Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Contemporary Perspective on "Styles"


For those current practitioners of the Western Art of the Sword out there, here I will give some more perspective on “styles” and how they relate to us from the point of view of Master George Silver, one of the last great published masters of the inclusive Chivalric Arts in England.

I’ll start with the example of the Art of the Rapier vs. the Art in general from Master Silver’s martial thesis.

Everyone who knows of Master Silver knows of his disdain for the rapier and those who taught its use, and here is why. In Master Silver’s terms, a style is a “fight,” I.e. the style used with the rapier is the “fight” of the rapier. Because the rapier was a specialized sword, it utilized an exclusive, rather than inclusive “fight,” or style of use. Playing to the strengths of the weapon, it largely (but not necessarily) excludes effective cuts and close-in techniques, and focuses on the use of its agile and deadly point at a relatively long range. But because its style of use is exclusive and specialized, this, in Master Silver’s terms, means that it is “imperfect.” In Master Silver’s terms, “imperfect” means “exclusive.” It (the style of the rapier) is an “imperfect fight,” or, that is to say, an exclusive style. It is imperfect because it largely excludes various useful techniques, such as cutting, hilt strikes, and strikes with natural weapons (such as knee and foot kicks “to the cods”), among other things.

Master Silver adamantly preferred the older, all-inclusive (and thusly more versatile) Art. An inclusive art is, in his terms, a “perfect,” or “whole” art, or “fight,” in that it does not exclude legitimate and useful motion, concepts and principles.

Therefore, now that you know what “imperfect,” or exclusive, means, you can apply this to schools and styles you come across and easily judge for yourself which are “perfect,” or inclusive, and which are “imperfect,” or exclusive and specialized (knowingly or unknowingly).

For example, we have the “mixed martial arts” (a generic name for an eclectic sportified fighting methodology). Like the rapier, they are highly effective within their chosen arena (literally, in this case). But they are “imperfect,” or exclusive, by Master Silver’s definition because they cater to that specialized arena. They exclude aspects useful outside that arena (because they are illegal or otherwise useless within it), and focus on aspects specifically related to it (such as invariably single, weaponless combat within a prescribed rule set, time limit and scoring system).

It should be noted, however, that just because a given school doesn’t teach some aspect of the Art that it not necessarily “excluded” or imperfect. It may take some research into any given art to decide whether it is inclusive or exclusive. If the art in question lends itself to use in a given way, despite a given instructors lack of specifically teaching it in the school, and the purpose of the given art is known to be open rather than confined to a specific purpose, such as sport, it could still very well be an inclusive, perfect art; no school teaches everything, but a school that teaches a perfect foundation is, at its core, inclusive. This is the type of art one should seek out when attempting to gain a foundation for properly studying the Chivalric Arts if one wishes to avoid becoming the common, foundationless backyard sword-fighter with delusions of grandeur (they are legion, and acronymic), rather than a real, grounded martial artist.

-C

Copyright March 2010, Casper Bradak

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