Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Jack of All Trades, Master of None

Recently a new friend and fellow instructor in the martial arts came to visit our classes at the Roanoke Recreation Center.  Since early November I have gotten to know sensei Oliver and although I have known about him for a couple of years now, I didn't really know him as a friend.  Now I consider him a friend and a good resource and workout partner.  So I felt honored that he was in our area and he asked if he could visit our classes.

Sensei Oliver has studied Okinawa based karate and Kobudo for 30+ years now, primarily under one sensei.  Watching him graciously demonstrate katas for my classes, I was once again taken back to an question I have participated in on different discussion forums on the internet.  That is “Is it better to study one style or many?”  Or is it better being a “Jack of all Trades and Master of None” or a “Master of One”? 

I have basically classified myself as being a “Jack of All Trades”.  Very early in my instruction in the martial arts with my sensei’s blessing I sought out other martial systems.  Which led to me explore and seek out the Filipino martial arts and then Jeet Kune Do Concepts, Wa Do ryu, Thai Boxing, Kobudo, etc. etc. while at the same time keeping Tae Kwon Do as a base or root system.  At sensei Proctor’s dojo I was trained to fight, so bringing in outside techniques or concepts was encouraged.  While kata and basics (kihon) practice was important it was really regulated to my training at the karate classes at SMU or the other commercial dojos, but at sensei Proctor’s private dojo it was primarily about the fight and developing the fighting spirit.

Naturally I gravitated then in my later years towards the combative side of the martial arts continuing my studies with Hock Hochheim and finally settling on Modern Arnis and Kombatan Arnis.  For anyone who has ever seen the Professor Remy Presas in his DVDs or live in person he was all about application with form (or exactness) of technique being secondary.  Even the performance of his anyos (katas) was left open, to the practitioner’s interpretation of the moves.  I really struggled with this aspect of training in his art.  Even today as I teach Modern Arnis or what I call Presas Arnis which is a blend of Modern Arnis and Kombatan Arnis, I’m not a purest because that wasn’t my upbringing.

 Contrast this with sensei Oliver who has studied one primary style under primarily one instructor.  First off sensei Oliver does true karate, not the hybrid XMA gymnastic routines that is prevalent in tournaments today.  I think his katas generally had one or two kicks in them that came up to chest level, contrast this with the roundhouse kicks performed as the student turns in a circle while standing on one foot that is common in today’s competitive torunaments.  Where I tend to flow in my katas, especially my Modern Arnis anyos; sensei Oliver had a sharpness, a crispness, to his kata and yet there is still a noticeable flow to it.  Sensei Oliver had a presence about him as he was doing the kata that made the students see what was happening in the kata even though he was doing forms that they had never seen.  They could visualize what was happening and this was so apparent that when asked what they noticed was different they (my intermediate students) answered how he “engaged a person to the front and then moved back (disengagement)”, about how he “was in the center (“like in a circle”) and moved to engage this person and then turned and faced off another person as he moved around” “your stances are shorter and more upright” and these comments were from 8 and 9 year olds. 

Effortlessly sensei Oliver shifted from doing Pinan Sodan and Godan (Shuri style kata to demonstrate where our katas come from) to katas from Na Ha (Goju ryu style) to show the differences between the types of katas.  Sensei Oliver also then demonstrated sia, kama, and bo kata for our students; although he confided to me he hadn’t done one of the katas for two and half years.  As one of my adult arnis students who also took Okinawan Karate exclaimed to me “That the best Pinan Shodan I have ever seen.”  No one could tell he was pulling a kata from memory to educate our students.

As sensei Oliver finished demonstrating katas for the advanced class he taught our students some simple bunkai from Pinan Goddan, and then he gave a brief but detailed explanation about sinking your center while in Horse (riding) stance and it’s use.  Believe me I was learning as much from the lesson (more so really) as our students.

During the advanced class I explained to my students the difference between sensei Oliver and I, how I strived for effectiveness and application and had earned multiple degrees of black belt rank in different systems and sensei Oliver was a purist and a master of one.  Truly there is no comparison it is like apples and oranges.   Because I am not a purist my students won’t be purists in the sense like sensei Oliver is.  However I stressed to my students the importance of the commitment to excellence of practice and of study.  Even being a “Jack of All Trades” you still can be a master if you strive towards excellence.