At our dojo, we make room in our lesson schedule for “alternative curriculum” classes. Sometimes we use these classes to play with techniques not usually featured in our students’ curriculum, either because it’s more advanced or because we’re working on our usual techniques in an unconventional way. And sometimes we go completely outside what we usually teach to play with different concepts or techniques that the instructors want to explore to keep things interesting and to continue our development. Like with any creative endeavour, you can get inspiration for your martial arts training and teaching from a wide variety of sources. Here are just a few that have served to inspire me.
1. The Elements. For many masters, the elements (i.e. water, fire, wind, earth) have served as inspiration being used to characterize different styles of movement. For example, water has been used to exemplify being soft, flexible, and adaptable. Wind is often used to characterize speed and agility. Earth gives images of grounding and rootedness, while fire is about explosiveness and intensity. The elements are sometimes applied to entire styles, sometimes to individual people within a style to help give them perspective on how they can best use their personal body types. When I was training in Karate back in the day, I was told that I had both fire and water in my movement, two very opposing energies. By being told this, it helped me to use my flow to absorb and redirect strong attacks while using my explosiveness when in a good position for attack.
2. Animals. Martial artists have been watching and imitating animal fight moves for centuries. There are entire styles created by imitating particular animals, from snakes to tigers, and cranes to mantises. Anyone who has ever grappled can appreciate the elegance and effectiveness of cats when using their “ground game” in a fight. I know I learn a lot from watching my own cats fight. Nature shows or even clips on YouTube can provide useful insights. Check out my blog post What Martial Artists Can Learn from Animal Fight Videos for other examples.
2. Movies/TV. I don’t know any martial artist who wasn’t in some way inspired by movies and TV. Sometimes it’s from seeing particular fight scenes in an iconic movie like Ip Man or the Matrix. Sometimes, it’s the will inspiring the fight, like the battle at Helm’s Deep in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Or sometimes it’s about the intensity and focus of training methods like in Rocky. Movies and TV can inspire us to try new techniques or use known techniques in different ways, or simply give us emotional motivation in our training.
3. Other Martial Arts & Instructors. Training in other martial arts or even other instructors in your same style can expose you to new techniques or new ideas that can influence your own techniques. You may also see different types of drills and exercises that complement your own training. Trying out a new type of weapon is another way you can gain new insights That’s why we often hold seminars at our dojo with guest instructors for our students. It’s also why I am always picking up new books, or checking out various martial arts videos on YouTube. Check out my blog post 6 Martial Arts Movie Fight Scenes for Inspiration for a few fights that have influenced me.
5. Other Physical Activities. There is a lot to be gained by cross-training in other physical activities. You’d be surprised at how it can inspire you by seeing movement in a different context. Training in parkour has given me new insight into economy of movement that I’ve applied in my training, especially my rolls and breakfalls. Bruce Lee was known to have practiced ballroom dancing for fun outside his martial arts training. I know from experience that partner dancing is great for developing sensitivity that is useful for grappling and throwing. Read more about ballroom dancing’s relevance in the martial arts in my blog post What Ballroom Dancing & the Martial Arts Have in Common. Take a long look at some of the other physical activities you do and see what connections they have to the movements in your martial arts training.
6. Our Personal Surroundings. I will often look around in my daily life and see something that piques my interest as a martial artist. Recently, I was walking around with a hand umbrella and felt inspired to play around with it as a weapon. It poses interesting differences over a traditional stick like the ones used for eskrima. It’s shorter, wider, and has a wrist strap. It can also extend to become a longer implement when you keep the umbrella part wrapped. Or you can let it open to provide a screen. The point is, you might look at something that sits in plain view and have a new idea pop into your head at random if you’re open to it.
7. Our Own Martial Art. For insights and inspiration to come, you have to train regularly so you have a palette with which your mind can play with in all these other contexts. If you have limited training, your mind isn’t as likely to see these parallels, so it’s important not to underestimate the value of regular ongoing training in your primary style.
Now over to you. Have you been inspired in your martial arts training by things outside the dojo? If so, please share your experiences in the comments. 🙂