Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Refined taste in martial arts

I prefer beer tasting to wine
    When I think of refined taste, I think of wine snobs who get so specific in their tasting, that they can tell the year or vineyard.  They seem to be making up terms to describe these flavors that only the members of their exclusive club have access to.  My lame ass just says "It taste like grapes."  But now, I've started to develop that high level of "taste" for my martial arts. 

    When I was in high school, and even through college, as I studied science, or even math, there was always that section in the beginning of the chapter that talked about how Louis Pasteur showed that non-living matter cannot create living matter, or how Charles Darwin discovered/described the principles of evolution,  or about Newton discovering/describing calculus.  I always glossed over these parts.  The names and dates ran together, and were not important to me.  Same thing with most of the history classes.  Did I really care about the wives of Henry VIII? (Sorry to all my UK readers).  Just give me the discoveries they made, I don't care about the scientists, or how they came up with their ideas, just tell me the ideas were.
    Some time after I graduated college there began a change in me.  Now that I wasn't a student by profession, I could go slower with my absorption of knowledge.  I began to enjoy the who and the how.  Now I'm fascinated with Darwin, what his observations were, and how he put them together into his theory of evolution.  He exemplifies how scientific genius is suppose to happen.  Now that I teach science to High School students, I keep trying to impress upon them, the importance of these scientists, and their discoveries and how amazing it was to go from the state of not knowing to enlightening the world of how a scientific principle works.  And all I see in their faces, is a mirror reflecting my me own face when I was their age (god, I had just typing that phrase).
"Are you not entertained?"
    The same thing has happened in my martial arts studies.  Way back when I was a young impressionable 18 year old (ughhh) starting my journey in martial arts, all I wanted was the techniques.  I didn't care about the philosophy or the people that created the arts.  In fact, in my first martial art, Yamagata ryu Bujutsu, I never even learned who or what Yamagata was.  Now that I've been doing this for long enough to have the physical mechanics of techniques pretty well down, I can work on the refinement on my martial arts.  Somewhere around 4th kyu (green belt), I really started to want to know what the art of aikido was, and how it had come about.  I started voraciously reading about O-Sensei and his physical philosophy which is called aikido.  After I read enough to get a feel for what aikido was, I started reading more about other arts.  I went back and started reading about the other great masters.  Funikoshi in particular surprised me.  His ideas seemed to express what I considered unique philosophies in aikido.  In hindsight, I shouldn't have found this surprising, but I had preconceived notions of what karate was.
    Now, after many years of training, I can spend my mental and physical energy in the subtle details expressed in the similarities and differences in the arts.  I'm now able to appreciate the subtle movements of Karate kata (I really hadn't before).  I can appreciate the slow, flowing actions of Taiji, or the unbridled aggression of Krav Maga. I can appreciate the similarities of all of those aspects in my own martial arts.  But, at the same time, my Aikido and Jujutsu have become much more similar.  Especially as I start to make my aikido a practical martial art.  I enjoy the (very) subtle difference in attitude and approach each art represents.  And that's what refined taste is, an appreciation of subtle differences.


  1. I think it takes time and experience to get to the point where you can even see, or comprehend, the subtle differences, and appreciate the history and development of what we do.

    Great post.

  2. I agree, not that I'm a wise old sage or anything, but I've been doing this for 12-15 years now, and I've only really been able to see this in the last year or two.

  3. Several years ago I was asked by my instructor the difference between Aikido and Jujitsu. I thought for a few moments and said they were none. I literally did not see a difference and now after experiencing styles outside my familiarity, I am finding that generally the differences between the arts fade away. We are all basically the same and there is only some much you can do with a human body.

  4. From my limited experience, the only difference is where the emphasis on the different aspects lie. Karate has locks and throws (hidden) in the kata. Aikido has (hidden) striking. The format in which they are shown to students is where the difference lies, but yes, all the movements will end up blending together.

  5. I think with any learning you start with the basics and then the urge to learn more about certain specifics is generated.