I am an advocate of the traditional fighting arts. I think that these arts are vital elements of traditional cultures–capturing rich social, historical, philosophical, cosmological, and kinesthetic traditions. While I do not decry the modern combat sports, or even contemporary hybrid arts, I think that the traditional arts are an indispensable repository of human ingenuity, and a testament to the transformation of human culture across time and space.
My personal study has centered on three traditional arts: Wing Chun, Choy Lay Fut, and Capoeira. I began studying these arts in 2000, 2003, and 2005 respectively. My development in these arts has not been a linear progression. Instead it has been a meandering path, characterized by peaks of enlightenment and valleys of uncertainty.
One of the benefits of training in multiple arts is that you can see your deficits in one art in relation to another. I have had moments of immense clarity regarding some facet of one, whilst being beset with frustration over my seeming lack of understanding of another. Ameliorating these apparent deficits often takes the forms of goals to be accomplished. These journeys to an imagined enlightenment are often driven by queries: What is the combat theory of Capoeria? How would I apply Wing Chun in a grappling situation? How would the kinesthetic principles of Choy Lay Fut be applied to knife-fighting?
Thus one of the challenges of this type of training is the prospect of uneven development. This is an on-going and perhaps inescapable quandary, one that I do not believe to be limited to the martial arts. Uneven development then is the reality of differentiated outcomes in terms of one’s knowledge and understanding across multiple and comparative fields of endeavor. Uneven development can be a source of great frustration, but I do not believe that it has to be a source of despair.
Despair is a deeply penetrating feeling of hopelessness. Despair is often the response of the mind to a problem that cannot be solved, a knot that cannot be untangled. Thus despair is often located first in the mind and secondly in one’s circumstances. Whereas one’s existential difficulties can trigger despair, the inability of the mind to devise a means of overcoming these difficulties makes despair a likely, but fruitless refuge. Despair only enhances, rather than lessens our perceptions of difficulty and feelings of limitation.
Years ago I tried to execute a Capoeria kick called queixada on a floor-standing punching bag. The results were poor. Rather than the force of my kick displacing the bag, I was displaced and knocked back. I studied the problem and later realized that I had not fully committed to the kick. In this case the commitment was in the hip rotation, the opening of the hip so as to add force to the outward arc of the leg. My subsequent attempts, informed by my newly acquired understanding produced far superior results. I countered frustration with analysis, and allayed the prospect of despair with a systematic effort at problem solving.
I have attempted to respond to my own struggles with uneven development by continuing to be systematic. This can be thought of as a sequence of events that proceed from the initial action that produces an awareness of the problem, followed by an attempt to analyze the nature of the situation to better understand the problem, next is the identification of possible solutions, then the application of said solutions, and finally some evaluation of each solutions’ efficacy and the creation of a new pattern of action based on this assessment.
This process enabled me to improve my queixada. It has also enabled me to improve my performance in a number of areas of training. So I accept the possibility and actuality of uneven development, but not its inevitability or its intractability. Just as the traditional arts that I train in have and continue their own processes of evolution and adaptation, so too has my quest for mastery necessitated continual self-improvement. Thus in this way these arts are expressed through me, not just in the form of movement, but in their underlying philosophies as I seek to embody these ideals—the directness of Wing Chun, the dynamism of Choy Lay Fut, and the cunning of Capoeira.