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What goes into the creation of a new martial art, style, or system?

In my opinion there are degrees of separation when it comes to the martial arts. You have an art, a system, and a style. Being a professional artist I always think of art as being creative. A system to me is a method of doing something and a style is how a person interprets what they learned.

In order for a martial art system to work as it is intended, it must be tested. Much like theories must go through various methods of testing, it is the same for the martial arts. Defensive and offensive theories without testing to prove they are effective might make them invalid.

One of my teachers was always a sceptic when it came to watching others demonstrate their offensive and defensive techniques or style. In order for him to believe that a method of fighting was valid, he would test it against what he already knew. This didn’t mean that he went around challenging everyone. That would be a very foolish activity for many reasons. Instead he found a way to test what others knew in a friendly exchange.

There are many reasons why a person decides to create a system of fighting, some out of necessity and others for self-serving reasons. But whatever the case, new systems will continue to flourish as they should because creativity is a key element behind all art forms.

Style in fighting is something that each individual develops because it is a way of expression. I once heard someone say that in the beginning a student whistles his teacher’s tune but when they understand what they are doing they whistle their own tune.

So am I saying that every martial artist has their own style? Well, yes and no. Style depends on the knowledge and experience a person possesses as well as their views about the fighting arts themselves. Many teachers don’t encourage their students to think outside of the box. There can be many reasons for this such as a lack of knowledge on their part, traditions that they adhere to, a poor teacher or teachers, or maybe their own belief system when it comes to learning and teaching martial arts.

Usually martial artists that develop their own systems of combat have come in contact with a variety of already established fighting systems. There are some who may consider themselves purists or loyal to the particular system they are learning or have learned. I see nothing wrong with that but if you don’t experience other arts you might be short changing yourself because there are amazing martial art systems out there that are a joy to experience. Other arts may also enhance your own or even make your art more complete. Not everyone especially nowadays has the opportunity or the time to study and complete a martial art curriculum. But by experiencing other arts you may be able to fill the gaps in areas where you lack knowledge.

The thing that you want to avoid is learning an art or system and then renaming it and calling it your own. If you don’t intend to teach what you know it doesn’t matter but if you do decide to teach your own system, you’ll have to ensure that it’s truly yours. Not saying that it can’t be influenced by other arts or systems because just about all arts are influenced by others.

But if you decide to embark on the creation of a new fighting method, don’t cheat, do the work that’s required and don’t forget to give credit where credit is due…

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Comment by terry joven on June 5, 2015 at 11:28am

I like this" The thing that you want to avoid is learning an art or system and then renaming it and calling it your own"  to much of this going on!

Comment by Zach Jenkins on June 5, 2015 at 1:19pm
Very true terry.
Comment by Joe Knight on June 5, 2015 at 2:13pm
Great points being discussed here. Thank you for sharing. Lately I have been considering what I am still capible of executing effectively. I'm still in great shape and teach weekly, but at 46 my speed and power have decreased. I have thought about putting together sets of techniques that are effective for me and in my personal training focus on those. I'm not going to rename it as a new style but for some of my older students I might apply it to their training. I love the way you broke down style, art and system btw.
Comment by Zach Jenkins on June 5, 2015 at 3:12pm

Thanks Joe. One great thing about the FMA is that you can still do it well even in your later years if you practice regularly :)

Comment by konstantin salkinder on June 5, 2015 at 7:00pm
I've been doing this for 20 years.. What I have noticed is that different styles exist only at the low and medium speed of execution. The faster u go during the minimal protection full speed full contact sparring the less difference in styles become apparent. Everything is moving too fast relying on gross motor skills! Spending too much time studying sophisticated locks or any other techniques which u will never be able to use in a full speed application is a waste of time! But then u have to fill curriculum of your school with something.. Martial artists above 2nd degree black belt level should venture out find training partners and explore the practicing art on their own finding and developing techniques that better suit their body type. And then the art becomes part of you.
Comment by Zach Jenkins on June 5, 2015 at 9:05pm

I thought the same way Konstantin about 30 years ago.

Comment by konstantin salkinder on June 5, 2015 at 9:39pm

Bruce Lee also thought along the same lines.. use only what works ect..did he creat a style? I dont think so. He created a concept. Martial artist shoul see himself as a F-16 pilot who has under his disposal all kinds of weapons he uses depending on circumstance..He is not concern with where these weapons have been originated..There should be one Uber Martial art that combines the best fitures of all arts. I think we are already moving in that direction.

Comment by Zach Jenkins on June 5, 2015 at 11:36pm

Style and system are two different things as far as I'm concerned. In Pencak Silat some use the term "Rasa" which can be translated as flavor, but lets just refer to FMA for now since this is primarily a FMA site.  Our FMA teachers gave us a foundation to build upon according to the system that was handed down to them for generations.  If you've experienced more than one or two systems you would notice that they're very different in many ways.  The numbering systems are different, strategy, training drills, etc.  In the system that I practice we have 10 Amarras (striking patterns) as well as familiarization strikes.  A student practices the Amarras every day until they can do all ten in the least amount of time possible.  Over time the student will free flow the patterns with very little conscious thought.  If you are familiar with Kembangan in Pencak Silat, it is very similar in that respect.  A student then moves on to two person drills called Abecenario, Bosynario, Cinco - Cinco, Pak gang, Palakaw defense, and several other types of drills in order to learn how to strike, counter, and move efficiently. Many other systems have methods such as this but they are different.

All strikes, counters, blocks, footwork, etc, are not the same.  Abaniko strikes in our system are deployed differently than in many other systems for instance.  The main problem that a lot of people have that train in the FMA is the lack of exposure to different FMA systems.  Many learn from one or two sources and assume that it's all the same but it's not.

I teach my students that after they become well versed in the foundation of the art, it's up to them to build on it in order to make it their own.  

I'm an artist and I enjoy painting and drawing and every second and fourth Tuesday of the month I attend portrait drawing and painting sessions with my artist guild where we have different models that pose for us.

Each artist uses similar tools but all of our methods and results are different because even though we learned the basics about how to paint and draw, we each have our own interpretation or style that makes our art unique.  It's the same way with martial arts in that everyone at a certain point depending on how hard they train, develops their own style or their own interpretation of what they were taught.  

Bruce Lee was a great martial artist and no one knows that better than people that were closest to him.  But if we judge all martial arts by one man's interpretation of martial arts then our knowledge and creativity will only progress within the confines of that person's philosophy about martial arts.

Comment by MIchael Clark on June 6, 2015 at 11:36pm

I do practice specific martial arts, and particular systems within the scope of those martial arts, but my intention is to find my own personal mastery, my own style if you will. I am working towards mastery of my own old, fat crippled body rather than a master certificate from my instructor. I always try to give credit where it is due and I am thankful for all the different people who have added to this personal mastery that I jokingly refer to as "Bear Style".

I do agree with you when it comes to someone creating a new Art, System or Style. To be respectful you should always honor those who came before you and helped you develop your own "Bear Style".

Comment by James Windholtz on June 20, 2015 at 9:47pm

I agree Zach about going out and studying different style. As a teenager I had the fortune of a Kwoon that did everything. Diversity is strength. We all have our core skills. Other arts might enhance, fill the gaps or make you look at your skills differently. Knowledge is power. I have also been to schools where it is frowned upon and considered disrespectful. We need those schools to keep up the tradition. I teach that way, always stating what is traditional where I learned it and what is mine. As for a new style apply your skills in touch, training drills, and sparring. Others know if you have skill. You get the look and your asked the questions. What style is that and where did you get that from and where did you come from?


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