An Introduction to Four Varieties of Martial Arts
Topic: Martial Arts
Author: Laura Colussi
Instructor: Craig Holmes
Martial Arts vary from country to country as well as from age to age. Each art has its own unique techniques and perspectives on how a martial artist is to pursue their training. Aikido, Ji Ying Jow Fann Tzi Mun, Kendo and Jun Fan Gung Fu-Jeet Kune Do are but few examples of how martial arts can be so different from one another yet share some commonalities.
Aikido is a modern Japanese martial art that was founded and developed by Morihei Ueshiba, who was also known as O Sensei or Great Teacher, in the early to mid 20th century. After rejecting other possible titles for his art, Ueshiba decided on the name Aikido in 1942. Each syllable of Aikido carries its own meaning: ai, meaning harmony, ki meaning spirit and do meaning the way or the path. Therefore, when loosely translated, Aikido means "A Way of Harmonizing with the Universal Spirit." ("Aikido: Translation of the Word")
Morehei Ueshiba was born in Japan on December 14, 1883 into a violent culture of political persecution. "As a boy, he often saw local thugs beat up his father for political reasons." (Clausen) Watching the savage beatings that his father had to endure instilled a need for vengeance in the young Ueshiba. He decided that he would learn to defend himself so that he would not be as helpless as his father was to the frequent brutal beatings. "He set out to make himself strong so that he could take revenge. He devoted himself to hard physical conditioning and eventually to the practice of martial arts, receiving certificates of mastery in several styles of jujitsu, fencing and spear fighting." (Clausen)
As Ueshiba matured, he developed remarkable physical abilities. Also, he was more than proficient in the martial arts that he studied. However, he was no longer satisfied with merely seeking revenge for his father's mistreatment at the hands of criminals. Where Ueshiba thought his years of training would give him the satisfaction of avenging his father, instead he found only emptiness. Subsequently, he felt a compelling need to find more to life than simply combat. "He began delving into religions in hopes of finding a deeper significance to life, all the while continuing to pursue his studies of budo, or the martial arts." (Clausen) Religious and political influences began to seep into Ueshiba's training, thus developing a new style of martial arts. "By combining his martial training with this religious and political ideologies, he created the modern martial art of Aikido." (Clausen)
Physically, Aikido is derived from Daito Ryu Aikijutsu, for its throws and joint locks, kenjutsu, which is Japanese fencing, and Yarijutsu, which is Japanese spear fighting. ("A Short History of Aikido") The main religious influence of Aikido is Omotokyo, also known as the "new religion." Omotokyo became responsible for providing the ki or spirit in Aikido. As a result, "Ueshiba came to see his Aikido as rooted less in techniques for achieving physical domination over others than in attempting to cultivate a `spirit of loving protection for all things'."("Japanese Styles")
Aikido is a soft martial art that does not focus on kicking and punching, rather it "emphasizes evasion and neutralizing forceful attacks by circular/spiral redirection of their force."("Japanese Styles") The main goal of Aikido is not to attack force with force, but to use an opponent's energy against him or herself through various methods of redirection. Therefore positioning and timing are integral in practicing the art of Aikido rather than relying on strength and brute force:
The primary strategic foundations of aikido are: moving into a position off the line of attack, seizing control of the attacker's balance by means of leverage and timing, and applying a throw, pin, or other sort of immobilization
(such as a wrist/arm lock). ("Japanese Styles")
Completely different from Aikido is a form of Chinese Kung Fu known as Ji Ying Jow Fann Tzi Mun, that when translated means "Eagle Claw Somersault Boxing System."("Bak Shaolin Eagle Claw History") Eagle Claw is an ancient martial art that was developed by General Yao Fai, sometimes spelt Yui Feh, in the early 1100's. Fai (1103-1141) was born in Yunhe Village in the province of Xianghou China. He was famous for his exploits on the battlefield and was known as a war hero for his successful opposition to the Jin forces that invaded China during the Northern Song Dynasty. Fai developed the Eagle Claw system after observing how eagles fought. He noted that the astute birds seemed to know the exact time when to attack and when to retreat thus making them very talented predators with few successful enemies. (Stricklin and Lau) "Taking the movements of the eagle, Yui Feh developed kung fu fighting techniques that incorporated the attack and retreat movements of the eagle. Thus the Eagle Claw system was born." (Stricklin and Lau)
Eagle claw, like other martial arts, was developed from combining past combative styles with new ideas. Fai was greatly influenced by Shaolin Kung Fu, which was the standard for Kung Fu at this time. However, although influenced by Shaolin, Fai drew techniques from other important sources, namely: "The 108 Fighting Techniques" ("Bak Shaolin Eagle Claw History"), that were taught to him by Master Zhou Dong. "The 108 Fighting Techniques...were composed of a system of Chin-Na Hand Strategies which were refined and perfected by Yao Fai. These techniques were eventually incorporated into the Eagle Claw system through a long line of descendants."("Bak Shaolin Eagle Claw") Chin-Na is a form of Chinese grappling that employs joint locks, destructs and pressure point strikes. It was the combination of Chin-Na with the imitation of Eagle fighting that created the unique martial art called Eagle Claw. Although Fai is responsible for the origin of eagle claw, the "unification of styles was created by a Shaolin Monk by the name of Lai Chin, who was an accomplished Master of the Fann Tzi system and learned Eagle Claw, then later combined the two." ("Bak Shaolin Eagle Claw")
Eagle Claw moves from hard (yang) elements to soft (ying) elements throughout its execution. Like a fighting eagle, Ji Ying Jow Fann Tzi Mun depends on striking your opponent at precisely the right moment, in precisely the right location. As a result, timing and accuracy are fundamental in the Eagle Claw system. The combination of pressure point attacks with aggressive kicking techniques "makes this system a very complex and vicious form of self-defense." ("Bak Shaolin Eagle Claw") In order to maximize the effectiveness of Eagle Claw, exacting knowledge of human anatomy is necessary in order to properly locate press point strikes. Also, "footwork is also a very important part of Eagle Claw training, as all techniques are done with maximum speed and power." ("Bak Shaolin Eagle Claw") In appearance, Eagle Claw can be quite graceful but within the fluent motions are usually two or three vicious strikes that can either weaken or immobilize an opponent through the stimulation of pressure points or through joint manipulation:
There is a caginess to Eagle Claw; the power is not direct. Grab becomes pull becomes a simultaneous push, jugular grab and throw. Eagle Claw tries to make its opponent forget where he came from and where he wanted to go. It distracts and then hits where and when the opponent is not looking.
This element of relying on wits and technique instead of strength to defeat an opponent particularly appeals to those who are neither large nor strong. ("Bak Shaolin Eagle Claw")
Martial arts do not only involve empty-handed combat. Some arts, like Kendo, involve weapons training. When translated, Kendo literally means the way of the sword. Kendo is "a traditional Japanese style of fencing with 2 handed wooden swords." ("Kendo") It is believed that the art of wooden sword fighting in Japan dates as far back as 450 AD, when it was first mentioned in ancient Japanese chronicles. Due to the age of the art of wooden sword fighting, it is impossible to attribute the development of Kendo to any one individual. Instead, it is believed that Kendo is derived from the techniques used by the Samurai, who were sword-fighting warriors during Japan's feudal age. In the 1600's, Japan unified and sword fighting, as a means of combat, was no longer needed. As a result, the Samurai began to develop their sword techniques as a "means of cultivating discipline, patience, and for building character."("Kendo") Subsequently, fighting with wooden swords became more feasible than fighting with steel swords, since actually killing your opponent was no longer the goal of sword fighting.
Later, in the 1700's, bamboo and specialized armor were made so that Kendo participants could compete in realistic fencing competitions with little risk of injury. Chuta Nakankshi is credited with creating much of the equipment needed to participate in Kendo. "Chuta invented the dummy sword and the dummy [armor] for practice, which kendo practitioners now equip themselves with."(Horii) Amongst the equipment and pieces of armor invented by Nakankshi are: the kote or fencing gloves, the shinai or dummy sword, the do or chest protector, the tare or waistband, the men or face mask, the hakama or split skirt pants and finally, the keikoga or jacket. The stylized look created by Nakankshi for kendoka or students of Kendo is still worn today.
Since Kendo is a weapons art, it is practiced at long range. In tournaments, the goal of Kendo is to inflict blows upon your opponent in designated scoring areas before they can land the same blows upon you. Kendo, since it inception, has remained popular as a martial art in Japan. Once a martial art reserved only for the upper class Samurai ranks, Kendo later became a compulsory subject in all Japanese schools. Currently, Kendo is still a very popular form of martial art to practice, not only in Japan but all over the world as well.
Finally, there is the art of Jun Fan Gung Fu-Jeet Kune Do, that is most famous for its founder and developer Bruce Lee. Jeet Kune Do is considered to be one of the most revolutionary martial arts ever developed in that it sought to liberate its practitioners from the ideas of the past. It is not a specific art but instead a "conglomeration of a variety of martial art systems blended together. It also places emphasis on developing a philosophy from the art."(Holmes) Jeet Kune Do's eclectic nature combined with it philosophical approach intends to guide its students to their own personal form of martial arts instead of forcing rigid and uniform elements equally upon all of its practitioners. Therefore, Jeet Kune Do is unique to each of its participants because, as a student of Jeet Kune Do, you use only what is most effective for you. Unfortunately, Bruce Lee died before he was able to see the full development of his art. As a result, Jeet Kune Do, as conceived by Bruce Lee, has remained shrouded in mystery. No one knows for sure what Lee's art would have become if he had been able to complete his work before his untimely death in 1973 at the age of 32. Instead of guessing at Lee's intentions for his martial art, it is more valuable to examine that which Lee left behind as fact. For instance, "Lee discovered a set of universal principles that can be found in any art or any combination of arts. It is the perfect union of strategic principles, with the arts that best serve to actualize the intent of the principles, that defines JKD."(Beasley, p. 19) The six principles to which Lee is referring to are as follows:
Multicultural arts: "Having no way as a way," means that one must recognize that no one country has a monopoly on knowledge.
Range: Combat exists within four ranges. By evaluating each art in terms of its effectiveness at one or more ranges, we tend to free ourselves from the obvious ethnocentrism associated with most styles.
Five ways of attack: There are five methods of offensively approaching an opponent. All attacks fit into one of the five ways.
Individual and instructor preference: The often-used phrase, "My truth is not your truth," stems from this principle.
Environment: The environment often dictates the skill to be employed. The boxer whose arms are bound or the kicker who attempts his techniques on ice will experience this principle first hand.
Absorb what is useful: Once a student understands and can incorporate the first five principles, then the sixth principle takes on new meaning. (Beasley, p. 19)
By examining each of these above principles it is easier to understand the enigma that is known as Jun Fan Gung Fu-Jeet Kune Do.
First, in order to understand the multicultural principle of Jun Fan Gung Fu-Jeet Kune Do, it is necessary to break it down into its various parts and translate into English for easier understanding. Jun Fan is simply Bruce Lee's name in Chinese, thus when Jeet Kune Do is prefaced with Jun Fan it refers specifically to Bruce Lee's personal system, not those that were developed after his death. Gung Fu, more commonly known as Kung Fu, means hard work. Finally, Jeet Kune Do means "the way of the intercepting fist."("Jeet Kune Do Encyclopedia") When choosing a name for his art, his Wing Chun training heavily influenced Lee. Wing Chun is a fighting system that deals specifically with trapping or close range fighting, thus employing many different types of interceptions. The narrow focus of Wing Chun may have been the catalyst for Bruce Lee's idea to develop a new martial art that would be effective not only at close range but at any and all ranges. Consequently, Lee studied many different martial arts and fighting systems and adopted only those things that were most effective, efficient and logical for his new multicultural art of Jeet Kune Do. "Some of the disciplines and fighting systems used by Bruce Lee to innovate Jeet Kune Do [were] Western boxing, Fencing, Savate, Judo, Gung Fu, Wrestling and Wing Chun."(Holmes)
As stated before, key to the development of Jun Fan Gung Fu-Jeet Kune Do is the principle of fighting ranges. Lee felt it was essential for martial artists to be proficient at all four of the empty handed ranges, including kicking, punching, trapping and wrestling. To be lacking in any of these four ranges would leave a person vulnerable to opponents and certainly not fully able to defend or attack effectively. What Lee wanted to accomplish with his development of Jeet Kune Do was a total fighting system that could be used under any circumstances. By definition, if a particular move or technique proved to be ineffective, then it was no longer part of the system for that particular student of Jeet Kune Do.
When studying various types of fighting, Lee found many weaknesses that could be exploited by a total fighting system. Of Western Boxing, which can only be fought at punching range with some very restricted close range fighting, Lee stated that it "is too over-daring because of restrictions on illegal and `unfair' tactics."(Lee, p. 71) As a result, without the rules and restrictions of the sport of boxing, boxers would be extremely vulnerable to trapping, kicking and grappling techniques simply because they never would have competed with such weapons. In other words, boxers would be easily exploited because of their lack of an effective defence against counters they have never experienced such as destructs or joint manipulation. In comparison to boxing, Lee found that traditional Asian Martial Arts tended too be over-protective. "In addition, the no-contact practice of stopping the attacks several inches in front of the target in the Oriental martial arts creates a habitual false sense of distance."(Lee, p. 71) Similarly, Lee found both Western Boxing and Traditional Martial Arts patently unrealistic in their form. Yet he abandoned neither of these fighting systems. Instead, he took the most effective tools from both and combined them and others into his own total fighting system, a system that is known for its realism and effectiveness on any field of battle, at any distance.
Also imperative to Jun Fan Gung Fu-Jeet Kune Do is the principle and utilization of the five angles of attack which are "direct, indirect, combination, immobilization and rhythm-disruption attacks."(Beasley, p.59) A direct attack is a single offensive move that travels straight to its target such a lead jab to the face or front kick to the abdomen. An indirect attack intends to first fool the opponent into believing that a certain technique will be used but when it is executed it is a fake that leads to a different move. An example of an indirect attack would be a fake front kick low, drawing the defences of the opponent down, which turns into a high roundhouse kick to the head that would be an open target. Combination attacks are any series of offensive moves strung together such as jab cross, lead to reverse elbow or a sidekick to a turning back kick. Immobilization attacks use an opponent's offence against him or herself in order to render him or her motionless through techniques such as arm bars and leg locks. Finally, rhythm-disruption attacks are executed with stuttered or broken rhythm thereby confounding your opponents defence because they are unaware as to when the attack will actually hit. By using all five of the ranges of attack, Lee felt that he could create a total fighting system that could attack and counter attack more effectively than any other system before it.
The fourth principle of Jeet Kune Do, individual and instructor preference, speaks directly to the philosophical nature of Bruce Lee's art. That which works for one person may not work for another, depending on age, body type and physical ability. For Jeet Kune Do practitioners, you use that which works for you, though it may differ from what works for your instructor. It is therefore essential that "we should each seek to identify our personal preferences based on variety and then focus our skills in preferred and functional areas."(Beasley, p. 60) Remembering, of course, that though you may have preferences, you must not rigidly follow a set form. A successful fighter must, in his or her preferences, still be able to effectively cover all four ranges of combat as well as utilizing the five angles of attack in order to be best prepare for any eventuality.
Environment is the fifth principle to which Lee refers. Lee felt that truly skilled total fighters must take in account the environment in which they are fighting in order to make the correct decisions as to which techniques would be most effective. For example, kicking techniques should be abandoned for a more reasonable attack on a frozen surface because of the unsure footing. As well, punching, while confined to a small space such as a phone booth, would not be as feasible as using elbows, knees and trapping techniques. Where previous martial arts and fighting systems tended to be confined to rings, mats or dojos, Jeet Kune Do asked the pertinent question "but what if...".
The last principle, absorb what is useful, again refers to the more philosophical aspects of Jeet Kune Do:
To understand Jeet Kune Do, you must prepare yourself for a different ways of viewing the martial arts. First, seek the truth in combat. Experience and master the truth at each fighting range. Then, forgetting the carrier of the truth (the art), dissolve the attachment with any one art or way. To float in totality, we must assume formlessness. To repose in the nothing, we simply answer the attack. When you can use no art as your art, you become Jeet Kune Do-the way of no way. (Beasley)
This is perhaps the most difficult principle developed by Bruce Lee. The idea that the art is to be abandoned and stripped away to simply action and reaction once it has been learned, is the most liberating and unique idea in Jeet Kune Do. You are not actually practicing Jeet Kune Do but instead you are Jeet Kune Do. For every attack, you have an appropriate defence and counter attack, not because you are following a set form but because you know from your experience that your counter will work. "JKD is not simply a matter of joining this organization or that one, or studying a particular art with a certain instructor. JKD is the freedom to act, the knowledge to respond (like an echo), and the ability to discover (the cause of our ignorance)."(Beasley) Bruce Lee himself best defined the philosophy of Jeet Kune Do by comparing it, along with all other fighting systems, to a journey across a river in a boat. Practitioners of other fighting systems see their art as their destination on the opposite side of the river. It is something at which they strive to arrive at and to conquer. Contrarily, Lee saw Jeet Kune Do more as the journey than as the destination. He said, "Jeet Kune Do is like the boat. Once it has been used to get you across the river, it should be discarded."(Beasley, p. 4)
Unfortunately, Lee never lived to see his art fully realized. However, the legacy of Bruce Lee and his Jun Fan-Gung Fu-Jeet Kune Do has changed the world of martial arts forever. In his own words, Lee once said, "Before I studied the art, a punch to me was just a punch, a kick was just a kick. After I'd studied the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick was no longer a kick. Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch, a kick is just a kick."(Lee, p. 70)
The vastness of martial arts can be overwhelming. Different fighting systems cover the globe and are steeped in the rich history of their developers. Similarities and differences abound from system to system providing unique experiences from country to country. Aikido, Ji Ying Jow Fann Tzi Mun, Kendo and Jun Fan Gung Fu-Jeet Kune Do are but a taste of the variety that can be found in the world of martial arts.
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