Training with the late Guru Bill Aranda, Note #2

Training date: Sunday, January 20, 2013

What I remember the most from training:

It was much more a contemplative session than a physical training session.

  • While I was taught a “sayaw” primarily to show me what to do with my ‘live hand’
  • I also got into an honest and probing conversation about both things personal and FMA practitioner

What the session made me understand/think/learn

Novelty/innovation is always there. Dynamic systems theory says novelty, or innovation, is built into systems; it’s always there because solutions — some of which may need to be novel ideas — are always available to a system internally when that system goes off balance, at least according to this theory.

My evolving view of martial arts nowadays is that FMA is not a system, gung fu is not a system, none of the specific martial arts is a system. These are subsets of a larger system. The larger system is using human limbs (which number only four for everyone) to fight. So, from this perspective, innovation is always there, and its comes from human creativity, represented by the different subsets, or fighting styles. I think this view is older than Bruce Lee, by the way. Humans have been fighting and adapting to each others’ fighting styles for as long as we learned how to punch and kick.

You reminded me that you teach me what you learned, not what you were were taught. To me that means the same thing that I’m now looking for: not a style but how to optimize how I naturally fight, i.e., uncover and hone how my body naturally moves. Why would one want this? So that you fight with more fluid movement without thinking; so that you fight according to the way your body naturally moves.

In this sense, all fighting is both unique and common. A #3 strike is either going to come from the center line, or outside it. Whatever unique path or extra steps we take to get to the target from inside and outside the center line is and can be unique to how we naturally move, but ultimately, the strike can only come from inside or outside the centerline, i.e., the expression may be unique, but the principle is the same.

Is novelty/innovation possible in martial arts? My take on the answer is yes and no. It is both/and, not either/or. Innovation is possible and not possible. I say this not to be philosophical, but to express a nuanced view of novelty, or innovation. It is possible, but this is so when you focus on media, or expression, or ‘hardware’. It is also not all that clear that the principle behind an arrow versus a bullet — a projectile traveling at high speed to pierce a target — is all that different. When you think of ‘software’ – the underlying principle or meaning behind the use of an arrow or a bullet, you find that there is one underlying principle, as is the case in any punch or kick or strike.

In many ways, this both/and perspective is what FMA and ‘gung fu’ teaches us: there is innovation between the blade and empty-hand, between the stick and the blade. But the underlying principles behind strikes are the same.

Life lesson. In life, we have it within us to help ourselves, because novelty — new ideas, innovation, solutions — are baked into each of us. But it is also true that only in our engagement with others do we see our strengths and our weaknesses, and our interrelatedness to everything. Alone in our thoughts, in our inner world, we can find the answers we seek, the power we need to adapt and survive. But we are flawed; so some ideas are flawed. And it is only also through our engagement with our environment and in the quality of our relationships that we find what is right, the true path, the meaning behind life, behind personhood, behind community.

A student learning to fight has it in him to sort out how to use his limbs efficiently and effectively, and how to use tools as extensions of his limbs, if need be. But it is also true that he only learns to fight because his neighbors provoke him, or his teacher shows him principle and which techniques will not work in a real fight.

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