Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What’s in a Name?


Semantics of What We Call Our Art

When describing these martial arts to those who don’t know them, what general name do you sum the Art up under? We have a number of different terms used; none of them quite accurate (unless of course, you’re a specialist, and even then it may not fit).

I’ve generally and grudgingly generically referred to them as the RMA (Renaissance Martial Arts). So let’s start by examining that one. It really is an inaccurate term, at least for the way my school approaches the Art. It is inaccurate because some (such as myself) not only believe that such historical divisions are fundamentally flawed and outdated, but it also seems that no two historians can agree on a firm date for the Renaissance; most say that it happened in different places at different times no less.
Not only that, but most RMA stylists inarguably practice “medieval” martial arts, intermingled with anything Renaissance. Additionally, most martial arts practiced into the Renaissance were in fact traditions carried forward from the medieval era; practiced relatively unchanged after their earlier perfection and up until their eventual temporary extinction at the wrong end of the gun.

To add to this, many practitioners study post-Renaissance combat methodologies. And the worst yet, though undeservedly so; when I tell people that I practice the RMA, they always say “Oh, like with swords and stuff?” Renaissance, unfortunately, evokes “renfair” in most minds.

“Medieval” martial arts is a term just as difficult for most practitioners, given the disparity of agreement on eras and the smattering of source material post-I.33 that even most I.33 specialists study.

Next up, WMA (Western Martial Arts). WMA is quite simply ridiculously non-specific. At least it excludes all things non-Western and half an entire hemisphere, but it includes all things in all eras within those boundaries. If we go so far as to assume it refers exclusively to European derived arts, it still encompasses everything from the pankration of ancient Greece to SAS combatives.

Now let us make a comparison to the terms given the martial traditions of Japan (oooooh). The Japanese do not call their native “medieval” fighting arts any such thing, unbroken lineage or otherwise. They call them, generically and cumulatively, budo, or bujutsu; “warrior ways/arts,” more or less. Specifically, they call arts within the Art, for example, kenjutsu; “the art of the sword.”

Coincidentally mirroring the Japanese, in the West we have equivalent terms that are infinitely more appropriate than what most of us use now. They are both fitting and historical, if not more appropriately evocative. Knightly, or Chivalric Arts1 (like bujutsu/budo) are terms that denote both era and generality. For a specific example, the “Art of the Sword” is historical and works just fine when specificity is required (in any language). Certainly some of us have been using these terms for a while now. For example, author and practitioner Jeffrey Hull has been using the German version, Ritterlich Kunst, for a while now. The suitability of the term is reinforced by a knowledge of the meaning of the term itself (roughly, the way of the elite warrior); a better understanding of which can be learned from Brandon’s articles on Chivalry itself.

1. Some might argue that the knightly, or chivalric arts encompassed more than just the martial arts. They are invariably SCA and re-enactors as well. They might say that knights needed to learn to dance. Well, knights may have learned the art of dancing, but dancing is not a knightly art. The Knightly/Chivalric Arts is a term used exclusively for the martial arts. Likewise, though chivalry may have many meanings, the Chivalric Arts is fairly specific.

-C

Copyright Jan. 2010, Casper Bradak

4 comments:

Maxime said...

Hi there, good points but a bit of a precision again on JMA. The Japanese make a clear distinction between feodal arts and those coming after. 1876 is the date mostly agreed upon, as being the end of sword carrying and thus the end of arts created for real sword use (although Toyama Ryu is kind of an exception to that rule). We call these arts koryu (old school) or gendai (modern). So Yagyu shinkage ryu is a koryu bujutsu while kendo is a gendai budo. Schools who teach many arts such as Kashima Shin ryu would also be called Sogo Bujutsu.

The Irish have the exact same system to characterise arts which are Sean Nos (old style) and Nos Nua (New way), although they don't really have any set date to differentiate both. We are trying to put this characterisation on traditionnal Irish martial arts as well and putting forth the date of the Irish independence as the dividing one on this matter.

Lessons on the English Longsword said...

Thank you for the enlightening correction on the Japanese terms.

Perhaps some clarification on that note is in order for the Chivalric Arts.

The Chivalric Arts encompass arts that would have been used by the Chivalry and their contemporaries; arts as applicable to combat on the battlefield as they are to duel or other self-defense.

Use of the rapier, for example, I would not consider a Chivalric Art, but it is a specific art, thusly the Art of the Rapier suffices.

Though modern sport fencing is the kendo of the West, it is not a part of the Chivalric Arts because of the immense changes that have happened here by contrast to Japan.

Therefore, while we could attempt to re-align the term, we have no need to distinguish between "new" and "old" Chivalric Arts in the West.

Ensifer said...

Well, as much as I like the word "Chivalry"in English, I first had one really simple problem with the term - there is simply no equivalent to it in my language, Bulgarian (although in 13th century there may have been one, yet it would stil be not the same, as chivalry in the narrowest sense is western european concept).
But other problems arise - how to we define a period of chivalry or a chivalrous martial art? Meyer's students were not knights, at least not most of them. The same goes to some xtent to the Bolognese. Yet, they taught the same Art, with some minor changes (a spada da lato is a bit different of an instrument, for example). Also, I can vouch for the fact that my ancestors, for example, used the same swords that were used in the West (although no manuscripts have yet been found), yet we did not have knights in the same sense. And we did not have chivalry as the same concept.

So how do you figure that?

PP: in English, the name of our school translates so: School of Medieval European Swordsmanship.

Ensifer said...

Well, as much as I like the word "Chivalry"in English, I first had one really simple problem with the term - there is simply no equivalent to it in my language, Bulgarian (although in 13th century there may have been one, yet it would stil be not the same, as chivalry in the narrowest sense is western european concept).
But other problems arise - how to we define a period of chivalry or a chivalrous martial art? Meyer's students were not knights, at least not most of them. The same goes to some xtent to the Bolognese. Yet, they taught the same Art, with some minor changes (a spada da lato is a bit different of an instrument, for example). Also, I can vouch for the fact that my ancestors, for example, used the same swords that were used in the West (although no manuscripts have yet been found), yet we did not have knights in the same sense. And we did not have chivalry as the same concept.

So how do you figure that?

PP: in English, the name of our school translates so: School of Medieval European Swordsmanship.