- It is a search for Truth
- There is always more to know
- What is known must be known experientially (internalized)
- Your Way, Your Truth, will always be unique
- A Martial Arts style are your training wheels; Ride free
Bruce Lee was famous for being an amazing martial artist and for creating his own martial arts style. While certainly being an impressive practitioner, and actor, his greatest gift in my opinion was the opening of people's perceptions in regards martial arts. The common question, "what is the strongest martial style,” expresses a fundamental misunderstanding of what the martial arts are. Lee's message, and every great warrior would have to agree, was this: There is only one Martial Art, and its purpose is to achieve victory as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Though there are as many ways to express the Art as there are people, there is only one Art. From this perspective, one does not ask, "What is the strongest style?,” but asks instead "How can I more fully embody the Art?”
The road to victory has many paths, and so there arose many schools of thought as to how one might attain this objective. Martial art styles (Karate, Boxing, Sambo, etc), as they are taught, are schools of thought as to how one should express the Art, and the principles of this way of thinking are demonstrated through the techniques that are taught. It should be understood that the techniques are the vehicle by which one can learn the principles of the Art. The techniques are not the Art themselves. For instance, imagine a knee strike as it is taught in Muay Thai. It begins with the chambering of the leg, and then the shooting of the hips and knee straight forward while raising up on the balls of the feet with the standing leg. From this one technique various martial principles can be observed that then can be applied elsewhere in other techniques in the style. Being able to retain poise while shooting the hips forward to attack with the legs is a core skill of all kicks in Muay Thai, which are known for their ability to generate power. The principles of balance to retain poise, and the power generating ability of the hips are not exclusive to Muay Thai but are universal to all styles. What we see in Muay Thai is an emphasis on kicking power and speed at the expense of the ability strike with the hands. There is nothing "wrong" with this prioritization. There is nothing particularly "right" about it either. What defines the "rightness" of a technique is its ability to achieve the objective of the Art, in that particular moment. It doesn't matter how one comes to the conclusion that one should throw a powerful leg kick to prevent chase from an attacker, only that it is done, and you escape. What matters most in that scenario is HOW one can throw a powerful leg kick that can prevent chase, not what style has the best kicks. From this example one can begin to understand Bruce Lee's understanding of the Art. It is essentially a search for the Truth.
Once you understand that to become a true martial artist you must also be a seeker of truth then one can begin their studies of the Art with the most productive of mindsets. "There is always more to know.” A martial arts style, ideally, should give a practitioner a strong foundation in martial principles with which to reference and continue one's learning. For example my first formal introduction to the Art was through German Longsword fencing (Kundesfechten). Contained within this style were the concepts of the three timings of combat: Vor, Indes, and Nach or Before, During, and After. All techniques, to be effective, have to be done at the correct time and place. And one must choose whether one should strike before the foe, during the foe's action, or after when the foe has committed. This accounts for ALL possible timings for any technique at any particular moment. Once one understand this one can then understand another teaching of the style, "Set upon your foe, such that he must look to his own defense and not offend you. Do not relent until he has fallen.” These precepts of Kundesfecten are teaching you to acknowledge that every single moment in time spent engaging with the foe should be filled with you attacking your foe in such a way that prevents retaliation until they are defeated.
This understanding is in keeping with the objective of the Art. To defeat the foe as quickly and as efficiently as possible. This mentality leaves room for infinite growth in the Art. Implied is the need to refine our techniques as much as possible for efficiency but also to be open in our thinking so that we can choose the right technique for the moment. This requires constant practice, and a constant striving to improve. And this same mentality can also be used to inform one's study in other styles of fighting. Boxing, in my opinion, teaches some of the most effective striking with fists in any style, but I think it suffers greatly from not allowing the use of elbows and hand trapping. Many opportunities are wasted when one cannot control the limbs of a foe or throw elbows once in close. Boxing, as a style, is restricted necessarily to retain its function as a sport, but for those looking to study the Art more fully, Boxing can be an excellent teacher. Lessons learned here can be expanded upon, gaps in available responses can be filled and incorporated into one's own unique style, the sum total of one's martial knowledge. This is the individual's unique expression of the Art.
Everyone's body is different, we all have varying physiques and capabilities. On top of that we have our own unique personalities. These are crucial determining factors that will dictate a fighter's own unique style. The saying, "What's good for me may be bad for thee", should be internalized by every martial artist. It's not enough to learn all the moves of a martial arts school, once one learns the techniques they should internalize the lessons contained therein. And once the lessons are internalized one no longer needs a school to direct one's further education. Think of a martial discipline, like karate for instance, as training wheels for the martial artist. While learning karate, you learn about your own body, its strengths and weaknesses. You learn measure, and timing. You learn what it means to fight. By this time you would have developed many preferences in the techniques and strategies that you employ while sparring. Though you fight in the "Karate" style you don't fight like your other training partners, or like your teacher. You fight like you. You may find that your athleticism allows you to overwhelm your foes with a barrage of fast attacks, and you use this advantage to apply unrelenting pressure on your foe. Or maybe you prefer to take things slow, and bait your opponent into attacking so you can execute grappling.
Regardless of who you are, you will naturally employ techniques in keeping with your strengths and preferences and shy away from techniques that cause you difficulty. This is natural. Now that you know the fundamentals of the Art you are free to study any other style and incorporate the lessons that are most useful to you. The rest can be safely discarded. How you choose to express the Art is your personal Truth. There can be no ultimate style, there can only be one's utmost and truest expression of the Art. And this "ultimate style" is within all of us. Through dedicated studying and training of as much martial knowledge as possible, we unlock this potential within ourselves. Don't be restrained in your thinking of the Art. There is only one Art, but there are as many expressions of the Art as there are people in the world.
Strive for Excellence in all things, The Dread Knight