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Monday, December 2, 2013

Choosing A Martial Arts School, 3.8: Heirloom/Preservation

I owe Wes Tasker a debt of thanks for giving me a term for this purpose.

Heirloom or preservation training is martial arts done with the goal of preserving or recreating a particular fighting method. The focus is not necessarily on the "most effective" training method as much as it is keeping a particular method alive. The modern Historical European Martial Arts movement is a good example of this, as are the folks out there working to try and pass down the various Japanese Koryu. Really, you could probably file a large number of "traditional" martial artists under this category.

As far as motivations go, this one offers the potential for a lot of fun. If you want to learn how to fight like a Musketeer or a Samurai, this is kind of what you're going for.

[Side note: I realize that there is room for a lot of debate about what constitutes an "effective" training system, especially here on the Internet. I'm not saying that historical arts are not "effective" by certain standards, but let's be real--if your goal is to learn to protect yourself in the modern world, there's no requirement to learn how to fight with a rapier, or how to fire a bow from horseback. If you want to be a successful professional fighter, understanding the intricacies of grappling in armor is not relevant to your profession. As always, this comes back to Dan John's admonishment that the "goal is to keep the goal the goal."]

Questions/Things To Consider

What Tradition Interests You? 

The motivation for this kind of training often seems to come from a prior fascination with a particular time period, culture, or media piece. Almost every Kung Fu practitioner I know got into it because they watched too much Kung Fu theater on USA. I've known several fencers who got into the art because of Errol Flynn movies. Someone who is a Kurosawa buff might be deeply entranced by the Japanese Koryu. My personal interest in Western European MA (which I have not explored nearly as much as I'd have liked) is drawn entirely from the fact that I think Knights are cool.

There's an up and downside here. The upside is that having this interest gives you some focus. The downside is that some of these traditions can be notoriously difficult to find instructors for. The Koryu, for example, are not very widespread, particularly in the United States. There's a very good chance that learning the art you want to learn might require some travel and/or relocation. Again, how far you want to go with this is up to you.

To some degree, this also depends on how focused you are. If you specifically want to learn Niten Ichi-ryƫ (the sword fighting style of Miyamoto Musashi), you have few options. If you just want to learn a Japanese sword-fighting system, you open yourself up to more possibilities. If you simply want to learn some kind of blade work, you open your options even further.


Do Some Research

Martial artists, in my experience, are awful historians sometimes. There are plenty of exceptions, of course, but we are talking about a population that has spread tales of men punching through armor with their bare hands, and kicking fully armored warriors off of horses.

Before you go seeking an instructor, take some time to learn a little bit about the culture and people that created the art you're interested in. Not only will this help inform your practice, but it will help keep you alert for bad material when you're looking into instructors.

Is The Instructor's Lineage Legitimate?

"I care about lineage, because I don't like to learn from liars. I also care about effectiveness of technique, because I don't want to practice a lie."

- Ellis Amdur


Issues of lineage can sometimes get really overblown in the martial arts, but when it comes to learning a particular historical tradition, it's worth looking into. Without getting deeply into it, I've personally experienced teaching from people who claimed to be teachers of systems they had no real knowledge of; the moment when you realize that all the things you thought you knew were wrong is a really terrible one.

So if you find an instructor, check him out. If an instructor claims to be teaching a particular system, see if you can source it. Many systems have a central website where you can see listings of instructors, or contact the head of a particular organization or style to verify someone's claims.

There are exceptions, of course--not all styles are that well organized. If you can't find direct information on a particular instructor or style, this may be a time to venture into the wild world of the Internet forum. While I don't find such places terribly useful, this is one case that might be an exception. If you find someone claiming to teach, say, Shaolin Kung Fu, asking about his or her credentials on a few message boards may yield some enlightening results.

When in doubt--doubt. There are a lot of frauds out there. Some of the advice from the section on spiritual martial arts applies here.

The exploration of a particular art form is, in many ways, one of the broadest goals or motivations to cover. If you're deeply interested, you can use the study of art as a pathway into studying the history, culture, and traditions of a region or society. You can even use it as a springboard to move into competitive venues, explorations of self-defense, or spiritual traditions. There's a lot of places to go from here.

I said in my last post that this would be the tail end of this series. I want to do a post on putting these various goals together, plus something on choosing a martial arts school for kids. After that, I'll likely be wrapping this up. If there's things you think I've missed or ought to cover, I'd love to hear about them.


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