Thursday, May 8, 2008

Change vs. Tradition...

...At least, that's how most people frame the debate.

Have you ever noticed that from one school to another to another, techniques are performed differently? Sometimes the difference is obvious, and other times it may be a subtle aspect of position, angle, transitional movement or anything else. If you look hard enough, you'll even see this difference within a single school. The old guard may have learned a technique one way, where the newer students have been exposed to a different line of thought or a modification in the technique. Talk about a headache for the head instructor who has to keep track of 50 ways of doing a single technique. Eventually the instructor has to make some sort of decision, and the students either adapt or leave. Even in schools with an extremely rigid curriculum, where everything is spelled out, these changes can and do occur.

How does such a thing happen? There is a term for this in the Korean arts: Ryu pa (流派). Ryu pa translates literally to "water flowing divided." Think of how a stream splits in half due to an immovable object and we now have 2 streams, moving alongside each other, sometimes spreading out even further and further away. These two are now separated, gathering their own momentum until they too eventually must split. Some streams become larger, gaining tributaries, and cut easily through the ground. Some splits are too small to flow on their own, become a trickle and dry out.
Small Stream, Small Falls
The same thing happens with changes in a martial art. Either the new stream will do well and grow, or it will die out. In an odd way, change is traditional. Change keeps the martial arts alive and moving forwards. Stagnancy in a stream results in death.

When we try to artificially interfere with ryu pa, bad things tend to happen. The green belt who decides that they have mastered everything in Tang Soo Do and wants to create their ultimate hybrid art will probably not be around in 5-10 years. The same happens if we try to stifle creativity by damming the stream. The output of the stream is lessened while a backlog of potential waits behind the dam. Too much pressure, the dam explodes and that potential is lost forever.

Quite often, change for the sake of change is unhealthy, and the best changes happen unintentionally, over time.

So how do you deal with such issues as they arise? The answer may be as simple as waiting patiently.
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