Traditional, classical, progressive; how do you define your martial art practice?

Famous Zen sage and 17th-century poet Matsuo Basho famously said; “do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise; seek what they sought.” Easy to say, difficult to put into actual practice.

On traditional and classical methods.

Something that is ‘traditional’ is normally associated with a long-established custom or belief that has been passed on from one generation to another (more cultural rather than combative). For example: you have to put on special clothing (Dogi, Hakama, etc.) in order to engage in practice. 

Something being labelled as a ‘classical’ is usually defined as something which has been judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind and is recognised and is of established value. For example: kata like Seisan, Naihanchi or Sanchin have been practiced for a century or longer, therefore they have ‘importance’ and historical value. Yet their combative value is only made possible by an accomplished teacher, who gleams the meaning, and further develops the intended purpose.

Are you a progressive martial artist?

Let’s begin with the adjective “progressive”. A simple Google search shows it’s related to words like “progress’, “development”, “reform”, “innovation”, “forward-thinking,”..etc. Through these words, we can see that to think progressively means to think along the lines of research, development and innovation. Though you now may ask: what kind of progress? Here, we need to emphasize the difference between thinking progressively (consuming information) and being truly progressive by means of new physical practices and new methods of teaching. Taking a risk.

Anyone may think progressively about something, but not everyone is progressive. Being progressive means actively advocating for positive change by means of taking ourselves out of the comfort zone, once again ‘putting on a white belt’. Shoshin – the mind of a beginner, and Nyumon no kokoro – the spirit of entering the gate, are popular buzz terms in Budo. Often easy to say, but ego-bound and difficult to actually embrace. It’s not easy to give up years of prestige and seniority, in order to develop new physicalities.

Can you be a hybrid practitioner?

In a nutshell, On Ko Chi Shin 温故知新 or ‘study the old to know the new’ might be a perfect maxim for taking the middle path. Often extremes are temporary, and not conducive to long-term growth. Sometimes martial artists fall for the ‘new shiny thing’, the new art, group or culture that appears so cool. It’s not necessarily better, but different. How about a cool grappling gi embroidered with playing cards, or new satin shorts with cool tiger and gold fringes? Maybe giving up Hai or Ossu for a well-orchestrated clap for affirmation? We are speaking of veneer and not deep substance. Real progress and learning go far beyond the superficial.

In conclusion.

A true martial artist does not limit themselves to just one aspect of self-defence or self-improvement. They understand that violence can come in many forms and it is important to have a well-rounded approach to combat. This means constantly improving and refining all areas of their training.

Gambarimasho, C.Borkowski