The Freestyle Poison
First and foremost, the objective of this article is not to glorify any particular style of martial arts. Neither is it aimed at maligning any martial art and highlighting its deficiencies. The sole purpose of this article is to clarify popular misconceptions concerning the classical martial arts contra the more contemporary freestyle, or eclectic systems.
Nowadays martial arts are known across the world by several millions of people from different walks of life. Terms such as “Karate” and “Judo” have become so generic that anyone spotted in a white gi throwing punches, kicks or throwing someone could be mistaken for Karateka. Mistaken identity is not the basis of this piece either, but in actuality the fact that the philosophy and values of classical martial arts are becoming more and more taboo.
The vast majority of organised martial arts systems originated from the Orient. That being said, a myriad of basic principles have been embedded in each of these martial arts which can be likened to siblings in one great family. Concepts such as discipline, loyalty and sound work ethic have been fostered through the arduous day to day training by the great masters. However the westernisation of martial arts have slowly but surely decayed what was originally meant to be a character building practice.
In essence, there is absolutely nothing wrong with eclectic styles, for if you observe historically, all of the established styles such as Karate, Judo, Taekwondo, Aikido and others were blended from more than one parent style. In fact, Funakoshi Gichin, the founder of the Shotokan style of Karate once stated that he wanted his art to evolve over time and it did. However with evolution, the foundation principles of the art cannot and must not be abandoned. These principles are what make a style iconic; this is the reason why a Karateka can recognise a particular Karate style just by observing a practitioner’s movements.
Returning to the issue, eclectic styles have been growing in numbers and popularity. There are numerous schools in Trinidad and Tobago alone and several parents enroll their children with great enthusiasm to learn the so-called “tricks of the trade.” The problem is that many of these schools are illegitimate, and are run by people who are not exactly experts. Again, how does the philosophical aspect come into play? More often than not, there are students that enroll into a school and train with the mentality that what they are practising is nothing more than a mere sport. From a broader scope, training in a sport has many physiological benefits and can teach one a lot about team work among other benefits. However the root of martial arts was never meant to be that of sports. Thus you have a practitioner who we presume may train for years with this mentality and is victorious at several competitions, but has he become a better person as a result of his or her training? Another case which is very common in this country is that many people train for only a few weeks, or months at a time and then quit.
Ultimately, an individual who trains for the aesthetic benefits of the martial arts would never be a true martial artist. That is what a school steeped in tradition can offer if one opens their mind to it. Several contemporary schools argue that classical schools are no longer effective and that the more new age “flashy” techniques are the way to the future. They also attest to the “having no style as style” concept embodied by Bruce Lee in the 1960s. However this is paradoxical in nature because for anyone to create any system there must be rules and an ultimately traditional way to do things. This is the nature of life itself, for example you wear a tie for a job interview because it is seemingly the ethical thing to do; create the best impression. In martial arts even when it was utilised literally for war (budo), there were codes of etiquette that were strictly adhered to because someone’s life was always on the line.
In several cases, someone who deems themselves a teacher but fails to adhere to these principles will inevitably fall into the abysmal trend of the “all profit organisation” or “Mc Dojo” as many people call it. This I refer to as the poison that is freestyle martial arts.
So in conclusion, does training in Karate or Judo mean that an individual will automatically become the ideal martial artist? No it doesn’t, the main idea here is that these established styles provide individuals with the proper tools for better self improvement; which in turn can benefit society as a whole. Without that philosophical aspect, the best you may ever attain is being an empty shell; hollow and making a lot of noise.
Sean Taylor 1stkyu