April 16, 2009

They say mimicry is the highest form of flattery...

At university we had an epidemic of plagiarism and cheating that broke out and caused quite a stir one semester. My mentor, teacher, and friend Prof. Fred "Ted" Sturm (RIP) raised the argument one day that we should not punish those who copy an other's work, as this is not only flattering to the original artist but it is also a learning model, or method. After all in the days of Picasso apprentices would copy their teachers works in an effort to learn their technique, while developing a unique flavor of their own.

So what is the difference between mimicking for sake of mimicry (to pass a test for example), and mimicking with the purpose of learning?


A lot can be said about intent in the martial arts, but my focus this day is on the disturbing trend of traditional martial artists (TMA), and Chinese martial artists (CMA), that are jumping on the current popularity of BJJ / MMA by 'creating' ground forms and work that has no sound structure, nor history, in their respective arts. I certainly can understand the desire to incorporate ground principles into ones traditional arts, since for the most part ground work is NOT an aspect in most all traditional arts and is a very real aspect of modern day combatives. Many Chinese consider rolling around on the ground fighting like, "Dogs rolling in the dirt." - John Wang (Shuai Chiao instructor). It was looked down upon culturally, and included a bit of Chinese arrogance in that many instructors I have spoken to and trained with have the attitude that their throw would incapacitate the opponent so much so that the fight would be ended right there. Those of us a little more open minded and grounded in reality know that is not necessarily the truth!

Some teachers such as my good friend Tony Puyot in San Diego have taken a proactive approach and gone to train with ground fighting specialists such as BJJ players, or Sambo players, to further their knowledge base and include ground combat into their curriculum. Unfortunately many instructors are not as humble, and are insistent upon "creating" techniques, drills, and even whole systems where they try to use certain principles and applications from their stand up, on the ground. Many of these instructors argue incessantly that ground fighting has always been an aspect in CMA, or it was one of the infamous "lost" arts! This is silly for a couple of reasons:

First of all their are already proven systems (Sambo / BJJ / and to a lesser extent Judo) that have been established for decades that have a solid fundamental approach to ground combat. These systems have been proven and developed in uncooperative learning environments, and tested in venues where failure was extremely painful, if not deadly.
So to try and "reinvent" the wheel is ultimately a gigantic waste of time. Why do the work when someone else has already built a proven system that you can go study?

Though there are certainly many general principles that can be used both in ground fighting, as well as stand up (the importance of joining centers for example), ultimately those principles that are similar will be trained and drilled much differently depending on the scenario and situation. Sure a wrist lock standing is basically the same wrist lock I apply when on the ground rolling, but the set-up, execution, and availability of isolating and applying that lock will be very, very different depending on our positions on the ground or standing.

Ultimately what is the problem here with TMA-ists?

Fear. And as the great Sifu-Guru-Master-Maestro-Maharajah-Sensei Yoda taught us, fear breeds ignorance, and vice-versa. Fear of not knowing something, and having to admit it in front of others. Fear of not being able to handle oneself in a self defense situation. Fear of ones business being infringed upon (TMA schools are feeling the pressure of the immense popularity of MMA & BJJ). Fear of having to learn a very difficult art from the ground up. Some instructors are so afraid of admitting to there students, and themselves, that they are lacking in a certain aspect of combat, that they go so far as to create things that will ultimately get them and their students hurt due to false senses of security. This is the human ego at its finest! I have seen many examples of this over the years.

Personally I found it very liberating and exciting to enter into the grappling world as a newborn babe! To put on the white belt again and have to climb the ladder of success in a given art. It has reinvigorated my passion for the martial arts as a whole, and has given me the desire to compete again and challenge myself harder than I ever have. I originally went into BJJ with the intent to attain a blue belt level so that I could handle whatever situation may present itself on the street. I hated rolling around on the ground! Now I find myself immersed in the culture, training, and teachings of my instructors to the point of a love affair gone awry! If I do not roll every other day I start to get twitchy and Dana makes threats to send Brian over to choke my ass out!

So if you are an instructor who falls into the trap of a creator, I beg you to go and get some solid instruction from a qualified grappler. You will be surprised at the level of difficulty, but also by the feeling of elation when you overcome your fears and push yourself to new levels! Your students, your martial family, and most importantly; YOU will stand proud knowing that you are training the right way and providing the most honest training for you and your students!

Train hard,

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