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III The Martial Arts as a Creative Endeavor
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The Martial Arts as a Creative Endeavor

By Perry Gil S. Mallari

 

I have been artist all my life and I always see things at a different angle. My initiation in the martial arts was solely motivated by survival, but I soon learned there is more to it than the usual physicality and the esoteric. As an artist it satiates my desire for self expression. It is a common credo that the martial path will ultimately lead to self knowledge. Involvement in the martial arts I believe will open up new vistas for the artist as far as creativity is concerned. It can reveal latent inclinations you are not usually aware of.

I have experimented with lots of mediums, both conventional and unorthodox but sans the clutter of gizmos nothing fascinates me more than the concept of expressing myself using my body as the medium. For me, the martial arts is ultimate in this aspect, one I put above dance and other performing arts. Ballet is beautiful all right, but it is what it is, a dance. You know it can't hurt you. A legitimate martial art technique performed as an asthetic expression no matter how beautiful can turn grim and dark when used for real. It has no pretensions and hold back nothing in presenting the two facets of life. That makes the resulting statement pure and unadulterated, a true embodiment of yin and yang.

While pulling off a delicate water color wash or banging at a literary draft till the wee hours of the morning evokes a meditative bliss, martial arts movement at least in the way I practice it, offers a more dynamic kind of exhilaration. Within the staccato popping of sticks and flurry of punches lies a sort of psycho-physical matrix that transcend the duality of thinking and doing. You just flow. The pleasure I derived from executing an explosive sinawali or a straight blast is so intense to the point of being sexual. Its like being in the eye of the storm, there's chaos without and calm within.

Then theres the age-old quandary about artistry versus practicality, of form versus function. If you are talented enough, you can have the best of both worlds. Though Bruce Lee was on the cutting edge on what works for real, he is also a serious artist bent on perfecting his craft both as an actor and as a fight choreographer. With this precept he drew a distinct line between functional and theatrical jeet kune do. The former expresses his view on the reality of combat while the latter he used to demonstrate the perfection of human body mechanics on screen. Even the Filipino martial arts to which jeet kune do is closely associated displays a similar distinction. Escrimadores of the old divided their techniques into two genres: those used for entertainment during fiestas fall under the "entablado" category, while pure combative methods fall under the "matador" category.

It made me happy to learn that a lot of prominent martial arts practitioners are also involved in other creative pursuits. Bruce Lee draws well and has an obvious talent in writing. Wing Chun instructor Alan Lamb, internal stylist Henry Look and the Philippines very own Nap Fernandez (founder of yaw yan footfighting) are all accomplished painters. Wushu practitioner Mark Salzman is the author of the best selling novel "Iron and Silk" and a Pulitzer Prize nominee. Karate black belt and original Bruce Lee student Joe Hyams for a decade was the most highly paid magazine writer in the world. Actor and aikido stylist Steven Seagal practices Japanese calligraphy and was also an excellent guitarist. Jeet kune do and hsing-I practitioner Tim Tackett, Sr. was a drama major in college. Whether these non-combative ventures contributed greatly to their success as martial artists are still subject to debate. I opined that the hardness of the martial arts perfectly compliments the softness of the fine arts or vice versa.

The privelege of self-expression does not belong to only a handful of gifted artists. You may experience only one fight in your lifetime or thank God maybe none at all, let your art serve you to the fullest. Whether your goal is self-defense, fitness, spiritual enlightenment or just simply letting go of your pent-up aggressions, the martial arts offers unlimited opotunities to express ones artistry. Celebrate creativity. Celebrate life!

*Originally published in Rapid Journal Vol. 4 no. 3