My Problem with “Create Your Own Path”

This weekend I was talking to a young man who was around 25 and had been studying various martial arts since the age of 6. He is a huge MMA fan as well as a great spokesperson for the Filipino Martial Arts. After hearing him talk to his friend about the martial arts, I couldn’t help but to slide into that conversation. He is currently studying Jeet Kune Do in the Bay area and picks up FMAs whenever he could. Looking at him, he is in good shape and I wondered if he had done any fighting.

Of course not.

And I knew it. See, he is a dabbler, and while you may find some dabblers who do engage in fighting, most dabblers, if they do anything, just train. They rarely have a strong core of training partners because they don’t belong to any community of martial artists. And what’s worse than not having a community to pull training partners from, he has no master. That’s right. He is a patient with a fool for a doctor. A client with a fool for an attorney. A student trying to “create his own path, just like Bruce.”

That really irritates me when people call him “Bruce” as if they know him.

But I digress.

We talked about his vast background, his long trail of impractical and incomplete martial arts styles, and his many masters whom he only learned a little bit of shit from (my words), and how he is combining the best of the systems to create his own fighting style. And right now, he is only skimming the surface of Bruce Lee’s art. Let that one sink in…

Okay for those of you who are a little slow: This guy took Bruce Lee’s philosophy of create your own style by taking a little of this and a little of that (btw, that is NOT what Bruce Lee did)–which he considers to be the best of the fighting systems–and not only will he not commit to fully learning any martial arts style, this stupid young man won’t even fully learn the art Bruce Lee created! In other words, this guy thinks he knows better. He knows better than every master of every art that he’s ever studied. Better than Bruce Lee Himself. I am not one to mince words, but this young man doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing.

I am not an enemy of innovation. The greatest of every field you could think of were all innovators. Bruce Lee was an innovator. But here’s the difference:  Bruce Lee was not a novice at a whole bunch of stuff. Those who think they know better will one day get old to become either self-proclaimed masters or they will become nobodies in the art who still can’t fight. And here, we arrive to my original point:  This self-guided (not self-taught, he has teachers, it’s just that he leaves before he learns anything) young man doesn’t fight because he doesn’t stay in anything long enough to get the skill or confidence to last in a fight with well-trained fighters.

That’s not to say that you can’t do it. I’m just saying you have to have a foundation in something to build on while you “create your own path”. So you learn a little bit of boxing, a little Kenpo, a little Jujitsu, a little Muay Thai, a little Eskrima… so basically that means you suck at 5 different arts. Plenty of martial artists do this. It is my main issue with teachers who “dabble” in arts, get certified (which means nothing when we’re talking about proficiency) and then teach side classes. However, a guy who takes the art seriously, doesn’t get any particular advanced ranking, but trains like an animal and logs plenty of sparring rounds with superior opponents can “create his own path”. Creating one’s own path is a valid martial arts philosophy, but it is not for the dabbler, it is not for the know-it-all, and not for the guy who refuses to accept advice and learning.

The one creating his own path must have an open mind to learn whatever he can, but he must equally be willing to test his theories and accept feedback from those with more wisdom than himself. For a beginner to read Bruce Lee’s story, or watch MMA on TV and hear the rhetoric about being “well-rounded”–and then go forth to recreate what those experts have done, is foolish. Those men put a lifetime of research, training and testing together and some 25 year old who only watches real fighters duke it out  on TV will never be able to duplicate this in TWO lifetimes. The blind leading the blind only find themselves lost. All men who were innovators began with a guide or mentor.

And almost all experts fine-tuned their craft by doing their craft hundreds of times more than his peers. Doing a little of this and a little of that will get you nowhere.

Or you could just do what this young man does, and lecture non-martial artists. Let me say this. Anytime you form a strong opinion or revolutionary theory about a subject, and you express this opinion around your peers (or around REAL experts), be prepared to be challenged on those theories and be capable or proving it. No man unwilling to put his art to the test, aka fight, should be creating his own path. Leave that to the dedicated.

Thank you for visiting my blog.