24 November, 2012

Building your Martial Practice

I have been thinking recently of expanding my own martial practice to include serious, dedicated practice in another disparate field of study.  And recent expansion in the curriculum of my school and in the karate program has made me wonder about the wisdom in picking up something new, and indeed of how new items could and should be incorporated into your practice.  And finally, what is the resulting practice?

For a few years now, the organization my school belongs to have been following the tradition of past karate masters and going to China to receive some additional training.  For those who are not familiar with the history of karate, it is strongly influenced by southern quan fa traditions, and many of the masters in the core lineage are known for having visited, trained at, and (according to oral tradition) mastered a given style.  Goju is not unique in this fact - all of the traditions related to Naha have similar stories of training in China and gaining some additional skill and insight in combat prowess.  The exact location for training by these past masters has been up for debate, as accurate records were not always taken or preserved (and in some cases destroyed by fires, wars and similar disasters of history).  So the reason for going there to train is multi-fold: historical research (go where they went) and increasing knowledge (seek what they sought) being the prime foci.

Anyways, so my Sensei, and several others, have been going around China and training at different temples.  Of note is training at the Songshan and Wudang mountain monasteries with the respective masters at each.  Oral tradition has indicated some training by Sensei Miyagi indicated familiarity and knowledge of Taoist systems, but nothing concrete.  The more we study and are shown, the more similarities we see with certain forms central to our style.

All of this sounds great, but what does it mean for those who don't go?  And what do we do with the new information?

In the past, masters of all styles have gone on journeys to test themselves against others, and sometimes to train under different masters.  They have incorporated that knowledge with their own to add new methods or forms into their existing system, or created a new style altogether.  Sometimes they have taken the principles and compiled them into something totally different, sometimes they took the majority and tried to keep it intact.

So far, we have been learning new forms directly transmitted to us.  These trips are short, only two weeks in length, so the time spent at each place is measured in days.  We work on the forms given so when we show them in a years time (or two) we can see what changes are needed and possibly learn something new.  So the majority of class time is spent learning new forms brought back.  For those who are more senior, this often means new forms that will become part of the curriculum at a much lower level.  This means that our art is expanding in breadth, but the depth is questionable.  Unless even more time is spent at the lower levels, how can they be expected to understand the content?  And what is the point of importing whole forms directly into our system?  Should the Senseis involved work to understand it themselves, and create something new or modified to suit our style while keeping some key lessons intact?

I don't have a clear answer to any of the questions I have posed, but it makes me wonder about the benefit of cross training.  I would love to hear the experiences of others, or links to similar stories and questions that people can refer me to.

At the moment, learning a whole art's forms and methods, so that I can teach them to those who know them only slightly less than myself, seems hypocritical and does not feel right.  I would only want to provide my experience and knowledge, not that which I have recently acquired and am still seeking to understand into my own repertoire.

Further questions that I have: when I start another art, what will this do to my core art?  Will it change?  Will I still be doing karate?  Will I create something altogether distinct?  Or will I just have a different personal style to my movements and tactics?

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