Martial Art or Partial Art?

Apogeniks has its own style of martial art too, ‘Kensho-ryu’, which I created about fifteen years ago.

Why create a martial art, when there are so many mainstream forms already?

What I have to say will perhaps be a bit controversial from the mainstream Martial Arts point of view. But my viewpoint is rooted in both historical fact, and also practical experience, so here goes.

Before the 20th century there were no ‘schools’ of martial arts.

These arts were taught – often in secret owing to oppressive laws – by ordinary people. The local carpenter, smith, farmer, fisherman, would finish his day’s work, and then in his back yard, or in a room in his house, he would teach a small group of people the art he had learned from his own teacher. The methods he would use were simple and ingenious, and it is those methods that I have attempted to resuscitate.

The format that we have in most modern martial arts by and large is derived from the 1920s, when the Okinakwan master Funakoshi was invited by the Emperor of Japan to give a demonstration of martial arts. He was so impressed that he asked Funakoshi to develop a programme of training for young Japanese men, to discipline and prepare them for army service.

The formula that came out of this was the ‘drill’ style – lines of students in rows responding to an instructor’s barked out command. By and large techniques were blocks, strikes, kicks and punches. A uniform was created, and an hierarchical belt system. And a competitive arena with which stylised sparring, with a limited range of scoring techniques.

It is obvious what was the point of this – to provide a strong sense of discipline, obedience and fitness for potential soldiers. And this was the form of martial art exported to the West.

Of course there were some exceptions. But the key functions of the various techniques Funakoshi (and his peers) learned and developed in Okinawa were simply left out, or disguised. The ‘real’ meanings of the forms were concealed, and eventually forgotten about even by high level teachers, who continue to practice and teach what has essentially become a cardiovascular and self discipline exercise.

We can also bring the ‘soft’ martial arts under the same spotlight – T’ai Chi for example. What has largely happened in all areas of martial arts is that attention has shifted to the physical movements, the outer form. What is behind those movements is sometimes talked about , but almost always missing.

In recent years, styles have appeared that seek to recover the roots. But (in my humble opinion) there is still a large gap. I hope in this article to explain that gap and what it is.

Now there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this.  Many people have hugely benefited from these activities.  My point is that there is another, and very useful and interesting, missing element.

But first of all, what are martial arts for? Well, one obvious answer is that the purpose is to defend oneself. But this is in a way a precessional side effect. The underlying function of martial arts is rooted in systemic integrity. To put it simply, martial arts training is a type of precision maintenance system. Martial arts training is 95% co-ordination. Co-ordination involves ‘whole being’ action, where everything in one’s being is focused on the movement.  Co-ordination is not merely physical.  It is co-ordinated consciousness.

If you are a student or practitioner of some styles of martial art, you may be familiar with this idea. Although having the idea is far from actually being able to implement it. In co-ordinated action the movement does not arise consciously. It arises by itself, as a ‘pulse’ of aligned whole body activity, without any conscious noticing.

Certain writers have talked about this. In the Tao Te Ching appears the following passage:

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

In Herrigel’s ‘Zen and the Art of Archery’ this idea is explored in considerable depth. The arrow ‘shoots itself’, the archer disappearing at the moment of release.

The notion sounds crazy – and indeed the dialogue in the book between the Master, trying to explain this idea, and the student, desperately trying to implement it, is amusing, frustrating and confusing – perhaps sounding like a load of contradictory gibberish at times.  But the principle is far from gibberish.

The reader will notice by the end of the book that the Student is not the only one struggling. For the Master, despite his comprehensive knowledge and consummate skill, is in difficulties trying to communicate to a student how to implement his understanding.

This problem can be seen in pretty much every book one picks up. We are surrounded by ‘know how’ – information telling us how to do things. But where is the key to translating this information into actual skill? Is it, like Herrigel experienced, a journey of suffering and frustration, practise, practise and more practise, until finally the penny drops?

No, I don’t think so. The practice of Apogeniks repeatedly contradicts this idea.

In my style of Martial Art, Kensho Ryu, the aim is to combine the Apogenik method of changing behaviour, with an effective forum for experimentation in defensive skill. The aim is, given a specific type of attack, for the response to arise by itself as a whole body skill.

Experimentation takes a variety for forms.  But central are the methods orginally practised in Okinawa, and before that in China – the flow drill, and the form.  A flow drill is a two person interaction in which an attack and a defence is practised as a continuous movement. However the Apogenik element is introduced in the practice. Any gap between the desired outcome and the actual experience is instantly dealt with and resolved into changed behaviour.

‘Forms’ – or ‘kata’ as they are called in Japanese – are effectively flow drills with one person removed. “Kata” means “One side”. The function of the form is to enable the student to pay attention to their movement in a different way – in the absence of another person. Many different types of awareness can be addressed in the execution of kata. Speed can be practised as well.  the student is free to experiment in many different ways, with the Apogenik method always present as a mean of digger deeper and changing behaviour.

Together the flow drill and kata ‘ratchet’ each other up. The presence of another person gives something to ‘push against’, which provides feedback about the effect of one’s influence. The absence of another person gives freedom to explore a movement, which allows a more introspective form of experimentation. The learning from the flow drill is taken to the kata. The learning from the kata is taken back to the flow drill.

In changing any behaviour, one critical factor is the intensity of the activity. For example practising a flow drill too fast overwhelms the student into a ‘coping’ strategy. At this point learning stops. In Apogeniks we recognise that learning has to happen beneath the overwhelm threshold. In this zone it is possible to explore, identify and change behaviour. Above the overwhelm threshold all one can do is react.

So this is how Kensho Ryu works. Really what you are doing is learning how to re-educate yourself very quickly. The side effect is that you can also defend yourself against an attack. One of the great values of learning Apogeniks in the context of a physical skill is that the results are very obvious. A sense of weakness suddenly turns to strength, an impossible movement suddenly becomes possible, an unstable posture becomes rooted like a tree.

Perhaps most importantly, we can learn to honour our failures as our best friends. For in learning, it is the observation of what doesn’t work that opens to door to what does work.

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