Friday, May 28, 2010
Martial; Where "Art" Thou?
The last couple of posts (Is Western Boxing An Art? and Western Boxing Influence In Asian Martial Arts) has sparked a lively debate in the age-old question of "what makes an art?" in general.
Let's take a further look; first of all, the reality of my past Karate, especially Tae Kwon Do, sucked until I took up boxing hand drills. My friend Tom brought his past boxing experience to our Dojo, and it improved our fighting skills by huge leaps and bounds. Western boxing is undoubtedly the easiest learned and fastest path to fighting skills that I have practiced.
Now, let's examine the historical development of the so-called "Asian Martial Arts".
Not long ago I was at a training session with Tim Cartmell. People familiar with Tim recognize him as a very capable authority on traditional Chinese martial arts as well as a champion Brazilian Jujitsu competitor.
I asked Tim what he thought about the trigrams in the Bagua symbol and how they related to the practice of Baguazhang.
Tim pretty much shrugged it off. He told me that the interjection of Taoist symbology in the fighting art was a relatively modern phenomenon, supported by Chinese intellectuals in a time of relative peace. This helped spread the practice of "internal" arts and the element of mysticism appealed to the upper middle-class.
Tim's student (and my Xingyi instructor) Jake Burroughs added these comments in the previous post:
LOL! Got news for you brother, the Chinese fit their fighting arts to their philosophies. Originally there were three fists in Xing Yi, but that did not fit the five elements so two more were added.
Traditionally there were three palm changes, single, double, smooth body palm... did not fit the philosophies of the I Ching, so they added 5 more to make eight.
Qi is a Chinese word for energy. Energy is in every living thing regardless of that things awareness, nor how any of us define it. Trust me... boxers have PLENTY of qi when they hit!
Meditation is a religious, personal endeavor. To link it to "art" is not contextual.
Of course this is all subjective. Is boxing dangerous... of course it is! Does not negate the art does it? All MARTIAL arts are inherently dangerous if practiced properly. We minimize risks, but they still exist.
To watch the greats like Ali, Fraser, Louis, Foreman, Mayweather, pacman..... to watch them move, strike, slip, step is simply beautiful IMO! The athleticism and ability to perform a skill with such intent and focus is not an art form? By your definition no Olympic sport is an art, BJJ is not an art, pretty much everything that does not have an asian-mystic-metaphysic-religious slant on it is not an art according to your definition. Hell even art is not art in most cases according to your definition!
Jake makes some good points. But if I stay true to my position, I will say that when I was our high school's all-around gymnast and on the wrestling team, I was practicing a sport, not an art.
Additionally, I think what we understand about the Chinese internal arts in particular, is that they have evolved from pure pugilism to a holistic practice combining all the elements of physical and mental health, self-defense applications (even though they may not be the most cutting-edge in effectiveness), and lineage to an ancient historical perspective. Think about how ritual dance in tribal times reflected the success of the hunt or victory in combat.
As I wrote in the last post, I'm reading Brian Kennedy and Elizabeth Gou's book "Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals; A Historical Perspective". The author's speak directly to this subject:
From "Religion, Morality, and Martial Arts", page 85
"The idea that martial arts were linked to either Taoist or Buddhist philosophy came about when martial arts stopped being a practical trade and started to be a form of recreation for the upper and middle classes. This process began in the late 1800's and accelerated at the start of the Republican era (1912).
To enhance the image of their arts, teachers started connecting up Chinese philosophy with the study and practice of their styles. Doing so brought an intellectual element to what had previously been a physical trade or skill".
So we see that the intellectual, philosophical element in Chinese martial arts has been included in their training for over one hundred-years!
That's a pretty good track record for me. I consider it evidence of the evolution of Chinese martial arts in a time of increasing industrialization. A connection to something greater than life prattled away in a factory job and the hustle of modern society.
I've really appreciated all the comments in the past few posts, everyone had great perspectives.
As promised, I will soon have a review of Kennedy and Gou's "Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals", I want to give it a solid read first.
For more thoughts on this subject, see "Why Do I Train In Ancient, Obscure Arts?"