Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes?

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...


Charles James said...

Nicely written!

Sensei Strange said...

Nice article.

I could care less where the root of aikido is. My own aikido family tree has a tai chi master in it. I study Chinese arts as much as I can, so I have no real preference.

I think it is wrong to say that Ueshiba was influenced by Chinese artists though. He form was obviously Daito Ryu. He studied it under his teacher for over twenty years. He also studied judo as a young man which was heavily kito ryu influenced at the time - lots of soft circles.

So Chinese artists - you can't claim him! Let me see some more convincing arguments.

Dojo Rat said...

Well, I hate to side-track this post, but here goes;
Uyeshiba did spend considerable time in China (refer to the linked article and citations), and obviously witnessed Chinese arts.
He changed his Daito Ryu signifigantly by my view, with more circular, softer and unique movement.
But hey, I'm not saying he reinvented the wheel, I believe he may have just been influenced by softer circular Chinese arts.

Martial Development said...

Nearly everyone who ever attended one short Bruce Lee seminar claims they "learned from him personally."

Where are the individual Chinese martial artists who say they influenced him? Why did Ueshiba never acknowledge any of them?

The simplest answer is that they don't exist.

A difficult answer might be that neither side wanted to acknowledge the other for political or prejudicial reasons. But then you would have to explain why a Japanese in that time period would deign to learn a combat art from "the sick men of Asia," and why those men would want to share their treasures with a hostile imperialist.

Martial Development said...

I agree somewhat with the thrust of your post. I have observed that Japanese schools tend to be patterned after a military regiment, whereas Chinese schools tend to be patterned after an extended family.

But with respect to qualities of movement, I think we need to be careful not to compare the art of knife fighting with the art of bare-knuckle boxing (for example), and misattribute any differences to cultural preference. Every weapon has its own preferences.

Zacky Chan said...

This is a very interesting topic that could have a lengthy volume for even one martial art in one country.

With some experience in both Japanese and Chinese martial arts, but only a small amount of time in Japan, I see another interesting difference between the two countries' methods of training.

In my opinion, I think the Chinese take a more analyzed or scientific view of martial arts. Look at the way they have broken down the body in internal arts as they relate to the phenomenon of the five elements effecting one's five organs in medicine, combat and philosophy. The Chinese seem to care less about decorum and more about analysis than their Japanese counterpart.

On the other hand, I think the Japanese will often be a bit more ambiguous about the inner workings of their martial arts. It seems the Japanese word ki is used very generally and applied to many different phenomenon, but the Chinese chi has been broken down to various kinds of chi with differing applications.

Take a look at meditational techniques of the two cultures. In Chinese internal martial arts, there are various methods of standing, sitting, and even laying down meditation, with various breathing techniques such as the microcosmic and macrocosmic orbit. Often in Japan, most arts put an emphasis on sitting seiza, and simply focusing on your hara to empty your mind. To me I think there is a lot of pressure to "figure it out" on your own in the Japanese culture.

I think without a truly thorough investigation though, we'll be left to generalize.

As for the Ueshiba controversy, I too think that the political situation of the time, Japan and China's views of each other, along with Ueshiba's strict nature would make cross training unlikely. More evidence I think is needed.

Zacky Chan said...

Also, I read that the Shinkage Ryu sword school in the early Tokugawa Era (Yagyu Munenori's time)had manuals and texts that were written in a very abstract and ambiguous way (like many Chinese names for techniques)so as to give them a more pliable interpretation and to hide the meanings from people trying to steal techniques.

jc said...

the book, Zen and Japanese Culture by Daisetz T. Suzuki has a good chapter on how zen influenced the military class--why a doctrine of peace seemed to be easily embraced by warriors--not unlike the impact of Christianity of the middle ages in the west.

Dojo Rat said...

For those who did not read the attached article:


"Interestingly, although the content in certain portions of the book are very clear, other parts are very puzzling and strange. Many believe the reason is that Master He did not really want to teach Takeda, and so he diverted the teaching on purpose. There is speculation that this happened because of the political situation between China and Japan at that time." In any event, Takeda stated in an interview in a Japanese martial arts magazine in the late 1980’s, that his home became a center, not only for practitioners of Chinese martial arts, but also for visiting Japanese martial artists, and among them was Ueshiba Morihei, who visited him in 1936. According to Okumura Shigenobu, “Yes, he went to Peking too. He saw various Chinese martial arts. There are good martial arts in China. Ueshiba sensei was impressed by them.” Let me be very clear here. I am not saying that I believe that Ueshiba studied under Takeda Hiroshi - or anybody else in Beijing. But it is possible that, in his visit to Beijing, that he observed such training either by Takeda Hiroshi or by some of his other compadres, and saw something of value that he could "steal." Remember, Ueshiba was the man of whom Sugino Yoshio stated that he could observe something once and see exactly what they were doing. In sum, what I am saying here is that the type of force-building and expression that I am loosely referring to as “fajin,” may have been something that Ueshiba did observe in China and integrate in his own way into his art — either as something new or as a augmentation or variation to what he had already learned."