Judo, TKD, Karate, Savate/Lacanne, Thai Kickboxing and Gouren. These arts are usually classified as martial arts, yet their expression is almost exclusively sporting.

To take a non-sca example. I am a classical fencer. Most would claim that classical fencing is a martial art, while sport fencing is a sport. I train as a classical fencer, yet I compete in modern epee. Does that make me not a martial artist? If trained the same way, but didn't call myself a classical fencer would I be any less of a martial artist?

To bring this back to the topic at hand, I think that what defines us as martial artists is not the art we study, but the way in which we study it. If I approach what I do as a martial art, with the proper martial intent, then I am a martial artist. It is therefore, how and why we train that defines our martial art, and is the key difference. There are those in the SCA who treat what they do as a fight with sharps. Sure the rules change things a bit, but that is how they train. They train multiple days per week, and approach it as a martial art. These people are martial artists, and by extension what they do is a Martial Art.

In the end, I don't think we can paint the SCA with such a big brush. There are martial artists there, and there are sport fighters. This is the same with HEMA, we have martial artists, and we also have our share of sport fighters. The moment we start arguing that the SCA is not a martial art because it's actually a sport. We open up to the argument that the big HEMA tournaments are also a sport and the guys to fight in them have suddenly become "not martial artists".

It's also fair to say that you don't like the SCA, that the fake titles, medievalesque garb, and strange rules are stupid. That's fair. That what SCA heavy does isn't HEMA is also fair, it's clearly not. It might be HEMA inspired, but it's not HEMA. I think that when we get into "not a martial art territory, we run into problems."

I also have little doubt that the highest level SCA fighters, Kendoka, or olympic epeeists could school our collective asses even when using our weapons and rules (where SCA and Kendoka would use longsword, and epeeists rapier). I know a guy who's vying for a place on the UK Olympic epee team, and he totally schooled me with a rapier. Now guys like Axel and Jake, who are at the top of their game might make it competitive, but for the rest of us, not so much.

On a personal note, as a WMA guy and Classical Fencer, I used to mock modern fencers and anyone who hadn't seen the HEMA light. I laughed at SCA Armored combat as "slugs hitting each other". As I've grown, I've come to realize that it's not about WHAT they're doing, but HOW they approach what they're doing. I've seen too many "classical fencers" who use “it's classical fencing” to justify bad technique, or western martial artists who look scarcely better than the local boffer group. At the same time, I've met SCA hybrid fencers whose dedication to the perfection of their style is inspiring, and SCA heavy fighters who approach their fighting seeking that conquering of the self that characterizes so many of the Japanese martial arts.

So perhaps rather than talking about this on the internet, just train more.
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Nicely said, I couldn't agree more.
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Quote
So perhaps rather than talking about this on the internet, just train more.

Excellent summary.
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Sir Edward

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I've avoided getting to these arguments on the forums, despite many opportunities. :) I've seen it come up on myArmoury most recently, I think. And I felt both sides of the arguments had brought up some excellent points. But in the end, it comes down to splitting hairs, and matters of semantics. There's enough ambiguity in traditional sports and arts (as he pointed out) to make definitions imprecise.

So I approach this similarly to how I approach most things now-- a fairly inclusive outlook. I try not to judge or dismiss various groups just due to their differences. I mean, think about how many useless arguments can be made in other related areas... For instance, who are "real" revivalists? SCA? Renfaires? Living history? Who are "real" knights? SCA knights? Our order? The Knights of Columbus? It's like having D&D players and LARPers arguing over which one is "real" role-playing.

When you start getting into arguments that can boil down to "they do things differently, so it's less valid", then you need to re-evaluate your system of measure.

Having said that, I think it's still important to understand the differences between the different groups and their approaches, so that you can make an informed choice about what to participate in. Personally I wanted to learn about actual martial use of the weapons in historical times, with less emphasis on competition and roleplaying, so HEMA was the better choice for me than any sort of LARP group, or the SCA. But I like the SCA for other aspects of it. It's a personal choice based on my own interests and goals. But I don't look down on SCAdians as a result.

Does that make sense?
« Last Edit: 2011-03-03, 14:48:43 by Sir Edward »
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Thorsteinn

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Yes.

And I must say that the reception I got here has been absolutely great. :D
The HEMA Alliance forum... not so much. :( (how they can see the Path with their noses up in the air like that is beyond me)

Look to my next original post for a metaphor (analogy?) of what I see. I hope its good, but I may need to tweak it.

Being Knightly is something you do alltimes, not sometimes.

-Ivan
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The phrase 'to each their own' spends well here.  Like the author, in my less mature days, I would scoff at just about anyone who wasn't doing what I did as a matter of course.  I chalk it up to the incorrigibility of youth, my own most especially.

Like you, Sir Edward, I have been witness to many a discussion along these lines and I generally don't engage- I think as I've gotten older, I find that I no longer need to seek validation amongst my peers for what it is I feel like doing.  They're either on board or not...I'm still moving forward.

Sir Ivan, well put - 'being knightly is something you do alltimes, not sometimes'.
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Quote from: Sir William
The phrase 'to each their own' spends well here...  They're either on board or not...I'm still moving forward.

My sentiments exactly.  I do not worry about that which I can not control.
"Oh, what sad times are these when passing ruffians can say Ni at will to old ladies. There is a pestilence upon this land, nothing is sacred. Even those who arrange and design shrubberies are under considerable economic stress in this period in history." - Roger the Shrubber

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Yeah, Kevin's a good guy, and you can really see it in that post.

I [foolishly] participated in the myArmoury discussion of "SCA sport or martial art?", and the part that bugs me is how quick people are to either 1) take offense to the word "sport", or on the other extreme 2) claim that what they do is somehow more "real" than what other people do. Both positions are silly.

One of the things that I was trying to say there is that anytime you engage someone with fake weapons with rules of engagement (and there are always rules, no matter what people claim, unless if you really are trying to kill one another), then you are participating in a sport. That means that when I put my fencing mask on and fence another person with a longsword, I'm still doing a sport version of longsword. It doesn't matter that I'm trying to use martial arts techniques; it's still a sport. It's no different if I do SCA, sport fencing, Kendo, etc. All of these are sports. But as Kevin points out, that doesn't mean you aren't also a martial artist. Rather, it means you use sports to enhance your martial arts, which is COMPLETELY HISTORICAL. It's what every militarty has done since the dawn of time: Using combat sports to develop better fighters.

Somehow, though, when I say things like this, people either immediately assume I'm trashing the SCA (which I would never do), or they assume I'm trying to claim that the word "sport" somehow is a dirty word and should not be used in HEMA (which is silly because I use sportive combat, i.e. free fencing, as part of my training). In the end, Kevin summed things up pretty nicely there.
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hmm although I only recently started with MASHS I definitely feel an affinity to the training as a genuine martial art which is the same experience I had thirty years ago when I studied Ketsugo Jujitsu, which I actually had to use and served me well on occasion in my younger years. I approach my lessons with the same mentality of someday I just may have to use this stuff and so I try to execute the moves as precisely and cleanly as possible. I don't know or really care if that constitutes as a sport, historical reenactment or role playing, I just want to learn and better myself...besides if I happen to get caught up in a time warping vortex that dumps me into the middle ages I want to at least have a slight chance of surviving a sword fight!  :D
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Thorsteinn

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@Das Bill: What an awesome point! :D
It made a lovely picture in my head.

I will have to share this with others if that's OK with you.

-Ivan
BTW I'm thinking of changing my SCA name to (Ivarr, Kori, or Hrafn) Rauttskegg, if it's period that is.
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Certainly!
"A despondent heart will always be defeated, regardless of skill." -Master Sigmund Ringeck

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Yep, Excellent points.


BTW I'm thinking of changing my SCA name to (Ivarr, Kori, or Hrafn) Rauttskegg, if it's period that is.

BTW, just like on the AA, you can change your display name on this forum in your profile settings. Most forums don't allow this, so it's worth noting that we have this feature turned on if you want to update it. Your login name would stay the same though.
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The article is by no means an excellent one and I wholeheartedly agree with it!

It really comes down to "how do you train" "why do train in this way" or "what are you trying to get from your training," it is these question that look towards the individual practitioner and how he/she trains.  The training method is where anyone can determine if they are training to fight, to compete or to perfect themselves.

Bill Grandy makes an excellent in conjunction, yes combat sports have and can make better fighters.

To better explain myself, I recall me Dad recounting his days when he trained for tennis, track and wrestling.  what he told me was unbelievable, he used to run at 5am in the morning, practice for five to six hours for both wrestling and tennis.  I am standing amazed and enlightened at the fact that any art can created only by the individual and how he/she does.  The manner and goal is what defines their art and themselves.

This also applied to my old kung fu and tai chi training days when I used to practice for two hours everyday, I trained to perfect  my movements to make them natural, to remember them and to do them correctly.  This can sound like I am crazy about form and technique but at the same time I was practicing numerous ways to protect  myself and to enhance my skill.  As of now, I am retired from the kung fu and tai chi, but the lesson of keeping training (and life) priorities straight is what I got from that training.

When I attended the SIGMA Medieval Martial Arts Workshop, I felt that I can now understand the movements and better explain them along with keeping my priorities straight. Even the instructors complimented my dad (who went as a spectator) telling him I was doing a good job performing the given techniques, even Tobler himself complimented my hard work getting the movements right.  Th past training definitely helped me in getting the basics done correctly, I also came away thinking "wow, I now understand why they train in this manner and I like it."

On a side note, I have plans to train at SIGMA this summer and have been practicing (from memory) my longsword, dagger, wrestling and pole ax material I learned at that seminar.

But to refresh and connect the dots here, it doesn't matter what style you train in, how you train and why you are training like this, what are you training for is what determines if that individual being a competitor, practitioner or in this case a martial artist.       
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Thorsteinn

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I agree.

When asked how I think about training & stylism I told my HEMA teacher many things. He understood none of them. It took him a full year to get that I was approaching it in a Taoist/ Jeet Kun Do way, though I told him that often enough.

For me, this is how I think about it. This is where I desperately want to be:


Lee: Teacher?

Shaolin Abbott: I see your talents have gone beyond the mere physical level. Your skills are now at the point of spiritual insight. I have several questions. What is the highest technique you hope to achieve ?

Lee: To have no technique.

Shaolin Abbott: Very good. What are your thoughts when facing an opponent ?

Lee: There is no opponent.

Shaolin Abbott: And why is that ?

Lee: Because the word "I" does not exist.

Shaolin Abbott: So, continue...

Lee: A good fight should be like a small play, but played seriously. A good martial artist does not become tense, but ready. Not thinking, yet not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come. When the opponent expands, I contract. When he contracts, I expand. And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit. It hits all by itself.

Shaolin Abbott: Now, you must remember: the enemy has only images and illusions behind which he hides his true motives. Destroy the image and you will break the enemy.

-----
I find this harder to do in HEMA than other places as moving naturally with full expression of the self is a natural way to generate power and that bothers many people.

Still, it is just another step on the path.
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Ah, Enter the Dragon. Classic Bruce Lee. It's a great movie, and that's a great dialog from it - especially true at the end, "the enemy has only images and illusions behind which he hides his true motives. Destroy the image and you will break the enemy", which becomes very clear.
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