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inaccurate because some (such as myself) not only believe that such historical divisions are fundamentally flawed and outdated, but it also seems that no two historians can agree on a firm date for the Renaissance; most say that it happened in different places at different times no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.
Copyright Jan. 2010, Casper Bradak
Posted by B & C at 8:27 PM