Sunday, June 17, 2007

Grace vs. Force

It seems like most martial artists that you see now are taught to focus on raw strength. They all just try to overpower their opponents. It’s all just punch and kick faster and harder than the other guy to them.

It seems to be an American thing. Think of the most popular American sport – football. The biggest part of what’s drilled into the head of the people who play it from the time they’re kids is that you hit the other guy as hard as you possibly can.

As a consequence, they tend to lack grace. Their motions are jerky and disjointed. Their balance is not the greatest, and they aren’t prepared for surprises because they expect the other guy to be doing pretty much the same thing.

The real practice of martial arts, as opposed to simply being a bruiser like most of them try to be now, requires a great deal of grace, finesse, and balance. In fact, it has a lot in common with dancing – one motion flows into another.

Your opponent moves and you counter, avoiding his strike and flowing into the opening that his attack creates.

Strength often takes a back seat to grace in the actual practice of martial arts. People are very fragile creatures. It doesn’t take a lot to incapacitate, injure, or even kill. The only thing going at an opponent full force generally does is make you tired.

I’ve seen the same thing over and over again. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s watching a couple of karate-ka spar or trying to teach people how to fence. They almost always seem to want to simply overpower their opponents.

Granted, it can work sometimes, but if you ever face someone who uses finesse instead of force and try to force your way through the fight, you fall flat on your face. This is something that most of the fencers learned when they fought me.

Personally, I would advocate that all martial artists learn to dance. I know it sounds silly to most people, but the movements have a lot in common. It’s a matter of grace. In fact, a lot of people who have seen me use a blade can tell you just how much it looks like a dance.

There’s one other advantage to learning to dance – it’s a wonderful social skill. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in this area (and others that I’ve been in) who think that dancing is completely the opposite of everything masculine. Of course, they also think the same thing of anything artistic.

The Midwest seems to be especially bad about that mindset. In high school, I was at a friend’s house when his stepfather came home. Since I’m a fairly large guy, he asked me if I played football. I told him it didn’t really interest me. The immediate follow up was along the lines of “What are you? A sissy? You probably play flute in the band don’t you?” in a rather taunting voice since, of course, football is the only thing that matters in this life.

My friend turned pale, afraid that I was going to kill his stepfather.

The thing is that it isn’t an isolated incident. In fact, it’s pretty widespread. It’s a shame really. I think the world would be a little better off if people relied less on brute strength and more on grace, finesse, and judgment.

Current mood: contemplative
Current music: Loreena McKennitt – Between the Shadows


Karyl said...

This is something that most of the fencers learned when they fought me.

"Karyl, you're doing it again."
"Doing what?"
"Trying to overpower me. You know that won't work."
*tiny shrimp chick stares at large, bearlike man*
"Try it again."
*stabby stabby*
"What did I just tell you?"

Oh yeah. Fun times. lol

James Hollingshead said...

Yes, and how often did the large, bearlike man try to overpower anyone there including the maestro?