Garry commented this in my post on The Art in Martial Arts:
While I agree that its impressive when you meet or train with a naturally talented athlete and almost impossible to compete with them on a level playing field, personally, I’m no longer as sure about the “art” element in martial arts. I think that the influence of scientific method on the study and practice of martial arts has become the standard starting point for students on their journey of discovery and I’m not sure whether this will prove to be positive or negative in their evolution. Many principles of movement are common across styles even if their emphasis and application varies. The moral and ethical principles prevalent in a society will always inform the way people learn and practice and create. Today, knowledge is everywhere on the Internet and people don’t have to undertake epic journeys to find competent martial practitioners. As to how many of these powerful warriors are ” artists ” I am not sure. Perhaps Oscar Wilde’s comments best elucidate my point, ” All art is completely useless “. By their very nature, martial arts are practical methods for self defense and therefore, are not art in the Wildean sense. I think martial methods or practices is a better generic term. But then again, what do I know, relatively speaking I’m fairly useless myself.
I think it depends on your definition of art. I touched upon it in the first part of my post already; for me it’s about skill and talent coming together. It’s what differentiates the commoners like us from the artists I listed. It’s one of the ways to define “art” and has been valid throughout the ages. A quote form that page:
Traditionally skill of execution was viewed as a quality inseparable from art and thus necessary for its success; for Leonardo da Vinci, art, neither more nor less than his other endeavors, was a manifestation of skill.
That’s what I’m talking about: Skill of execution is just as important as the end result. My whole point was that most of us don’t get to that stage, where we can perform our martial art at such a level that it becomes art. Much in the same way as Baryshnikov or Nureyev could take pretty much any ballet performance to a higher level.
Bringing it back to the topic: I’m just as impressed by Kaman’s sense of timing in the ring as Risuke Otake’s mastery of the blade. What they do isn’t as important as how they do it. To get to that level of skill, you need not only talent but also enormous amounts of training.
Compare this young girl:
With this slightly older one:
The difference is the decades of practice. It’s not that the little girl is bad or anything, on the contrary. But Yuja Wang takes it to another level.
I specifically took Flight of the Bumblebee because it requires technical dexterity, not because it’s such a great piece.
Just for shits and giggles, here’s another interpretation…
Another example, this is my tai chi chuan teacher. He kicks my ass in class and then goes home to grab a steel needle and “scratches a bit” on a zinc plate… To give you an idea of the size of one of his pieces, check out this picture. Whether this is the kind of art you like or not is irrelevant; it takes enormous amounts of technical skill to do.
The scientific method used in martial arts training and the availability of knowledge is another issue for me, one that isn’t immediately relevant to this topic. The way I see it, you can give somebody all the information he needs to become a world class martial artist, it doesn’t mean he’ll get there. He’ll still need a certain amount of talent and decades of hard work.
Hell, in every class I tell my students exactly what they need to do to avoid certain mistakes. But that doesn’t mean they do it. Or if they manage to do one specific part correctly, they don’t mess up another. Again, those decades of training are what it takes to achieve mastery. On top of that, there isn’t just one correct way of doing things. In most cases, you have numerous options. So your personal interpretation and expression of the material is another aspect of turning it into art.
Though I agree that for many people, it’s just self defense or sports. But in my mind, that doesn’t mean it can’t also be an art form.