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Independent Martial Art Systems and Styles

Master Richard Leasure

In today’s martial arts community many martial artists proclaim to be Creators or Founders of a martial arts system or style. Training in and creating a unique martial arts system is the highest honor for the independent practitioner. Creating a unique martial arts system or style should not be used as an excuse to avoid strict training requirements or bypass political advancement. Developing a unique system is a serious project that requires significant martial arts knowledge and dedication.

There are three questions a martial artist must address before beginning. First, "Why does it mean to develop a unique system?" A martial artist with advanced training in two or more martial art styles is no longer practicing either one exclusively. In my experience, as an internationally certified Master Instructor, every Tae Kwon Do instructor who learns Judo or Grappling incorporates these techniques into their self-defense applications. Master Richard Reed says, “ I like to see what other Masters are doing in their training. Whenever possible, I will learn their techniques and add them to my own. This way I can adapt my methods to be more effective.” However, adding techniques to your training does not, alone, constitute creating a new martial arts style. Creating a new system requires a unique perspective to training that recognizes the limits of the traditional system and offers additional techniques and applications that adequately resolve the problems of the traditional style and addresses the necessary elements of training and self-defense.

Unfortunately, in the martial arts community another reason exists for martial artists to develop an independent training method. Some practitioners are disenchanted with traditional martial arts and decide to branch out on their own. Independent Martial Arts Organization’s give respect and support to every qualified martial artist who seeks freedom from tradition. However, failures to achieve promotion or advance in the political structure of a traditional system are not legitimate reasons for becoming independent. Only when a qualified Master of the arts has a method of training and self-defense that is unique and will benefit a significant portion of the martial arts community, should he/she consider becoming independent.

Independent instructors and system founders must hold a higher standard of excellence and ability. Masters who have developed a unique system or style are by definition considered leaders. The implied authority associated with rank must include the responsibilities of honorable character and superior ability. The recognizable ability and character of the Master Instructor are the foundations of the art. Potential students practice martial arts because they believe in and respect their leaders. Masters and system founders have a great responsibility to their followers as role models who promote the highest examples of honor and character.

The second question is," Who will learn the new art?” The system founder must have a student base to learn the new art form and a method to promote the system to others. A martial arts system without students cannot last. For a new martial art form to have a substantive value the art must be taught to students who will embrace the methods of the martial art style and develop recognizable skill in its practice An art form must be expressed to have value Therefore; instructors whom do not have the ability to share and promote their new martial arts are merely demonstrating individuality in personal practice. They are not creating a significant or unique art form. Operating school locations and touring existing schools are examples of methods for Instructors to share new and different ideas with others.

Finally, before a martial artist creates a unique system or style they must ask, "What is the overall benefit of using my system instead of another?" An independent martial arts system must have clear objectives to share with the martial arts community. Masters must be able to identify system goals and devise methods to achieve them.

A unique martial arts style must be distinctive. For example, there is a different between ‘hard line’ Shotokan Karate and the soft and circular movements of Chinese Kung Fu. Shotokan karate uses sharp angles of attack and defense to maximize speed and power. Kung fu uses gentler movements that flow and resemble circles to deflect oncoming attacks. The patterns of attack and defense are distinctive in each methodology. The goals and objectives of these different martial arts concepts demonstrate the need and value of opposing ideas effectively solving the same problem of self-defense.

Martial artists who wish to develop their own unique style must consider their martial art from its most basic techniques to its most advanced. Every block, stance, kick, and strike must be reviewed and adapted to address the methods and goals of the new style. Ask, "What are the types of situations I expect to face?" Instructors must understand the dynamics of defense situations and develop a plan that will be successful.

The Founder’s perspective is very important. A style creator must have a background that covers a broad spectrum of training. If an individual has experienced only two self-defense situations, then they are not likely to create an effective style of defense. The maxim that says, “Experience is the best teacher,” applies to Instructors and Students alike. Without an extensive background the style will not be effective. Style is not limited to the techniques a student may use in a fight. For example, one student may demonstrate flexibility and throw kicks to an opponent’s head. While using the same style, others may prefer to throw kicks to the body. Individual preferences do not indicate the creation of a martial arts style. Each student is merely using the same techniques to attack different targets. A martial arts style refers to a complete re-creation of technique that addresses many situations. To develop training style, martial arts Instructors must consider the methods used to meet certain goals In a style an Instructor attempts to find innovative ways to approach attacking, defending and training that are significantly different from other methods currently available.

Shotokan and other Japanese arts often use direct attacks and forceful blocks to protect against an opponent. Usually, the objective is to meet an attack straight on and overcome the opponent with direct energy. Korean arts, such as Tae Kwon Do, often use a direct approach that gives kicking techniques priority over other forms of attack. The demonstration of these styles shows the advantages of momentum as a primary force-generating format. In Jitsu or Judo arts, grappling and throwing techniques subdue opponents. Here advantage is taken by off-balancing the attacker to create opportunity for the practitioner to obtain control over the situation. A martial arts style is merely an individuals attempt to address fighting situations and use techniques that offer the greatest possible success when confronted by a particular attack. The examples listed each recognize a limitation in the other methods of self-defense and create a strategy for overcoming the problem. These styles of defense are not systems by themselves

 In addition to style, the System is a necessary concept to review. A martial arts system is an identifiable and logical approach to training that provides a structure to the martial arts style. System is the sum of all of the divisions that make the martial art style trainable and give the student a comprehensive format to follow in learning the style’s objectives. Once a martial artist has created a unique style he/she must have a method of sharing the art with others. This is the nature of a martial arts system.

In Korea , Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do are similar martial art styles. Here the founders developed unique systems for sharing their experience with students. Each art reflects the style of its founders, but its root difference comes from the methods of sharing ideas and approaching defensive situations. . Because training results are similar in the long run the difference is merely personal preference. Instructors who teach jump kicks to white belts have not created a unique system compared with Instructors who reserve jump kicks for brown belts. However, in the Tae Kwon Do example above, the applications of training theory do differ greatly and offer the students unique perspective in defense situations.

When creating a system for sharing a martial arts style every detail requires consideration. Instructors should develop an outline of training expectations and goals for each level of development. Evaluate the steps necessary to reach each goal and introduce techniques and training drills to help a student accomplish stated objectives.

A basic format is to divide your techniques onto three levels, Foundation, Intermediate, and Advanced. After a student has demonstrated skill in all advanced levels the Black Belt or its equivalent rank may be issued. The system founder must make a comprehensive program for taking the students through an identifiable progression towards the higher ranks. When accomplished successfully, each student who joins the system will know in advance what the expectations are and be able to determine if there is a reasonable opportunity to meet them.

Many martial arts systems further divide each basic division into three sub-divisions. In each sub-division the flow of techniques becomes apparent from belt to belt. Rather that learning two hundred-seventy techniques from beginner to black belt a student can learn thirty for each colored belt. This system makes the task of mastering the basics approachable.

Creating a martial arts system or style is not recommended for the Instructor who seeks to avoid the difficulties of honest promotion or to simply sidestep the politics of their masters system. However, a qualified Master may create a system that is a reflection of many years experience and offers a unique perspective. “If karate is practiced solely as a fighting technique, this is a cause for regret. The fundamental techniques have been developed and perfected through long years of study and practice, but to make any effective use of these techniques, the spiritual aspect of this art of self defense must be recognized and must play a predominate role,” says Master Nakayama. Creativity and innovation of true Masters will serve to benefit the entire martial arts community.

Works Cited

Master Nakayama. Best Karate Kodansha International 1977-79.

Reed, Master Richard J. The Dojang in the Back  www.amaorg.com April, 2001.


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