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I wanted to have a brief chat about style. One thing I have learned over the years is that each player has their own style; distinct, individual, unique. Yet, how does that square with the need for conformity and consistency in curriculum? I have to teach the same technique to a wide range of individuals. Does that mean that I have to change the technique for each student or is it the student who needs to change? My Dad was a strict Biology professor. His opinion was that it was the obligation of the student to go to the teacher, not for the teacher to "dumb down" his lesson. I can agree with that but I often remind him that his students' most loved lesson was his "Champagne Lecture" in which he set a table with some of the products of biology we consume; cheese, salami, bread, and Champagne. Once the table was set, he would invite a pretty young student to join him for lunch and dismiss the class. (Okay, it was a different time). The class loved it. It was pure theater, hardly a droning lecture on mitosis. So, strict dispensing of canonized curriculum isn't really the only way to impart knowledge. There has to be a certain amount of art, creativity, expression of the individual.

Moreover, how does this relate to preserving an art as individuals with their own interpretations take the art out into the world and spread it? I have always been of the opinion that the art is indeed living and students should be encouraged to bring creativity and their individual style into the art after they have mastered the basics and fully understand the concepts that underlie the art. Demanding a dogmatic adherence to a "standard", I have always felt, is a path to stagnation and more an expression of fear than dedication. An art should adhere to standard principals and concepts but should be allowed to flourish and grow and manifest in the individuals who practice it as the unique expression of their personalities and body types.

I watched a video of a master of Escrima playing his version of Larga Mano yesterday. Much as I would like to level some severe criticism on his style, I have to step back and celebrate his unique take on the art. It's not what I was taught. It has some concepts I would take issue with but it is his and it shows some of the most important concepts of the art. His unique play is an indication of the diversity in which one art can manifest. It stands in stark contrast to the style of play of other graduates. It is unique, his own artful expression; neither more nor less valid than any other. And, if we fail to recognize and celebrate the diversity one art can inspire, we will certainly kill it. In an effort to codify, "dogmatize" or otherwise hold fast an art, we risk choking it to death by quelling criticism, individual expression and curiosity. There is risk too in letting an art go and flourish and adapt. But, that risk can be mitigated by adhering to sound principals and basic concepts while embracing individual artistic interpretation. It would be a grand departure for that master to institutionalize his style as the standard or for students to believe that his rank eliminates all options for interpretation or expression. I think it is best to see the personal expression each player brings to the art as their unique style and a positive celebration of diversity, not a negative threat to authority.

Play on with a living art and always feel free to ask questions.

GLM

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Comment by Zach Jenkins on June 28, 2017 at 10:57am

A very good blog post Guro Lawrence and topic I bring up periodically to my group.  In my opinion a student that knows nothing about a martial art system should ensure that the follow their teacher to the letter.  It is critical that a student learn what makes the art valid.  Effectiveness depends on each individuals effort to learn and practice the art under realistic terms.  Once a student understands the art and can use with proficiency, a student then makes the art their own by using it in the most effective means that they are comfortable with. This is the most advanced method in my opinion, sort of like a university student completing grad school by producing their own thesis. It is a way of showing that the individual has attained a sort of mastery in the workings of what they spent so much time studying.  

Just my two cents

Comment by Chris Sargent on May 4, 2018 at 4:46pm

A year late but the way I look at it is like this.... A technique is just that a technique.  It is built by utilizing learned skills and applying fundamental principles taught by your teacher. Your teacher may show you some examples of how and when to use a technique but choosing when and where to apply a technique is still completely up to the student or practitioner.  The teachers I know have no problem with applying a technique in a creative way as long you utilize good technique and sound principles.  So if you speak of students or other practitioners as being creative with their application of technique/style/system of fighting I can understand that and say yes that is a good thing.  But having a poor understanding of what you were taught and having to be creative in your application to make a technique work isn't creativity.  It's sloppy martial arts.  A properly executed technique may take some strength but a poorly executed technique will require the individual to muscle their way through a technique without using any skill or applying any fundamental principles and 9 times out of ten will fail.  I'm all for diversity and creativity but whatever a student or practitioner does must be in keeping with what is taught in their style/system of fighting.  Otherwise a style/system could become corrupted by an individual's interpretation of what good technique and fundamental principles are.  Consistency of instruction is important for developing new students and future instructors.

I tried to generalize my comment so it could apply to all but I agree creativity is important.  I personally feel creativity is spurred on through repetitive practice of what your teacher taught you and constantly studying those movements seeking new applications.  That is why it is so important to have a knowledgeable teacher to guide you through your training.

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