Saturday, March 19, 2011

BOMP - Ch 1 - The Principle of Principles

This year we are discussing the Book of Martial Power (BOMP) on Saturdays. 
The first chapter in BOMP is titled The Principle of Principles, and basically, the idea of this chapter is stated in the first line.
We must exercise all principles at all times to our highest understanding and without exception.
Or perhaps you could rephrase that something like...
  • We must be principled martial artists.
  • We should be primarily concerned with the principles that govern martial arts.
Why do we have to do anything Pearlman says?  Because the Principles do not care if you believe in them or not.  We can act in harmony with the Principles, and thus harness their power, or we can be subjected to their workings.
Pearlman lists two potential exceptions to this rule...
  • newer students might begin training with less than optimal versions of techniques - that is, techniques that do not instantiate all the principles.
  • Our limited understanding and integration of the Principles limits our application of them.
A third exception, or possibly a corrolary to the first one above, is that often in class we will toss a principle completely out of the window in order to focus more intently on another principle.  For instance, in suwariwaza (kneeling techniques) we sacrifice mobility and our ability to drop with uke into otoshi-type throws - this forces us to get better at synchronization and guruma-type throws.  Another example would be toshu randori (similar to taiji push hands).  In this practice, ma-ai is out of the picture because you start and you remain inside ma-ai so that you can learn sensitivity and flow.
Pearlman offers a rule of thumb for determining whether something is really a Principle (by his definition) or not.  If it is possible or conceivable to construct a reasonable argument against it, then it is not a principle.  Take for instance, Kano's principle of judo - Maximum Efficiency with Minimal Effort.  It would be hard to argue that what we do ought to be less efficient or more difficult, so Kano's precept passes the test. 
Other guidelines that we often call principles do not stand up as well.  What about ma-ai?  there are arts that specialize in closing distance to zero and working on the ground.  Thus ma-ai is a great idea - but not a principle per Pearlman's definition.  What about unbendable arm?  Without bending an arm you can't punch in a karate fashion, so obviously unbendable arm is not a universal principle, though it is a good idea in the context of aiki throws.  What about gravity?  Well, every technique in every martial art is always performed in a gravity environment.  It might be possible, though challenging and ultimately ridiculous, to conceive of a martial art that occurs in a zero-G environment.  So, our orientation to gravity becomes a Universal Principle.
Patrick Parker
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