FIT TO FIGHT
I admit that’s a title that needs some explaining. It may sound like an odd label for an analysis of Western combat, but I can think of no better way to UHIHU WR ZKDW ZH GR DV HQWKXVLDVWV IRU :HVWHUQ ZD\V RI ƘJKWLQJ
ever wonder why eastern martial arts are so popular while western martial arts aren't? mark hatmaker believes he knows why, and it's all about lineage and tradition.
Eastern arts, for the most part, have a built-in hierarchy of adherence to lineage and tradition. In other words, “My master was taught by this master, and he was taught by …” and so on. Don’t get me wrong! Direct lineage can be an excellent index of quality information transference, but it isn’t a guarantee of excellence. WESTERN COMBAT ARTS have less of a grounding in lineage. Oh, it’s out there, but it’s just not as dogmatic in most cases. It can be speculated that this obliviousness to lineage — not disregard for it — in the United States is rooted in the concept of the self-made man/Yankee ingenuity/fierce independence that this nation fostered in its early years.
We can see evidence of this notion in our frontier wrestlers and pugilists, people who learned their trade via the bumps and bruises that came from impromptu friendly (and unfriendly) matches as opposed to journeys to temples and pilgrimages to a guru’s hermitage. Our early fighters would hone their fight science by trial and error and by self-study, the less-pompous word for autodidacticism. We have numerous examples of these self-guided scrappers in action, including John L. Sullivan honing his skills in pickup matches and Ed “Strangler” Lewis trying out holds he learned from a guide written by Evan “Strangler” Lewis.
We also can credit the fact that many Western arts fell into disfavor — like when real pro wrestling went fake. Further, many, including a number of sword styles, faded from common use altogether. Thus were lineages busted in the West.
Whatever the reasons for this lack of emphasis on lineage, it hasn’t staunched the flow of solid information. In fact, it may be a boon for the Western arts. The Eastern arts often have a readily acces- sible and long line of tradition to draw from, but this very characteristic can stifle experimentation. Western arts, with their less-clear delineations, force many practitioners to experiment with concepts, ideas, tactics and techniques because nothing is handed down on a silver platter. Again, this is not to say that all Eastern arts fall outside this experimental category, but it’s far more common to find experimentation in the Western methods. ESSENTIALLY, all martial artists are autodidacts. We are all self-taught. Whether we learn at the feet of a guru or from a DVD, it’s the practitioners who choose to take the information and make of it what they can. Autodidacticism seems to exist to a greater degree in Western combat artists because shallow lineages often call for exploration. This exploration leads to a form of combat archeology in which students devour every book, DVD and manual they can lay hands on. They scour any and all resources, whether that means studying reproductions of old woodcuts, peering at photographs of wrestling postures cut into the rock tombs at Beni Hassan, reading the latest boxing manual or popping in a new DVD.
Autodidacts are, in this sense, martial arts archeologists as they attempt to piece together obscure or forgotten ideas and reassemble them. Only then do they synthesize those ideas in a manner that’s pertinent and valuable to their life. TODAY’S METHODS of archeology and autodidacticism can, in a sense, be called a direct lineage to that spirit of Yankee individualism that fired many of our wrestling, boxing and Westerncombat forerunners. Today’s archeologists have available media and technologies that were undreamed of a mere 30 years ago, let alone a century ago. It’s their never-ending thirst for knowledge that makes the diligent hard-training, cyberliterate autodidacts of today the direct lineal products of men such as Ed “Strangler” Lewis deciphering that Evan Lewis booklet 100 years ago.
It’s a grand tradition, one we should all be proud to be a part of. I know I am.