Chasing Two Rabbits
It is true that it takes more than a lifetime to learn martial arts. However, that does not mean more than one style of martial arts. You must look at what the word 'style' even means. As English speakers and martial artists we tend to overlook this word in conversation, but it literally holds the answer to this dilemma.
1.a manner of doing something.
"different styles of management"
synonyms: manner, way, technique, method, methodology, approach, system, mode, form, modus operandi; More
2. a distinctive appearance, typically determined by the principles according to which something is designed.
"the pillars are no exception to the general style"
This means that the thing we are doing is ‘martial arts’ and the ‘style’ is simply a different appearing expression of the same principles. The way in which something appears or is done does not preclude the deep principles of the whole. So, in martial arts practice we have to look at the commonalities found between the arts to see what the different ‘styles’ of doing those principles are.
Now this is by no means a simple thing to discuss, especially through text, but allow me to try some examples of different principles in the martial arts being shown in different ways through different styles.
At the very foundational level of training every art learns a way to strike with the hands, we can call it punching and of course all arts may have different looking methods of punching. But, the principles of striking with the hands powerfully remain the same, the more one obeys the rules of the physical anatomy like elbows closer to the body than the wrists, shoulders down, move from the waist (Dantian) first and allow for a cascade of muscular contraction to accelerate the strike, etc. The more likely the punch in question will be fast, powerful and “correct”. This does not mean that a Wing Chun style chain punch (Lin Wan Kuen), nor a shaolin style long fist punch (Chang Chuan) are the same, but they do obey the same principles. Looking at them both and using them to cross reference the deeper principles of the body from the different styles allows a practitioner to see those principles more clearly.
Another principle could be said to be delivering power to the opponent, which then precludes any kind of shape of technique at all. So long as the power is delivered to the enemy in a fast, efficient way it does not matter whether it is a front kick from karate or iron bar from xinyiliuhe, the principle is being followed.
One more example could be the idea of using the most efficient method to strike the opponent. This however can be interpreted in many ways. Wing Chun for example may at first say ‘the shortest distance is a straight line’ which is true and certainly one way of seeing efficiency. But in hands without shadows training the most efficient method is seen as the strike the opponent cannot see and so generally takes a circuitous route to avoid line of sight. Both correct and both looking at the same principle and expressing it in different ways.
So, it does take a lifetime or more to learn martial arts, no one person can know it all! But looking deeply into the principles of the styles one studies will show the commonalities between them and allow for quicker, deeper understanding by cross referencing. “The man who chases two rabbits, catches none.” As they say. However, after catching a single rabbit a person learns tricks and strategies and finally principles that worked to catch it and the second rabbit becomes easier to catch. The third even easier and so on.
Do not be satisfied with learning only the shapes of the styles out there you are interested in. Eventually the purpose is of course to remove them and stop practicing your teachers’ martial arts and begin practicing your own. Shapeless and formless we should become expressions of the principles when we move, not carbon copies of who we learned from. Sure, it takes decades, but that is why this puzzle is so intriguing, it is an ocean of depth and subtlety. More than a lifetime worth of puzzles to figure out and enjoy, all the while keeping ourselves healthy, young, and strong.
Neil Ripski 2018