How much are martial styles related to cultural attitudes?
Lately I've been wondering how much cultural disposition had to do with the development of Asian martial arts.
Now, I have to temper my considerations by the fact that I have not yet traveled to the countries that are the birthplace of their respective fighting systems. I only have an armchair glimpse of those societies, although I have met many, many people from the various cultures. I also have to acknowledge that I view these things from what is possibly the most undisciplined of all cultures, the American experience.
-So with that said, I encourage other thoughts, observations and ideas from fellow Dojo Rats.
After high school wrestling, I had an introduction to Goju-Ryu Karate and Aikido in community college. That was followed by over eight years in Tae Kwon Do, Two more years of Aikido, about five years of Kenpo, and the beginning of my latest study of Tai Chi Chuan, Bagua and Xingyi. There were of course, overlapping programs that streached over a thirty-year period.
Let's start with Japanese Karate:
My experience in Karate fighting-style and form work is that it is the most direct and linear of the systems I have practiced. Definitely more "crash-and-bash" than the other systems. Sure, there is redirection of force, but I suggest it is the most linear of the Asian systems.
Followed closely by Tae Kwon Do:
Tae Kwon Do incorporates more spinning and circular kicking methods, while remaining basically a mirror of Japanese Karate systems. No offence, TKD guys, I myself am second Dan in the system so I feel I can make that determination. My feeling is that the circular methods in Tae Kwon Do are of Chinese influence.
Now, both of those styles are very regimented and quasi-militaristic. Does that reflect the culture of those home countries?
The obvious exception is Aikido, but as I have written before, I believe Uyeshiba was influenced by arts he viewed while in China. (see Is Aikido of Chinese Origin?)
Uyeshiba's Aikido is much more circular and soft than the original Daito-Ryu.
And then we come to the Chinese arts:
People familiar with the Internal Chinese Martial Arts recognize that they offer the most redirection, yielding and circular movements of the arts being discussed.
However, in my opinion even hard Kung Fu like Shaolin seems to incorporate flowing, circular movements. There is a ton of study in animal movements, and reflection of the natural world.
Where the Japanese and Korean systems generally use numbers to represent their techniques (ie; Ikkyo, Nikkyo), the Chinese tend to have elaborate names for techniques such as "Parting Wild Horses Mane" and "Monkey Steals Peach". There is lyrical poetry in the names of movements in a form. It seems this was part of a Mnemonic system to remember forms in the mostly illiterate society of China's past.
Is the type of Zen and ordered society represented by the Samurai contrasted by the flexibility and change of the I-Ching and Taoist/Buddhist thought?
Now, let's take it a step further:
From what I have seen of the Filipino/Indonesian systems, they are the most flowing of all the others. Is this a reflection of their Pacific Island lifestyles? Of some of the animist spiritual concepts?
Food for thought...