Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Thoughts on Viewing Martial Arts

I've been to a few events with a large number of very, very talented martial artists demonstrating. For example, I've been to the All-Japan Iaido tournament a few times, the All-Japan Kendo championships half a dozen times maybe, as well as the All-Japan Jodo tournament twice. I've been to a few kobudo demonstrations with hundreds of representatives of various koryu bujutsu groups performing over the course of a full day.

These events are definitely not the best place to view martial arts. The performers are unquestionably top-notch. The problem is that you get numb to what you're seeing. I've never been to the Louvre Museum, or the Prado, or the Rijksmueum, but I've heard that the sheer number of masterpieces on display eventually makes you breeze past paintings in a second or two that, were they displayed on their own, you might otherwise spend hours trying to take in.

I was having these kinds of thoughts last year, after going to the All-Japan Iaido tournament followed by an extensive koryu bujutsu demonstration in the same month. A few weeks later, I went to a public exhibition of a large national calligraphy contest.

Viewed singly, the works of art were breathtaking. A single, powerful word written by a shodo master could be analogous to a single iaido kata performed by a hachidan hanshi.

A series of kanji, part of a single, unified work of art and written by one hand, might be analogous to a demonstration of a set of kata from the same school, performed by a master of that school. The characteristic flavour of the school, as well as the individual performing it, comes across clearly and leaves a strong impression on the viewer.

Seeing a number of works of art at the same time, it is evident that they are slightly different, but it begins to become difficult to appreciate how they are different, or which is better, and why.

After viewing more and more demonstrations, you begin to feel a bit overwhelmed by it all. One performer ... or one work ... is starting to blur into the next.

You might even start to lose interest - even if you are deeply fascinated by your own study of martial arts (or calligraphy, or painting, or photography...)

And so it got me thinking about focusing on one work ... or focusing on an expert performance of a single kata. You begin to evaluate things on a more technical level. How did he or she make this movement? How did this sense of pressure or power occur at this instant? Why is the sword stopping here, and not there?

As you look closer, details begin to emerge.

Looking even closer, more details emerge. The almost "fractal" nature of the kata - the sense that there is no end to the level to which you can analyze the parts - becomes almost overwhelming.

Looking too closely, you lose your perspective and the work starts to lose the overall meaning it had before.

Step back and look from a position where you can see the whole, as well as the details, and you may be struck again by the beauty of this one-time event - captured on paper, on video, or in your memory.


Blogger Suen 孫 said...

Great Post! Excellent analogy! ^_^

1:12 PM  
Blogger Michael Suen said...

I agree. Very well written and meaningful.

6:18 PM  
Blogger Sensei Strange said...

The amount of parallels between budo and shodou is staggering. Even one I know who has trained in both agree fundamentally they are exactly the same practice.

3:19 PM  

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