Starting Your Own Style

Master Joe Tan (left) and GM Vasquez

Kuntawman has another thought-provoking post over at Filipino Fighting Secrets Live.

“Martial artists seem to think that there is something wrong with creating one’s own style, as if every art we have today never had a founder.”

For a long time I have been opposed to starting my own system, primarily because of the abuses, and the proliferation of crap out there.

The first problem is people starting styles without sufficient background. Guys who simply don’t have the training and the background try to create their own styles, and the result is often a travesty. Part of this is the martial arts fantasy trip in which somebody imagines he is the next Bruce Lee, ignoring Bruce Lee’s maniacal training and voracious reading.

I’m reminded of the local escape artist who imagined he was the next Houdini. The reality was that he was totally ignorant of the huge amounts of practice, research, and physical conditioning that made Houdini the success he was. The local guy was a lazy fantasist, who was unaware of just how poor his skills were. He wound up killing himself during a televised escape attempt.

The Masters who have created their own successful styles have paid their dues and devoted years to their craft. The fantasy martial artist has not.

A second problem is additive styles. I have said this before, but some arts just do not go together, like ballet and football. I don’t see how you combine Serrada and Larga Mano. Yes, you can do both, but they are not a coherent whole. GM Giron had a short stick system and a long stick system. The short stick system (with the exception of the abaniko method) was a logical extension, and methodologically consistent with, his larga mano style. I don’t know how you do a long range Serrada style.

When I do espada y daga (stick and knife) or sinawali (two sticks) I am not doing different styles, but wield those weapons in a way that is consistent with the big stick –simplicity, directness, and power.

I saw a guy in one of the martial arts magazines doing a Muay Thai and Tae Kwon Do combination! I’m sorry, but those two styles are mutually exclusive. That you are teaching the two as a combination shows me that you haven’t grasped the essences of the two systems.

Starting a style is not just a matter of being good, but being creative and analytical. GM Vasquez is the most amazing teacher I have ever seen for his ability to analyze a technique, to see counter techniques, and to apply devious principles. He studied under the founder of Tapado, Nono Mamar, but GM Vasquez was able to explain to me how he had modified, adopted and changed techniques, and why those changes were better.

That’s why there are many outstanding professional players who make lousy coaches, and mediocre players who became outstanding coaches. Many people can execute techniques, sometimes very well, but lack the ability to analyze, and to see outside of the box.

For me, the worst reason to start one’s style is the simple wish to be the guy in charge. This really bothers me when guys break off to start their own styles, when there’s nothing different but the name. If you haven’t really added anything to the system or style, then don’t claim your own style.

Next I will talk about good reasons to create one’s style.

Tapado Founder Mamar (left) and Master Joe Tan


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