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Out of Style

Old School Kung Fu

By Master Dave Modzak, Karate

This will kind of remind you of the old schoolyard argument about who’s dad could beat up who's dad, the only difference is this argument is still taking place all over the martial arts community even today...

Throughout my time and attendance at various martial arts events, the debates ensue.

What’s better-than-what? Traditional vs. open-styles, ground vs. stand up, point fighting vs. full contact, weapon vs. weapon, Kata vs. no forms, style vs. style.

The list is as endless as are the variations of the arts themselves!

Where does this endless stream of unnecessary word play lead too? The same old place man has found himself stuck in for ages, a state of denial that leads to absolutely nowhere, and not just hinders, but damages the arts as well. I find it a bit mind boggling that in 2009 these arguments still seemingly manage to thrive...where has the open mind gone?

Throughout history, there have been many influences in the martial arts and their number seems to be infinite, however, the influences that have been remarkable can be counted almost on one single hand.

Old School Kung Fu

Names such as Sun Tsu, Musashi, Oyama, Parker, Lee, and Gracie will forever be etched into the great history that is the martial arts and their particular influences will most assuredly be noted throughout time.

Why is that? That is because each and every one of them kept an open mind, a willingness to learn, share, and most importantly, test their knowledge to hone the ability to adapt and change. With each of these remarkable individuals came publications and with each of those a myriad of naysayers and critics.

However, it seems obvious who survived the test of time and has endured the ages, especially the “Art of War” and “The Book of Five Rings.” I would like to take a look at one of the more recent of the above mentioned “All Stars” and discuss who and what I consider to be one of the greatest influences in the martial arts and, perhaps, should be credited with where they are today.

Now mind you, I’m not one of those fellows that falls to his knees in thanks every time somebody mentions the name Bruce Lee, in fact, I’m not that big of fan of his at all, but, that’s personal.

Old School Kung Fu

However, I am a huge fan of what he did and what he did was emphasize the benefits of keeping an open mind, a willingness to cross-train, individual research, and plenty of conditioning. All of which are very important to the propagation of the martial arts, especially nowadays.

Now, don’t go getting all worked up thinking he invented all that stuff, those ideas go back to the beginning of time, just as the martial arts do. What he did was promote those ideas in a time when it was truly needed and in a way that reached millions of people and are carried on even today. The way I see it, the greatest value wasn’t that Bruce Lee determined what did and didn’t work, after all, that’s too subjective. The greatest value was that he encouraged people to learn and adapt in order to liberate themselves from what did and didn’t work for them as individuals, not obsessing on any actual styles.

I recall what my teacher Taisho Victor A. Hughes used to say, “Always learn a technique in its original form to ensure accuracy and teach it to your students that way first. Then adapt it to each one according to their movement for no two people move the same.”

Old School Kung Fu

This type of teaching was not new to me for I recall being taught the same adaptability in Kyokushin-kai, especially in open sparring. The encouragement to openly think and expand your mind was incredible.

I remember the black belt sparring nights in American Kenpo that not only included technique application, but the study of body mechanics as well. For the last 16 years the same has been applied to my study of Siete Pares Escrima with the constant encouragement of my teacher Maestro de Maestros Bert Labitan.

It has been my experience in other arenas that too many teachers try to make the student fit the art and not have the art fit the student. This is where the fight starts, our style does such and such, your style is such and such, and this is no good that is no good, and so on, and so on.

Old School Kung Fu

If you cannot see the value in all arts, then perhaps it is time to open your eyes. After all, hasn’t the UFC itself evolved over the past one hundred events to a point where you need multiple facets to your ability if you’re going to survive at all?

A true martial athlete must be able to address more than one style, system, or approach. This begins to envelop the training and teaching of the true path of the warrior and, in my opinion, opens the mind, heart, and spirit to the purity of the training involved.

This is where you make the transition from a mere athlete to a real warrior.

So, let us take a moment to thank all that have gone before us, and to especially thank those who have stepped beyond the norm to bring us to where we are today. Let us put aside these petty arguments of style vs. style and look forward to what we can learn from and share with each other as fellow martial artists.

Meanwhile, let's all try not to let anything of value go out of style!

Remember what Mas Oyama said, “The nature and purpose of the Martial Way is universal, all selfish desires should be roasted in the tempering fires of hard training.”

Train hard, be well, and live free.

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