Monday, 7 December 2015

Martial Art or Craft?

*Originally posted on the FMK blog on the 27th of July, 2015.

Good Day All
I've been thinking of late about the correlation between Arts and Crafts. I was originally led to question the essential differences and similarities between these to closely related groups of practices when some people on this blog (of whom I've forgot) wrote about the Tao or Do and the Jitsu or Jutsu. As I currently interpret it, Tao/Do signifies Artfulness and Jitsu/Jutsu signify Craftsmanship. I am more familiar with the concept and practice of Martial Art and the teachings of Tao than I am with Jitsu or Craft. At first I didn't think Martial Crafts were very prominent until I looked a bit deeper into it. Then I realised that what I consider to be Martial Craft might be more commonly found in our societies than I initially realised. The purpose of this post is to hopefully help people understand the relationship between Martial Art and, the informally recognised Martial Craft. Before I go deeper into the topic, I feel it would be best to transcribe the lexical definitions to better understand the semantics of these two practices.

"1   Art: the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting and sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power: the art of the Renaissance  |  great art is concerned with moral imperfections  |  she studied art in Paris.

Works produced by human creative skill and imagination: his collection of modern art  |  an exhibition of Mexican Art  |  as modifier  :  an art critic.

Creative activity resulting in the production of paintings, drawings or sculpture:  She's good at art.

2 (the arts) the various branches of creative activity such as painting, music, literature and dance: the visual arts:  in sing  |  the art of photography.

3 (arts) subjects of study primarily concerned with the process and products of creativity and social life such as languages, literature and history (as contrasted with scientific or technical subjects): the belief that sciences and arts are incompatible  |  the Faculty of arts.

a skill at doing a specific thing, typically one acquired through practice: the art of conversation."

"1   Craft: an activity involving skill in making things by hand: the craft of bookbinding  |  pewter craft.

* (crafts) work or objects made by hand: the shop sells local crafts.  |  (as modifier craft)  :  a craft fair.

skill in carrying out ones work: a player with plenty of craft.

skill used in deceiving others: her cousin was not equal in guile and evasive craft.

* the members of a skilled profession.

* (the craft)  the brotherhood of Freemasons."

Definitions sourced from the New American Oxford Dictionary (on iPad).                                                                         

According to the definitions in this dictionary, art and craft are similar phenomena. If I were to summarise the relationship between art and craft, I would say that art is more about being self expressive, whereas craft is more so about practicality. To better illustrate this relationship, I've come up with a fictional scenario that I'll share. This requires a bit of imagination so try to visualise it in your head.

Case Study

Bob and Phil earn their incomes by doing city maintenance work. Recently, they were both asked to construct new footpaths on both sides of a street. They agreed to work on one side of the road each. Bob uses large concrete slabs to create his footpath section by section. His footpath is smooth and easy to walk on. Bob prides himself on creating elegant, smooth and practical footpaths. Phil decides to take a different approach. Phil uses smaller slabs of various materials. He wanted to create a footpath that is aesthetically pleasing unique in contrast to other, common, plainer footpaths (such as Bobs). Phil's footpath is designed in such a way, that the combination of how the slabs are shaped and the colour and tone of each section of the footpath for example, reflects how he feels about the cities physical environment and culture. Phil's footpath is just as easy and safe to walk on as Bobs one.

End of Case Study

To summarise this simply, they both produced practical, safe footpaths for the people of the city to enjoy. For Bob and Phill to get this far, a certain degree of skill and dedication was required. This is craft. Bob stopped there, but Phil took it further. In addition to being safe and practical, Phill saw opportunity to express himself. He designed the footpath so that it would be an illustration of his spiritual relationship with the city. This is art. Art most often builds on craft. A craftsman may have constructed a functional vase, and an artist may have painted it. Art and craft are a similar phenomenon and the line that differentiates the two is often blurry, partially due to it often being in different contexts. The martial practices are not an exception to this. Now we must apply this concept to our favourite practices of discussion - combative physical activities.

Martial Art today is marketed to us as stylistic products. The practice if it is commonly laid out in systematic formats. Someone might join a Aikido school for example. He/she will be told to follow a curriculum. Morihei Ueshiba (1883 - 1969) gathered and fine tuned the content of Aikido would have been very creative to formulate the expression. Therefore, Aikido was his created expression, his art. Generations later what is Aikido to the practitioner? Art or Craft? Allegedly the student will be learning practical skills for self defence. The practical application is the fundamental element of craft. The Aikido student will also be practicing the self defence in a very unique, stylistic way. This is because it is Morihei Ueshiba's expression. The practitioner is expressing an art, but is it true to his/her inner self? In most cases that I can think of, the answer is no. The practitioner is not expressing something from his/her inner self, he/she is expressing a style, someone else's expression. But he/she is still expressing, which is half of what produces pure art. The other half is the self, which is largely absent. So in a sense it is art, but not completely. Does this mean the Aikido practitioner is simply a craftsman? This is where the line between Martial Art and Craft becomes incredibly blurry. It is not entirely art, nor is it entirely craft. Because the practice of a system such as Aikido goes beyond being a practical skill set (craft), I believe that, although it isn't true art when being practiced by the student because it's not coming from the student intrinsically, it is closer to art than craft because it's still an expression with a degree of creativity.

Based on this way of viewing the phenomenon in question, it would be plausible to categorise common, communal, systematic expressions including Taekwondo, Hapkido, Tang Soo do, Taekkyeon, Hwa Rang Do, Karate, Judo, Ninjutsu, Kendo and all systems of Kung Fu just to name a few, as art. They were true art to the people who invented of formulated the system, but to everyone else in the world, I do not see how it can be categorised as art that is true to their inner self. It can be an art of which they practice, nothing more. The practitioner can only become a true Martial Artist when he/she chooses to express his or herself in addition too or instead of a system. If true Martial Art were to be practiced by everyone on this planet, there would be approximately seven billion styles/unique expressions.

What of Martial Crafts in our Western societies? Let's look at Boxing as an example. Boxing is a comprehensive system of punching. It is commonly practiced for competitive purposes around the world. However, the punches of boxing are very applicable to self defence. Self defence is another reason as to why people might take up Boxing. However, is there the element of artistic creativity? Most often the answer would be 'no'. For the wide spread communal practice of Boxing, the aim is to be proficient in self defence and/or competition, not to be self expressive in an artistic way. That's not to say that an individual can't learn the martial techniques of Boxing and incorporate them into his/her own expression. A Martial Craft such as Boxing can be a great form of supplementation towards one's individual expression of Martial Art. Another System that I would consider to be a Martial Craft is Krav Mega, a system that emphasises practicality and efficiency. On a communal level, it isn't a practice of creative self expression. It is a skill set developed purely for the purpose of survival. Krav Mega is a prime example of what I consider to be a Martial Craft.

I myself find this to be a very confusing topic. It has been sitting in the back of my mind for the past 11 months of so. I will now state it all as simply as I currently can. Now, think of a spectrum. A Martial Craft is a skill set of techniques accumulated for the soul purpose of having practical application in a life threatening situation. A Martial Craft such as Boxing and Krav Mega are located on the left end of the spectrum. In the middle of the spectrum is Martial Art. Martial Arts are skill sets of combative techniques that have the added elements of creativity end expressiveness. Common examples of this are Taekwondo, Karate and Kung Fu systems such as Wing Chun and Hung Garr. On the right end of the spectrum is true Martial Art. True Martial Art is not normally community based. It is practiced on an individual level. It is not just expressive, it is self expressive, which means the practitioner is transcribing his emotions into martial techniques, peacefully. By "peacefully" I mean that no physical, mental or emotional harm comes to the practitioner and/or anyone else as a result of the practice. True art is an honest expression coming from within ones soul. True Martial Art is an honest expression coming from within ones soul, physically expressed with combative techniques. Bruce Lee was an example of someone who practiced true Martial Art. Some people who I consider to be practitioners of True Martial Art today include Freddie Lee and No Limit Technique.

In my opinion, Martial Crafts, Martial Arts and True Martial Art are all fantastic. If you are looking for something to practice, weather you decide to take up what I consider to be a Martial Craft or a Martial Art, it doesn't really matter. Both have their benefits. I do encourage you to use what you learn from studying an art or craft system, and integrate the useful content into your own creative expression. Just as Bruce Lee famously stated; "Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own". I encourage you to walk the path of a true Martial Artist. This should empower you to be the best possible version of yourself that can be discovered.

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Thank You for Reading

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