Classical Martial Arts


Welcome to blog post number 2! Don’t worry there will be many more to come, I’m so far from being done that it’s ridiculous.

I wanted to touch on a subject that seems to be coming up more and more in social media and general discussion around martial arts gyms. I want to talk about classical martial arts and their place in the world today.

Now I think we all could agree that all martial arts started as a way of teaching and practicing movements that would enable the student to defend him or herself in a time of combat. Generally, martial arts have very long histories that go back so far that people don’t have a date when their particular art was formed but let’s call it a long time ago in a land far, far away. So when these arts were being developed the world was in a time of constant war and fighting and these techniques were ‘battle tested’ from the very beginning. After many years of war and battles the separate provinces or warring states learned to share and governments were born, stopping much of the constant fighting. Also over time, the implements of war evolved and hand-to-hand fighting became much less of a priority when people could just shoot each other from a long distance. So in turn these fighting techniques that were so prevalent before were no longer needed on a more modern battlefield.

These techniques and fighting styles continued to be taught but were no longer needed as a way of survival. So they too began to change so that they could be used in sporting arenas and against other opponents that also trained in that style. Techniques became more complex with set movement patterns so that they would work against someone moving in the same way or style as their opponent. Have you ever watched two experienced Kung Fu practitioners hand fight before, it’s beautiful to watch. The same can be said with two Tae Kwon Do black belts using beautiful high-kicking techniques, it is a thing of beauty. The late, great Bruce Lee stated that the ‘classical mess of martial arts’ was the one factor holding back most combat systems. These styles were so set in their traditional ways that all people were expected to be no more than robots performing techniques that were not flexible in application and did not take into account varying factors of the student. For example, not all techniques can be performed by every body type or all age groups. So if there is no ability within the techniques for growth the art becomes rigid and unable to evolve.

From my own experience I can tell you training in a classical style as a child we were shown a technique during a class and then told to do it the same as the instructor. Now I’m not a very big man but as a child, I was even smaller, I had the stature of a child many years my junior and was not very athletic at all. Because of this many techniques I was shown in my early years did not work in a sparring scenario for me at all. So I had a large amount of technical knowledge that had no practical application at all. The other downside of this is that the instructor was only able to teach the techniques in his syllabus and did not offer me any substitute techniques or variations that might work for me. It is lucky that I’m very stubborn and wanted to finish the journey that I had begun or I probably would have quit at an early age. I had a fascination with all martial arts so I was learning other styles and techniques on my own through books and VHS videos (yes I know I’m old DVDs had still not been invented yet).

So in my view, there is something very wrong with this kind of teaching and learning. We are all very aware now that most people learn differently and require multiple methods of instruction for a concept to be learned. The most popular idea is that there are seven (7) different learning methods including;

Visual (spatial): You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.

Aural (auditory-musical): You prefer using sound and music.

Verbal (linguistic): You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.

Physical (kinaesthetic): You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.

Logical (mathematical): You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.

Social (interpersonal): You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.

Solitary (intrapersonal): You prefer to work alone and use self-study.

Knowing this martial arts must also move ahead and evolve their teaching methods to accommodate all the learning styles. This requires the teacher /instructors/sifu/sensei/professor or whatever their title is to be fluid in their approach to teaching but also the art to allow them the opportunity to grow and evolve.

So I guess the next problem is how do we get this to happen? Unfortunately, I don’t think many of the classical martial arts are all that willing to change. The problem is these arts have created a mystic about them and have told their own story for so long even they believe at this stage that it is 100% effective and the best possible way to be taught or delivered. I saw a great quote the other day that stated; the most dangerous phrase is, ‘We have always done it this way’. There is absolutely no worse way to teach martial arts and this way of training and even thought is a direct course for destruction.

I would bet the only way to evolve is for the next generation of martial artists to study hard and learn their art, master it the best they can, and then work to evolve the art and themselves. Then by incorporating new ideas and teaching methods, they can bring their beloved art to a whole new audience in the future.

Everyone stay safe, dream big and train hard.

Be awesome

Kris Spence