Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pencak Silat and the Future of Martial Arts

I'm not a prophet. Nor am I a futurist. I'm not even particularly interested in that type of thing but I have some thoughts to post as I have been contemplating the past 10 years of martial arts. Here is one of those thoughts:

Martial arts have fascinated me for many years. More to the point, combat effectiveness in the martial arts has fascinated me¬—the idea that a person could defend themselves against all attackers and escape unharmed—better yet, that they would even do it easily!

That idea started me on a journey through many different martial arts from various styles of kung-fu, judo, aikido, wrestling, boxing, various styles of weapons fighting and ultimately to pencak silat. My martial studies have included most major regions where martial arts are found—including China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Philippines, United States and South America.

A bulk of my time has been spent teaching what I’ve learned along the way and re-investing what I’ve earned into learning more. As a result of this process I’ve had the opportunity to train with many great martial artists (probably all of which are unrecognized) mostly by travelling to study from them, sometimes from bringing them to me. That said I’ve had a few teachers who have impacted me enough to stay with them for a time—some taught me a detail at just the right time and that’s all that was needed for the progression to continue.

What’s more important than anything has been the pursuit. Not giving up when answers weren’t apparent. Not quitting when it wasn’t cheap or easy or fun. Not moving to a new teacher just because life got tough or because I got bored.

It has been taking what was given to me and working it, working it some more, then working it more until it’s deeper value reared up. That process taught me HOW to learn and keep learning. It’s not spoon-fed—it’s from sweat. My very first long-term teacher taught me that.

The martial arts in the U.S. are at a change point (has been for a little while I think). Few people want to really devote to a thing for long. They are looking for short answers, cliff notes, even guaranteed success. Looking for answers without the responsibility. (A little secret for you—that little hunt will take your whole life and you’ll be lying on your death-bed empty handed.)

The nature of this type of mentality means that 2-3 years is a long time student. Within that amount of time you’ve got to be able to teach the essence of your art and move a person through from A-Z. Systems of the near future at least, have a few possibilities for success. They must be extremely small and easy to learn. Or they must be dynamic and ever-changing so they appear to re-invent themselves from time to time to keep the interest of those that are studying.

IMO, long-term study (a commitment of more than a few years) is a thing of the past. Particularly for the new generation of martial artists working their way up the ranks today, at least for the foreseeable future. Those who do opt for long-term study will benefit from it but there aren’t many willing. Especially when it comes to self-determined study where your primary teacher is you and the feedback you get from doing—rather than imitating. The older students amongst us will continue to be okay with longer-term study but will probably also enjoy the results based training that is upon them as well. This will ultimately usher in a new era of martial arts… and the race is on.