Starting from Scratch (Why New Styles Are Sometimes Better Than Legacies)

I am going to introduce a very revolutionary concept to you that will probably upset most of you.

Then I’m going to prove to you that my idea isn’t my idea at all; that my idea is actually traditional for the Philippine Martial Arts.

And then finally, you will walk away from my blog thinking how awesome this concept is, and how you can work this idea into your own personal philosophy of the martial arts.

It is better to start “from scratch”; new styles are sometimes better than legacies. Passed down arts are not as effective as “made up arts”.

Blasphemy! How could you say that, Kuntawman! You arrogant, crappy bastard! So you think you have a better system than my thousands-year old system? Like some young, still wet-behind-the-ears-40-something year old knows better than the Grandmasters? Who do you think you are?

New arts are better than old arts, because they have been molded to the user. What your master did when he was young (hopefully) to be effective in fighting highlighted his own specialties and preferences. Your master’s combination of talents are not your combination of talents. And while each teacher will try to pass on his own skills and research to his students, he will not be able to duplicate everything he was able to do. Mostly, because his students will not have his abilities and attributes. Times may be different for them. Perhaps your master was a thin man who moved like a cobra, but you are stocky and move like a bull. Then your class mate had long legs and weaker arms. Another classmate may be afraid to get hit in the face and therefore tends to have faster defensive maneuvers than this classmate, who had good pain tolerance (thank goodness) and slow reflexes. None of you, by the way, have the same combination of skills, specialties, habits and weaknesses (because we all have them, btw) that your master had. So why are you, a 5’11” 240 lb ex football player, teaching your 5’1″, 110 lb female student to fight like your master–who was 5’7″ and had a bad knee but powerful arms? And if your Grandmaster–your Master’s master–was a 4’11”, chubby guy with no kicking skill at all but only had skill with a knife up close, you are all passing down an art that does not fit any of you.

This is what happens with legacies and “passed down” martial arts systems. I have found that most arts may have a specific curriculum or skill set that can be applied several ways, but we have the impression that we must teach them the same way our Master taught us. We believe that if we do not teach the art the way he taught us, we are somehow lacking respect for our teacher’s teaching or not keeping the art “pure”…. A concept that is pure rubbish, according to the old Masters. In my experience, knowing the real Masters of the art, NONE expect their art to be taught exactly as they have taught it. Only the ones who have egos the size of mountains seem to want their students to push aside their own research and preferences in favor of keeping the art “fure” ūüėČ ¬†Either that, or they are martial arts businessmen who want to license, copyright, authenticate, approve everything their students do.

I have a few ideas why Masters won’t allow you to have your own expression within an art:

  1. you aren’t ready. Some teachers have recognized that these generations of students in the last 20 years or so will not go out and fight for their experience and reputations, so they do not have the research put in to change anything and be able to stand behind it. So they will only trust their own judgment because they’ve done their research and you haven’t
  2. they are very proud of what they have developed, and hope to preserve their method because they do not believe there is a ¬†better way. until someone comes along and beats them and/or their students–they believe their method really is the best. some of the teachers I’ve met who are adamant about keeping the method intact are sincerely trying to pass along the best method they have come to know for fight superiority. this is also based on
  3. they do not believe in the idea of attributes and “natural abilities or inclinations” in fighting. If a student is a bad kicker, they do not believe it is due to some physiological trait–it is because you are lazy and won’t stretch to develop your legs. These masters believe that any student can learn any thing, as long as enough work is put in to developing those skills. Especially true of Chinese Masters, who go to great lengths to develop their students’ flexibility, strength, footwork, upper body skills–so that the students will have the same attributes the Master himself had. Of the three reasons, this is one that I agree with the most.

The drawback to #3 is that few students in the West will put in the training intensity and time to developing the art to fit the individual. We train often only two or three days per week; hardly enough time to change the body physically to match the system. You must look at martial arts training from a permanent physiological perspective, not as a skill one can learn through imitation. There is a reason Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do has not produced another Bruce Lee clone; because he had his own combination of skills and abilities that his personal fighting style was matched to. Most people studying his art do not possess them. I believe this is why he wanted to disband his school. He was like the guy in #1; he thought he had found the best, ideal fighting method around. Then later in life, Lee realized he had only discovered his ideal fighting method. That’s why he emphasized discovering your expression in the art. That’s the idea: ¬†Discover your expression. Most of you are combing magazine ads looking at DVDs and books for the right style or the right method, and it will always elude you. There is no best art, only the best for you. And the best art is not a gem to be found, but a secret within your potential that is just waiting to be uncovered.

The old masters knew this, that’s why almost none of them “inherited” anything to pass on to you. Remy Presas came up with his own art, passed it to you. Ernesto Presas, who had the same teachers as Remy, came up with his own art, and passed it on to you. Their younger brother, Roberto, who had the same teachers, came up with his own art (while closer to Ernesto’s method, it was still somewhat different. I know–I studied with both of them). ¬†Carlito La√Īada had his own art (although he tried to blame it on his father, but it was his version of Shorin Ryu). Dan Inosanto learned from several masters, and now teaches his combination of arts. Even his teachers, Angel Cabales and Manong Leo Giron, taught their own arts–which were based on their own fighting styles and experiences. I could go on… those arts were great because they were tested and original. So my question is, have you done those arts justice by allowing them to continue to evolve and improve? Or did you leave them stuck in the 1960s?

Not so fast, Mustafa. You forget the Balintawak masters, the Cinco Tiros masters, the Doce Pares masters… How foolish are you to say that your 30 year study of the art is superior to these arts with over 100 years of development!

Uh huh. I didn’t say that new styles were always superior (reread the title of this article, my friend). But remember my short list of the opposing view? There is a section of the community who have the commitment and dedication (or ability to dedicate) to full-time, long-term study of an art. In those cases, the students can mold their bodies, their abilities, to making the art as natural as if they were those masters themselves. If you are a 5’11” big guy who moved like a rhino, but you could train full-time and turn yourself into the walking clone of a 5’7″ Bruce Lee–you could make that art become your own. But you aren’t going to be able to do it while training part time. At best, you will be able to do a convincing imitation of Bruce Lee, yet what is natural for you to do in combat will always be more effective than what you are taught. Legacies have their place. They are appropriate for the most dedicated, but they are not for the typical martial arts student in the West who will only train a few days a week. Not, unless you are satisfied with merely learning some skills to get by. Now if you are looking for your maximum potential–or to maximize your potential–you must find out what combinations of skills fit your abilities and habits the best, and how they can be used to do the most damage with the least amount of effort. And what your master did to accomplish that goal may not necessarily be the same things you must use.

If there is anything you enjoy doing more when you train or fight, and it isn’t what your teacher emphasizes in class–you have just tapped into the beginning of your self-expressed art. The next question is: ¬†Will you suppress it, or will you develop it?

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

One thought on “Starting from Scratch (Why New Styles Are Sometimes Better Than Legacies)”

  1. Sad. If your doing the same thing you were last year. You are not developing, learning. Train with as many people as you can and you’ll get a piece of the puzzle that works for you. That’s what they say. Still trying to work on that….

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