Friday, April 1, 2011

Specialization - Good or Bad

I remember reading a blog (I forget who's) where the author was discussing whether being a swordsman equals being a martial artist. Their response was no, that it leads to being a specialist - a word which he writes with dripping scorn, much as I say "the Yankees"
It is a scientific fact.
To the author, the only way to truly practice these arts is to practice all aspects of it - he was particularly vitriolic against those who do little to no grappling.

Okay, my response to this attitude is to ask that if you consider those who only train in one weapon to not be martial artists does that mean that Ott, Leckuchner, Fabris, Capoferro, Giganti, and the anonymous authors of I.33 and Le Jeu, amongst others, are not martial artists? What about Bruce Lee? Yes he studied weapons, but he focused on unarmed, thereby "neglecting" the rest of the "systems" he studied. Is he not to be considered a martial artist?

Specialization is not a bad thing. Everyone I listed above wrote a complete martial system that was based around one weapon. Are Fiore, Marozzo, Vadi, Meyer, Mair or Liechenhauer better martial artists simply because they include more weapons? Specialization is natural and healthy because it is a simple fact that someone who trains and specializes in one aspect of an art understand that aspect better than a "Jack of All Trades" - they have a deeper understanding. Don't get me wrong, I believe in training all aspects of the art in order to put more tools in my toolbox, but it is perfectly possible for someone who only studies the longsword to be just as good a martial artist and fencer as someone who trains in wrestling, dagger, lance, poleaxe and longsword.

Two examples:
  • In MMA, when a fighter wants to improve his striking he goes to a boxing trainer. When he wants to improve his ground-game, he goes to a wrestler or BJJ trainer. In other words, he goes to a specialist.
  • Most of the instructors WMA events and seminars are specialists, even those who are capable of teaching a broad spectrum. There are people who study Armizare who only study the sword or the dagger and they teach accordingly.
Look, specialization is historical. So is the comprehensive approach. Personally, I take a comprehensive approach to Armizare, but you could say that I specialize in Armizare, with a further specialization in Le Jeu de la Hache. See how silly it is to rail against specialization?


SM said...

One quibble: be careful about assuming that the sources we have include all the forms that their authors studied. I'm sure Fiore trained in all the weapons of his day (and the author of I.33 assumes that students can wrestle) but for teaching purposes they chose to write down some things and not others. I would be shocked if the author of Le Jeu only trained with the axe; and don't both Giganti and Fabris say "I could teach you many other things, but for the purposes of this book I will focus on ..."?

I agree that specialization is a good thing. People are diverse, they use martial arts for different things, and violent problems have a variety of solutions.

Alex said...

Oh I know - that was part of my point. Take, for example, those folks I mentioned who teach at various WMA events and only teach one thing - say, Fiore's dagger material. It is ridiculous to assume that they can only fight with the dagger, and are therefore lesser martial artists, in the same way it is silly to assume that the authors of I.33 or Le Jeu only knew how to play with one weapon.