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Martial Academia

Martial Academia

This article was written by Jamie Chipperfield Clubb, who I first met at a seminar I taught in Coventry. Jamie and I had a very interesting discussion on the evolution and development of the martial arts, and in particular the difference between raw functional technique and the techniques and concepts that are more 'academic' in nature. Jamie told me he has written an article on the subject of 'Martial Academia' and he has kindly agreed to share it with visitors and members of this website.

Jamie has studied Taekwondo, Kick-Boxing, Wushu, Shaolin Kung Fu, Escrima, Jujutsu and Muay Thai. He also regularly cross-trains in as many styles as possible including Karate, Wing-Chun and Kali. Jamie is also currently training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under the present world champion Braulio Estima, and he holds instructor qualifications in Sakiado, American Kickboxing and Muay Thai. Jamie teaches under the banner of Clubb Chimera Martial Arts, which covers practical modern self-defence before going onto exploring the various martial arts systems.

In 1997 Jamie created, choreographed, financed and performed in the world's first Gothic martial arts and dance act, 'Dead Souls'. In 1998 he co-founded a business called 'Extreme Entertainment'; the main product of which was the hard core professional wrestling show 'Extreme World Warfare'. The promotion was called ' the most innovative, original and extreme promotion in the UK ' by international wrestling magazine, World of Wrestling.

Jamie was born on the 4th July 1976 into an old circus family. In addition to studying and teaching the martial arts, Jamie currently works for his family's business in supplying and training Europe 's largest privately owned collection of exotic and dangerous wild animals for the media industry.

Jamie is a semi-professional writer with one historical book, "The Legend of Salt and Sauce", pending publication. He has also contributed to Martial Arts Illustrated Magazine and is an editor of one of the world's largest and longest running martial arts website forums, I'm sure you'll all enjoy this very thought-provoking artilce.

All the best,


Martial Academia

By Jamie Clubb

"Learn from the experienced, not from the learned"- Anonymous

Despite the increase of violent crime in many of the world's developed countries, most citizens enjoy relative security. The house of today can be a veritable fortress armed with alarms, barricades and various communication devices. Since the nineteenth century the streets have been patrolled by an organised police force employed to uphold the laws of the land designed to protect the innocent. Yet the civilised human being is still drawn to combat whether it is as a system of self protection, a form of stress relief or a method to keep healthy. There is something appealing about the visceral look and feel of ordered violence. Such a feeling can be seen in our gestures from a celebratory punch in the air to a playful wrestle with a close friend. Even pacifists find escapism in the fantasy battle world of Tolkein or the martial arts infused science fiction film, "The Matrix."

Most people will tell you that what they want out of martial arts is self defence. In reality the majority of them want an exciting social activity that will keep them fit and make them feel good. Self defence is a very straightforward unsophisticated system that is more to do with self awareness, common sense and adrenaline control learned through experience than physical applications. The physical side to it is a short series of crude basic techniques that would make for a very dull short pre-arranged form, kata, pattern, hyung or poomse. This is what made up all the military martial arts in their early days. The systems would have to be basic and straightforward in order to train a large amount of people to be capable of fighting in a short space of time.

Those who enjoyed learning combat wished to expand on their training and the luxury of not having to fight for your life day in day out helped the martial artist expand on his training. This is only natural to anyone who has an artistic mind. Shakespeare wrote his original plays to earn a living, but as he became more successful he was able to indulge himself and write from a more intellectual point of view. Likewise the successful martial artist grows bored with practicing the same simple drill year after year; a drill that is designed with the lowest intellect's ability to master it in mind.

Therefore we can see that martial arts the world over took two paths in the quest for expansion. One path was embraced by the sportsman. In this case arts weren't tested on the battlefield or in response to an ambush, but in an arena where two consenting athletes fought one another. We've read about such practices being adopted by nearly every culture going back as far as the earliest days of civilisation. They harden people, build a competitive spirit and have some benefits in teaching a person about controlling stress. However, they are not a form of self defence.

Combat sports make several changes to the art from which they are derived. The most obvious change is the introduction of rules (although it should be pointed out that not all combat sports have or had rules.) Unlike a real-life scenario the sportsman has fair warning that he is entering into a fight against another a person; a fight that will begin on a referee's word and stopped on that same authority. This is very different to a fight in a bar or an ambush attack where the defending protagonist has not consented to the fight. Soldiers know they are to fight one another, but they face a far more unpredictable scenario on the battlefield than they ever would in an organised one-on-one confrontation.

Perhaps the greatest impact sport has on the development of a martial art is the tactics developed for the purposes of competition. Individuality notwithstanding, the combat sportsman develops methods to fight other sportsmen within the confines of their sport. Even the world of Mixed Martial Arts has become a style unto itself. Western Boxing lost its grappling applications, which included throws and locks, in the nineteenth century, but began developing on its punching, particularly when gloves were introduced. Judo lost its small joint locks; most of its strikes and many other techniques, but over the twentieth century refined its holistic gross motor skills wrestling. The examples are everywhere from Escrima, which replaced its blade work with rattan canes to make it safer and then developed techniques particular to rattan canes and fighting other cane fighters, to Capoiera which hid its techniques in dance and games only to develop more audience appealing techniques to the point that many practitioners don't know when the dance ends and the fighting begins.

This refinement of techniques within an art's parameters also forms the basis of the other route. Such a route is followed by the academics. When one comes to discussing "martial academia" the arts that often come to mind are the Japanese "do" arts. These were supposed to be the philosophical arts that replaced the warlike "jutsu" systems. The Japanese explained that such martial arts were practiced to improve a person's character rather than to equip him for battle. Such an attitude is not unique to Japan , although they are the only country to make an official distinction, most notably when Japan opened its enterprise to the western world in 1800's and after the country's defeat in World War II. Many scholars will argue that this is was merely an attitude affected and that the arts of Karate-Jutsu and Karate-do have few physical differences. This is quite true. During the transitional period very little was done to actually change techniques, just the philosophy behind them. However, in the long run, this attitude has influenced the further development of martial arts and how they are taught in peacetime.

Aikido is often unjustly thought of as an ineffective abstract system of martial arts embraced by a Bohemian society of poets, hippies and scholars. Techniques on the whole are based around responses to wrist grabs, an unlikely method of attack in modern civilian society, and a dubious sounding method to the layman of harmonizing with your opponent. If all this seems a little surreal to the cynical twenty-first century western observer then students are also expected to cultivate a mysterious invisible energy in them called "Ki." In the Chinese martial arts this is known as "Qi" or "Chi" and its development is promoted in another art that also gets a hippy stereotype: "Tai Chi Chuan."

Let's forget about the invisible energy argument and return to the basic tangible points of these arts. Aikido's founder, Morhei Ueshiba, was well known as a harsh instructor. He grew up on a farm and served in the military. We can make an educated guess that his early passion for martial arts did not come from a need to expand his spiritual horizons. Aikido was derived from Daito ryu Jujutsu, a system taken straight from the Samurai's final days. In his own writing Ueshiba explained that Aikido, considered a grappling art, was mostly about pragmatic striking. According to Robert Twigger's "Angry White Pjamas", Ueshiba's school became notorious for the injuries he inflicted on his students and many have argued that it was this brutal method of training that ironically helped make the art more flowing in application. Students became so fearful of their teacher that they made sure they went with the technique he was applying.

If this is not proof of the systems' early severity then we have the reputation of the Yoshikan school of Aikido founded, on Ueshiba's blessing, by one of his top students, Gozo Shioda. This character would often prowl the streets looking for fights to hone his skills. To this day his school has an intense year-long training programme undertaken by the Japanese riot Police. So, what gave Aikido its undeserved reputation for being a fanciful ritualistic series of two man exercises for the wishful thinking?

The answer is that modern Aikido is a classic example of martial academia. Just as the legendary and amoral Samurai, Myamoto Musashi, laid down his swords to embrace calligraphy, art, craft, philosophy and his own spirituality, so Ueshiba grew weary with breaking bones. He further explored and experimented with his Aikido techniques and looked into other methods to improve them. However, what he did within the confines of the dojo institution he had built up around him became further and further removed from martial technique. We can imagine long suffering students, sick of being injured, only too happy to go along with the more passive direction they teacher was taking as he aged. Perhaps the largest impact on Ueshiba's Aikido was his spiritual revelation that led him to become a member of an obscure cult during his final years. The art probably little resembled the simple combat system it had once been.

It would be wrong to blame Aikido's departure from combat effectiveness on its founder alone. Even Shioda's militaristic hard-disciplined system became academic. As the years passed, techniques were explored and refined and, like Ueshiba's school, the Yoshikan Dojo became an institution. The hard training ethic remains to this day, but the classes are not really designed to teach people self protection, but more about building character.

The natural variety of Chinese martial arts is not surprising when one considers the size of their native country. Being invaded from all sides, only the most gullible of martial arts historians believe that the many combat systems were invented after the formation of the Shaolin temple. The Chinese had their own militaries and have a history of fighting invaders from the surrounding countries. The war-like Mongolians occupied much of China at one stage and their descendents are said to be the main ancestors of the modern Chinese. In fact the philosophy of Buddhism might be partly responsible for one of martial academia's most unrealistic attitudes towards self defence: the notion that you wait until you are attacked before you counter.

Most, if not all, Shaolin systems start every separate series of movement with a block. The principle behind this is that fighting is the last resort and the Buddhist shows a passive response to an attack before he counters. I've seen this principle to be intrinsic in most systems across the board from the one step sparring of Taekwondo to the two man kata of Jujutsu. In reality a pre-emptive strike is always the preferred action. A student should be taught how to read a situation and to react efficiently to an opponent's initial aggressive movement whether it be to step into the student's safety zone or the slight muscular twitch that indicates the attacker is about to attack.

However, I shouldn't be too harsh on blocking. It is an essential part of training, along with evading. It is important to note that a block can mean more than a passive way to re-direct a technique or shield you from a strike. Blocks can also be applied as effective "hidden" strikes directed at the limbs of your attacker or even misinterpreted strikes to other parts of the body.

Chinese systems were often taught in a family environment and their secrets closely guarded from rival families or oppressive governments and occupying foreigners. Even as late as the Boxer Rebellion at the end of the nineteenth century, martial arts systems such as Choy Lay Fut were being created and then shrouded by dance movements and shortened techniques. Chinese systems, like most that are put under the traditional banner, often suffered from bad interpretation and application.

Chinese martial arts were not as fast to pick up the ranking structure taken by most Japanese and Korean disciplines. Chinese arts demonstrated a more liberated, but less organised approach than their most obvious business rivals when they were imported to the rest of the world. Therefore there may have been less emphasis on teachers pondering and exploring techniques, as there was always another form to learn or weapon to master. However, rather than warping the art through trying to expand on it, a type of under-development took place. Couple this with commercial opportunities created by the easy-looking slow movements of Tai Chi Chuan and the entertainment value of Ditan, and it would appear that money was a fine motivator for some Chinese stylists to forget about martial applications.

On the other side of the cash register we find that the superstition once used to convince the Chinese warriors of the Boxer Rebellion that they could deflect bullets with their powers had found sympathetic modern day listeners. New age ideas about spiritual powers first became popular in the west during the nineteenth century in the wake of Gothic fiction and the work of Madame Blavatsky. Spiritual societies opened up in Britain , Europe and America and were patronised by the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. By the nineteen-sixties, social rebellion was at its height and these exotic ideas grew popular again; this time amongst the youth. This interest coincided with Bruce Lee's growing fame. Sadly as Kung Fu became fashionable, so did the superstition attached to it. This was in spite of the pragmatic attitude of Bruce Lee and other martial luminaries of the time. Many instructors affected an attitude more suited to the times of the Opium Wars than the twentieth century, teaching people in a manner similar to fanatical religious cult leaders. They became charlatans, but ended up believing in their own mystical hype.

However, the Chinese art of Wing Chun suffered the least in both these respects. The system was kept simple and this principle made it famous. It only has three forms and teaches two weapons. However, from what we've seen with the Japanese arts, these limitations make the art vulnerable to martial academia. Despite Wing Chun being a highly efficient system of combat, many schools get into the habit of learning only how to counter techniques from their own style.

The evolution of a style within a closed-door environment leads to the development of the flaws of martial academia. It is the key point that divided martial arts from real self defence. It wasn't long before martial artists were learning simply how to fight their own art, often their own specific brand or style of that art. In contrast, Iaido, the sword drawing art of Japan , has lost its combat side by doing the opposite. Iaijutsu, Iaido's forerunner, was a combat system developed by the Samurai to fight other Samurai, but since the suppression of these warriors it has become a ritualistic art mainly practiced alone.

Civilisation gives people the privilege to discuss, analyse and hypothesise about many things; things that never come under such close scrutiny when the comforts of organised society are removed. There are educated individuals in such a society who enjoy playing devil's advocate so much that they end up believing in their false argument. Others, the more mathematically minded, will come up with incredible equations that are very possible within the realms of logical theory, but appear very far fetched when screened by contemporary common sense. Bert Lance's old cliché, "if it ain't broke, then don't fix it," are words of wisdom when we consider such a situation. However, it is worth noting that this goes against human nature. It is like trying to tell an artist to stop painting after his first masterpiece. The martial artist is poor in this respect; he only has one canvas.

Martial academia does not always unconsciously detract its art from its original purpose. In fact many martial academics and martial sportsmen enjoy the civilised privilege of arguing whether one art could beat another. They look at statistics and they try to treat the whole occasion as if it were a mathematical problem, leading them to think in terms of styles rather than people. Life isn't like that. All martial arts have their deficiencies and yet all can be, or have been at some period, comprehensive fighting systems that can give you the entire physical arsenal you will need in hand-to-hand combat.

Despite every scenario being as different as the individuals involved, you won't need many techniques. Most street-fighters rely on a very limited number of techniques. I know one who relies on a knock-out jab, a shoulder barge or picks up a weapon. Another grabs with his left and hooks with his right, occasionally headlocks and uses a knee strike. This scruffy series of moves has given them victory in countless street confrontations, although I'd never profess to their abilities being much to speak of if they were examined in a training hall or used in any form of competition.

Techniques are just the surface of fighting outside of the school or arena. What makes them work is the will of the protagonist who can use his adrenaline as the chemical turbo-charge the way it was prehistorically intended. Looking at the broader picture we find even this is still only part of what is required to be a capable fighter in a real life situation. Before the actual fight the student will need to be alert and aware; able to read situations and make the correct decisions with a clear head in a matter of seconds. This approach is taught in few schools and can't be replicated in competition. Compared to the physicality of martial arts it is a very inactive part of a person's training and is very general. Like the basic effective techniques that comprised the original arts and are at their core, this side of training is very limited and must be kept that way. The human mind naturally wants to progress, explore and experiment with physical tools. Once this happens then the system begins its journey away from the martial and more towards the art. The whole process becomes academic.

Some arts get more of a reputation than others for being abstract and distanced from combat efficiency. However, there isn't a popular martial art that hasn't gone like this in some way. Even feared and revered no-nonsense tough schools of Muay Thai, Kyokoshinkai Karate, Krav Magra, Wing Chun and Brazilian Jujutsu spend most of their time dealing with the physical side to fighting; refining and developing their techniques for purposes quite different to the reality of being mugged or assaulted. This is not a bad thing. Martial arts aren't all about self-defence. Martial arts can provide us with so much more than this. They can be a source of sport, exercise and artistic development. All are natural healthy desires of the human mind.

However, I would encourage the more serious student to never neglect the true root of their system and be aware of its original purpose. I'd also urge students to look outside their art from time to time in order to look at what they practice from an unusual angle. There are more similarities between the various martial arts than differences. This is dictated by the way they have influenced one another at different times and the simple fact that you can only fight in a limited number of ways. Look at the knife work in the Filipino systems, then examine the elbow techniques of other South East Asian countries, then compare the techniques of Wing Chun. When a person loves something, they become immersed in it. There is nothing wrong with this, but we must always keep in touch with our common sense. I believe this to be the best way to honour the founders of the arts we practice. We must appreciate and understand the different between the practical and the academic.

Jamie Clubb © Copyright 2004

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