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Swords or fists?

May 17, 2018

When does a martial art become a recreation of the past? Something akin to reinactment and re-imagining? The answer is, when it teaches weapons. Before I continue I’d like to qualify this by stating that learning a sword-based art has its place. Essentially you are learning the techniques for fun and historical interest, not for self-defence. So, if you have an interest in hilt weapons, by all means learn some Kendo, Aiaido, Bushido. Learn some fenceing or join a historical reinactment society. Personally, I have a passion for swords and have a small but interesting collection. As part of my journey of knowledge and discovery I’ve learned some Kendo and European Fenceing. But let’s move on and discuss my original statement.

As a case study we’ll take two martial arts systems I am very familiar with; namely Lau Gar Kung-Fu and Judo. In Judo you learn to throw, incapacitate, grapple, you learn to choke and lock joints. You learn techniques both standing-up and on the ground. These techniques can be used for both self defence and sport. After enough time, dedication and application, you will have developed enough skill, fitness, strength and technique to enable you to feel a degree of confidence in a confrontation, on or off the mat.

Let’s look at the Kung Fu example. Kung Fu teaches many valuable techniques at close and mid-range. Striking with the hand, the palm, the fingers, the fist. Kicking, and targetting at close range. With enough dedication you can learn to deliver blows quickly, efficiently and powerfuly, enabling you to both spar, fight and defend yourself. Utilising the balance of the centre line, Kung Fu has respected and valuable techniques. However… When you reach a certain stage in your learning; you learn the Butterfly knives, the staff and the Broadsword. Now, Butterfly knives are a defensive weafon to be used to defend against swords. The staff is the weapon of the peasant, used to attack and defend against would-be invaders, and the sword is a weapon utilised by the fudal overlords in ancient China. From a historical point of view, this is all very sweet, but in the modern context it’s an utter waste of time. There is absolutely no point in spending years perfecting your form and technique, only to have valuable time and resources taken away from unarmed combat, and put into what is essentially pointless roleplay.

In today’s world’ nobody needs to learn how to handle a sword or a staff. Nobody is allowed to carry such weapons, unless you have a license and they are in a bag. Unless your aim is’ to learn pretty kata, waving your sword around like a rhythmic gymnast on a drug-fuelled revery, I really can’t see the point. Use your time to make yourself strong, use your training to improve your strikes, your grappling, your throws, don’t use it to enter into a pseudo fantasy.

Let’s look at one more thing. Aikedo is a martial art that takes a high degree of motivation and dedication. At the novice level it is largely ineffective, earning scorn from those who worship at the alter of Brazillian Jojitsu and MMA. Aikedo takes a long time and many hours of practice before it bears fruit. Done well, it can be effective and even mesmorizing. But, why do some forms of Aikedo teach weapons? Ok, let’s rewind. Aikedo is a throw-back. It’s genesis was in the battlefields of Japan, developing from the need to survive again a sword, or to survive when you lose your own sword. So, essentially, in the modern context its application is questionable. However, some schools of Aikedo have evolved and many of the techniques are powerful and devastating. But given that it takes such a long time to learn, I don’t understand why students are asked to go off task and learn how to wave bits of wood and steel about. Surely, given the intricate ballet of enertia, force and momentum that needs to be mastered, using weapons is counter intuitive.

So,’ I suggest that weapons training in what essentially is unarmed combat is fantastical, redundant and pointless. I think that it is no more than roleplay. I think that the time spent on how to defend against a mythical attack, should be better spent on developing the core of the form- the unarmed combat. After all, would you ask a boxer in the middle of his training to learn to lob a spear at a punch bag? Off course not. Why? Because firstly it’s ridiculous, secondly its pointless, and thirdly, nobody is ever going to lob a spear at either him, or you.

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