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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Words, Words, Words

This may not be the most coherent piece of writing I've ever produced. In fact, it's rather unlikely to be, as it's mostly an attempt to sort out a bunch of stuff that's been rattling around in my brain for the last few weeks. And it's now been broken up into two nights of writing. So G-d only knows where this will all go.

I think it started to percolate after reading Rory Miller's post on Growth and Perspective. In it, Rory breaks up martial artists into a few different categories, which he gives the somewhat unfortunate names of "Collector" and "Stripper" (the second is worse than the first). He also muses about a third category, but you can read about it yourself, so I won't bother getting into it here.

So, me being me, I made an effort to categorize myself. And yes, I can be honest and say that there was a bit of ego involved in that attempt, which probably complicates matters. I get the sense (and may be putting words in Rory's mouth here, but hopefully not) that Rory considers the "strippers" to be at a somewhat higher level, because they are not focused so much on technique as they are on principles and concepts and other such things. And hey, who doesn't want to have reached a higher level, right?

Of course, I'm also the guy who was making an effort to learn Judo (and would love to again, some day), occasionally trades emails with a Filipino Martial Arts instructor to try and figure out training times, and has a laundry list of systems I think would be cool to explore, or at least experience. Which is kind of a collector mentality, I think.

Of course, I also don't feel like I NEED any of those things. They'd just be fun to do. I like training, and learning new stuff, particularly if I can tie it into the stuff I've already got.

And that stuff I've already got. Technically, it's a grab bag, but realistically, I seriously practice two things: Muay Thai, and Personal Defense Readiness. The Personal Defense Readiness, I neither collect nor strip...I'm just exploring. I don't have nearly enough experience in the system to start trying to figure out how to change it.

In Muay Thai...well, I certainly don't collect techniques (when i say technique, I mean XYZ sequential stuff--You punch, I block, I kick, etc.). I do collect drills, because I believe that drills are really where skill is developed, and that the more drills I have in my arsenal, the more effectively I can train and coach.

And Coaching is where a lot of my energy and focus is right now. I'm still trying to develop myself, a lot (lately I've been trying to play with timing and distancing), but I'm equally conscious of what I can do to make myself a better coach for my students.

Anyway. That's a separate thought pattern. Or maybe not. But I want to move on, so I'm going to move on for now.

One of the interesting things that Rory mentioned in his post was that at a certain point, some people are hesitant to continue to refer to themselves as "martial artists". Which I think is really where the post struck a chord with me, because I've been kind of struggling with that question myself.

Simply put, I don't feel comfortable calling myself a martial artist.

Again, to be honest, part of it is just elitism. There are some great martial artists in the world, but there's a lot more of them who are just awful. And the awful ones, unfortunately, are the ones that people tend to visualize when you tell them that they do martial arts. And I don't really want to be identified with that.

But more than that, I'm not really sure if what I'm doing qualifies as a martial art. Hell, I'm not really sure what a martial art is right now. Tony Blauer explicitly says that the PDR program is NOT a martial art, which makes that sort of cut and dry (unless you disagree with his definition of a martial art, in which case you can go find him on Facebook and argue with him about it). Muay Thai considers itself a martial art, but when I think of doing Muay Thai, I usually speak about it as a combat sport, and myself as a combat athlete.

I've been listening to a bunch of old interviews from the Warrior Traditions podcast, and a number of people in those interviews talk about the profound influence their martial art has had on them. And I get the sense that some of these people really define themselves through their martial art. And I've reached a point where I don't.

I don't think of myself as a "Nak Muay" or a "PDR Guy" (note: we really need cooler sounding terms for ourselves). I just think of myself as a guy who does those things. And while the practice of those things (and of other arts before them) has certainly influenced my beliefs, lifestyle, and behavior, I find that I act the way not out of a sense of trying to live up to some "warrior virtue" or medieval chivalric code, but because I just have a moral compass, and follow it as best I can (sometimes I screw up).

So does that make me not a martial artist?

Am I a martial artist who doesn't know it?

I am lately more interested in questions of life style than I am of "martial arts". I find myself exploring not just avoidance and deescalation strategies (which are included in the PDR program though I find myself looking at other resources as well), but bigger picture stuff. Criminal psychology. Criminal statistics. Physical health and culture. I've been meaning to play with some meditation more seriously.

Is that part of martial arts? If I do it, and it's not part of the arts I practice, and I still dong a martial art?

I really have no idea. Sometimes, writing this stuff down helps me sort it out. Not tonight, apparently.

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