“Sharpen Your Blade” is a common sense philosophy that tells both students and teachers of the arts that they should always endeavor to keep their skills honed–therefore, keeping their “blades” “sharp”.
Like I said, it’s common sense, but I think we can look a little deeper into this idea and learn from it.
Obviously, the martial artist–whether fighters, novices or teachers–have a great need to keep skills refined and sharp. But he should also strive to learn more and more about the art at the same time he works to improve strength, speed and timing and accuracy. When I speak of learning more, this is not to encourage fighters to keep learning more and more technique. It is still more important to increase the quality of what you do versus the quantity of what you do. Rather, we learn more about our arts by learning ways to apply our knowledge in various situations against various opponents using various techniques.
In other words, we keep our blade sharp by developing a weapon–a multipurpose weapon–that is applicable in as many situations as we can. In my kung fu style of Jow Ga, we learn to use more than 10 weapons. However, if I had my choice to carry into battle, I would choose one of three weapons: the machete, a hardwood stick, and a knife. But what of those 10 Kung Fu weapons? I wouldn’t. Because I have not developed any of them well enough to choose them over my Eskrima. It can be said that I kept my blade sharp with my Filipino weapons, where I have not done so with my Kung Fu.
Does this make me unqualified as a Jow Ga Sifu? No. My Kung Fu empty hand knowledge is well-developed and I would use my Jow Ga against any man without hesitation. I would also use my Chinese weapons against any man as well. It’s just that I did not choose to specialize in any of those weapons over my Eskrima. It is a personal choice. Actually, my specialty in Jow Ga is the single headed staff, a weapon I have yet to teach to any of my students… and it still takes a back seat to Eskrima.
When you are pursuing a career in the martial arts, you should have some type of bread-and-butter technique or skill. It is not to say that you should neglect any of your skills, or not develop the others to proficiency. But you must keep a set of skills and techniques so well-developed and refined that you can count on them to handle any attacker. Each time you get the chance to experiment with a new use or test out a theory, you end up with a new morsel of knowledge that you can develop, refine and sharpen. Ultimately, you have on your hands an art and limited set of weapons that can be applied to a limitless number of applications.
Finally, let me say that a man cannot live by skill alone. Again, whether you are a fighter or a teacher, you must become a student of opponents, fighting strategies and fighting styles. There will be a time that your physical skills will not be enough and you may need to apply untested knowledge. It may be in a real fight, or it can be something you are showing a student for later use. I don’t believe that we should limit our learning just because we have opted to specialize in a small set of skills. Learning various arts and skills is fine, as long as we do not focus more on learning than developing. You may find that after developing a set of techniques you may discover a new technique to develop later.
Always explore the world of the fighting arts. There are more new skills and styles than you can imagine. But always keep your blade sharpened–at least one or two–to a razor-sharp edge. And although it may seem that there is never enough time to do so, you may elect to sharpen each one of those swords, one at a time… until everything in your arsenal has a lethal edge.
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