Sunday, July 02, 2006

Effective, Efficient, and Elegant

Photo courtesy of austinjp

Effective, Efficient, and Elegant. These are three goals of a martial art in order of importance.
A martial art must be effective. That is, it must cause the desired effect. In order to determine what the desired effect is requires much thought and soul-searching. Someone once said "every system is perfectly designed to do what it does," so every system has an effect but is it the effect you want or are there side effects or unintended consequences? Is the desired effect for your martial arts system self-preservation, harm to others, ego boost, physical fitness, social interaction, or what? Any of these may be valid goals for participation in martial arts, but if your goal is one thing and your system is designed to produce another effect then you are setting yourself up for failure.
Effectiveness is basically an external consideration. When determining effectiveness one must compare the results of the system to some objective external criteria. This external, objective focus makes effectiveness a very pragmatic consideration. In the days of the samurai, the arts were field-tested by killers killing other killers. Thus, the samurai had external, objective, easily measurable criteria (death) for determining effectiveness. As society has changed we have mostly gotten away from fighting duels, so martial arts have developed sparring and randori systems to allow some simulation of the duel. The problem is that the rules for these kumite and randori systems were developed based on theory - a construct internal to the art itself. For instance, in theory if a practitioner can throw a fast punch with proper form and stop it before it hits then in theory he could have used that punch for its intended effect. That is a supposition based on technical and theoretical aspects of the art itself.
Efficiency is, on the other hand, a more subjective, internal consideration, and is to a greater degree based on theory than pragma. It is common, for instance in our form of aikido to measure efficiency using the number of weight shifts that it takes to execute a given technique. The theory is that if tori can execute the technique in fewer weight shifts than uke needs to execute the defense then tori has an advantage. The problem is that it is hard to objectively test this theory. If the system achieves its intended effect lots of times then this lends some validity to the theory behind the art, but it is still impossible to tell to what degree weight-shift efficiency is responsible for the effectiveness of the art.
Elegance is a purely aesthetic consideration, and we all know that 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder.' So, what role does elegance or aesthetics play in martial systems? Very simply our sense of beauty when applied to martial activities must be predicated on the ability of the practitioner to efficiency achieve the desired effect. A technique that is effective but not efficient or elegant is not martial art - it is simply 'down and dirty fighting.' When the criteria of efficiency is added the technique rises to the level of craftsmanship, but it is still not martial art - perhaps it could be called a martial science. When all three criteria are met the technique is elevated to the level of art.
On the other hand, elegance without effect is ephemeral and efficiency without effect is lazy. The martial artist must develop effectiveness, efficiency, and elegance in the proper order and balance.


  1. I once read somewhere that elegance is only the effect of simple, effective movements. That the more direct a movement is, and the LESS amount of flair and unnecessary movements it contains, the more graceful it appears to the observer.

  2. mfplidI agree with you completely, anonymous, and that is an interesting quote. I'd sure like to know it's source.

    But don't you think it would be possible for two aikidoka of similar experience, rank, and body composition to both execute a particular technique with simplicity and effectiveness such that an external observer would say one of them had a different quality to her technique. Nothing objectively identifiable as lacking in either but one better than the other?

    There is definately an aesthetic realm to the martial arts that does not involve flair or unnecessary movement, but that does involve spirit, posture, attitude, poise, etc.

    I suspect that what the Japanese call zanshin, mushin, kokoro, kiai, riai, etc... is only partially and incompletely realized in non-native martial artists who pose, grimace, grunt, etc... when told by sensei to "demonstrate" better zanshin, for instance.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...