Learning a new martial arts style (or one that is upstream or cousin to your current art) is like learning a new language. It opens up your mind and allows you to think differently. You view the world different. You see different vantagepoints of a set of moves. You have other mental models to compare and contrast things. In short, it makes you smarter.
Cross-Train Other Arts
There’s a myth around that states, “My martial arts style is COMPLETE. Therefore I don’t need any thing else.” However styles get a false sense of authority and security. They should continue to explore, analyze and evolve to new conditions and new technology.
Seminars and workshops are great for this type of cross training. They provide key theories and concepts that can be adapted or aligned with one’s own style. It may also explain things that you either forgot or didn’t understand fully. If an art is complete, how can someone know something equally effective?
Style Bigotry and Lineage Myopia
Don’t become fixated on a single style for all things. Just like all tools, they are good for their specific purpose but not all purposes. Everyone is influenced or descended from something else. The whole notion of styles is born of modification and cross-pollination among other masters.
“What is your lineage? That master is no good! Only my lineage is correct and pure.” These lines may not be exact quotes but the sentiment is there. History tells us many Okinawan masters went village to village collecting katas and training from the locals. They assembled these arts into kara-te. If you notice, they cross-trained with others.
Another example is the founder of Judo who went from Jujutsu school to school learning what he could. He distilled his knowledge into a new art. Now there is a lineage from that source and anything different is “watered down” or “not true” judo.
We are just repeating the cycle. It must be done with caution and purpose though. To gain the most benefits from other arts, one should be well versed in their own arts—a black belt or equivalent. You need some point of reference from which to understand the new material.
Totally Complete Art
In my opinion, there are very, very few arts that are ‘complete’ in the true sense of the word. I believe all these complete martial arts are from China. They included martial, healing and spiritual development of the practitioner. They include single and two person forms. They have oral traditions, herbs, weapon crafting and so on. A complete art does not limit itself to kicking, punching, grappling or breaking hard materials.
It is also my belief that an intact style of this volume rarely continues unchanged for very long. It either synthesizes into a streamlined system, looses pieces to faulty human memory, or begins to focus on what the lineage holder finds the most interesting. Using this analogy, styles become similar to religious traditions and practices. In fact, the vehemence with which some people argue the truth of their style often reminds me of religious fanatics doing the same on street corners and on cable TV.
Open up, examine and test. Explore indigenous arts of other areas. Martial arts need to work all the time not only when it is the “true” art. Don’t wander the playground crying, “My style is better than your style” because it is the training of the artist that proves an art’s worth.
Disagree? Tell me why?