Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Hundreds of years before Bruce Lee gained notoriety on the silver screen eclecticism played an integral role in the martial arts. Indeed, the classical fighting arts development and evolution were spurred on by combat and eclecticism, two components that fit hand in glove. Combat presented a need and the warrior/fighter cared little about how that need was filled so long as the solution worked during mortal combat.
          Eclecticism happened in many ways. Person to person eclecticism occurred when two fighters with differing skills exchanged ideas. This was a common occurrence in both Eastern and Western fighting arts. Legendary karate-ka Gichin Funakoshi studied with numerous well-known Okinawan karate-ka before moving to Japan and also felt that formalized styles were detrimental to karate. Likewise the annals of Chinese martial arts are filled with the exploits of fighters who traveled far and wide in search of knowledge.
          Trade also helped spread eclecticism. In both Eastern and Western cultures the importation and exportation of goods has been conducted between countries and continents for many centuries. For instance Okinawa was a port of call for many foreign ships and because of this, Chinese, Indonesian, Sumatran, Japanese and Siamese influences are found in Okinawan karate. Similarly Spanish rapier and dagger systems greatly influenced the Filipino martial arts. Mark Wiley wrote about Filipino eclecticism, “Through rebellion and repression the ancient Filipino martial arts of kali were thus altered. This, coupled with the tremendous influence of Spanish culture, prompted the evolution of eskrima. It was the Spanish rapier and dagger systems that had the greatest influence on its transformation from kali.” (Wiley, p.49, Filipino Martial Culture)
          Eclecticism has two components: Functional and Recreational. Functional eclecticism is the assimilation of differing techniques, tactics and weapons for the purpose of enhancing combative performance. Recreational eclecticism is the assimilation of differing techniques, weapons and tactics for competition, artistic need, cultural studies, recreational pursuit, spiritual enlightenment and self-defense.

Some examples of functional eclecticism would be:
·        Full contact fighters who assimilate techniques and tactics not common to their style of fighting to enhance performance in the ring. This includes boxers, MMA practitioners, Kick-boxers, wrestlers and judo-ka.
·        Law Enforcement Officers. LEO eclecticism includes unarmed techniques, combat shooting and the latest technology for fighting crime. Sometimes LEOs draw from the military while on other occasion’s different agencies and departments will exchange information, weapons and tactics.
·        Military personnel.   As with the LEO, military eclecticism covers a broad spectrum. This includes technology based tactics and weaponry in addition to empty- handed methods. The sole purpose being to enhance the soldier’s performance on the battlefield in addition to ensuring their safety.
·        Civilian Self-defense. This form of eclecticism draws from many sources to develop a coherent and effective means of protection. LEO tactics may be included as well as Asian fighting arts techniques. Western styles of full-contact fighting are also included along with upcoming tactics popular in the Reality Based Self-defense community.

Recreational Eclecticism examples are:
·        Traditional cross training. This involves practitioners who cross-train in traditional systems to enhance their chosen style of karate, kung-fu, etc.  For instance the karate-ka who trains judo to learn more about grappling, or the judo-ka who practices karate to enhance their striking skills.
·        Kata collecting.  This is when kata from other styles are learned because they have artistic, historic, or physical appeal. Functional performance may or may not be of concern. Some examples are: the Tai Chi practitioner who knows several versions of the long and short forms, or the karate practitioner who practices kata from several styles of karate, in addition to those of his or her chosen style.
·        System collecting. This is the practice of numerous fighting arts because of their historical or cultural appeal. For instance the person who holds black belts in Aikido, Kendo, Karate, Judo, simultaneously. This approach to eclecticism often produces a well rounded fighter, although within a traditional setting.
·        Spiritual. The combining of various esoteric and meditative practices (zazen, qi-gong, chants, visualization, talismans, etc) into a standardized teaching practiced for spiritual enlightenment.
·        Free range fighters. These are practitioners who totally disregard stylistic boundaries during their training. An example being the fighter who assimilates techniques, tactics and weapons from differing cultural styles into a coherent training regimen. All knowledge is deemed useful and the similarities common throughout the fighting arts are of more importance than style or system by these individuals.
Unlike functional eclecticism, recreational eclecticism has relatively few checks and balances because more often than not it is never tested in the ring, street or mortal combat.  This often leads to the assimilation of techniques and tactics wholly unsuited for one another.  For instance the person who establishes their own school of sword fighting based on a hodge-podge of techniques drawn from modern and classical styles of fencing. Since sword fighting is no longer used in mortal combat this is easily done, however from a purely functional viewpoint it would be considered suicide, at best.
 The same applies to the practitioner who studies one style of fighting for a short period of time before moving on to another, then another. This approach often leads to more confusion than understanding, though sadly it is a common practice. Therefore it should be understood that before embarking upon the eclectic journey 3- 5 years should be spent developing the basics under a competent instructor’s tutelage. Otherwise the person has no base to build upon and no rule of thumb to compare by.
Eclecticism is the foundation upon which all fighting arts rest. Combat presents a demand and a fighter or warrior, who is constantly searching for knowledge, fills that demand by developing an effective method of fighting based on the numerous styles they have studied.  This, in turn, solidifies the eclectic process into a set style or system from which the cycle repeats itself.   
Today due to the rampant commercialization of martial arts, looming shadow of international organizations, shunning of historical data and the over whelming appeal of the kyu-dan ranking structure, eclecticism has fallen by the wayside, or is considered taboo. Moreover since the introduction of karate to Japan and the transmission of Asian fighting arts to the West, group loyalty has taken precedence over the individual’s needs. Preservation is a noble endeavor because it allows us a view into the past. However, where functional fighting and personal empowerment are concerned, eclecticism is the traditional path.

Copyright 2012 by Michael Rosenbaum

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