Friday, March 5, 2010

Knowing vs. Studying an Art; Styles; and Inclusiveness vs. Exclusiveness

Here is a subject that further complicates just what a “style” is.

With some fighting methodologies, one can say that they “know” it, and with others, one cannot, even if a life-long and highly skilled practitioner. For example, many people can say “I know Tae Kwon Do” and it is perfectly legitimate. Tae Kwon Do is an exclusive style, rather than inclusive art. This is why one can often earn a black belt in that style in two years or so without it necessarily being a reflection of lax standards or instruction. One learns the style’s terminology, its set number and types of kicks, blocks, strikes and forms, and then one “knows” that style. It is a limited skill-set that one can learn in a very definite, black and white manner. The belt rankings are simply reflections of skill level and curricula knowledge within that style.

But what makes a style? In part, a style is not so much a focus on certain aspects of fighting, but an exclusion of others. Therefore, as our example, Tae Kwon Do is a style, and by definition exclusive.

But not all styles are exclusive; some are, as studies of motion, all-inclusive. This effectively makes them “non-styles.” Certainly a complicated subject to attempt to ponder and codify.1

For an example of one of those “non-styles,” we can use Ed Parker’s American Kenpo. Despite having various set curriculums within any given school, there is no total “end” point at which one can say “I know Kenpo,” not even that of Senior Master of the Arts, or one who has received his tenth degree of black belt. The rankings are degrees that represent both skill level and knowledge of curricula, but as a study of motion, there is more to learn and master than can be accomplished in a lifetime, because it is not exclusive. No motion is excluded, per-say, from the style. For example, the requirement of a written thesis for certain ranks. The thesis can be on any subject that furthers the Art as a whole. If the Art were exclusive, there would be no unique or thus-far unexplored topics to write a thesis on.

Likewise, we have the Chivalric Arts. All-inclusive studies of motion, and therefore “non-stylistic.” Particularly in their prime age of use, with no deluge of other culture’s fighting methodologies playing havoc with definitions, there were no bounds to the Art. It was an art of combative motion, not a style with a limited curricula. There were no exclusions to techniques or weaponry that it encompassed. It is without boundaries. If something new and effective was learned, it was a part of the Art. It was not added to a limited “curricula” or considered to belong to this or that style, for there were no “styles,” other than the particular way an individual may have taught or performed the Art, but there were no “excluded” techniques, principles or concepts. The spirit of the times was that it should all be sought and understood, and it was then up to the individual to keep or discard what motions and concepts he pleased.

One cannot say “I know the Art.” One can only say “I am a practitioner of the Art.”


Copyright March 2010, Casper Bradak

1. Somewhat off the subject, but by other legitimate definitions, styles can be so defined due to unique curricula (in which case most schools have their own styles, even when part of a larger style), or by the way certain motions are performed (i.e. Tai-Chi is Kung-Fu performed with stylistically slow and exaggerated motions, or individually, each person has their own unique styles due to the unique ways in which they move and perform). Therefore, one could rightly say that Master Fiore had his own style, despite being a practitioner of the same inclusive Art as Master Ringeck, and I have my own unique style when compared to Brandon despite us both being part of the Dragons Tail School of Defense.

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