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Karate & Film making!

by George Mattson

Exploring Karate from a Film Maker’s Perspective…
I found this fascinating post by our “Women & the Martial Arts” Forum moderator, Dana Sheets. Hope you enjoy it as well. Click on Dana’s picture to read the topic. GEM

DanaIn my graduate experience, (filmmaking) we watched and deconstructed scenes from films, explored film theory, did a few class projects in video, on film, and digital media that by no means explored the great variety of approaches one can take to filmmaking…and then we were set on our own.There are some immutable principles in filmmaking and most of those happen to be relatively mechanical. Light reflects and refracts in such a manner, film travels through the camera in such a way, video is created through a capture process involving chips and sensors and magnetic tape that is written at a certain frame rate or another, microphones work in such a way and here’s how you plug them in…so the mechanics of making an image on film or video are relatively standard – but there are infinite variations in how they are applied.

And there aren’t really PhDs in making movies…there are PhDs in communcations theory…but those folks aren’t usually making movies, they’re studying them. But there are certainly master filmmakers of every genre.

But a filmmaker varies quite a bit in their knowledge from one to another.

And there are folks who specialize in a detail…those that can make a film camera, engineers who can design and guide the manufacture of mircophones, people who write editing software, etc. But no person is a master of each and every aspect of filmmaking. So if I extend by already over-extended metaphor..

acting/body shifting
make-up/first aid
music composition/kumite
computer generated graphics/kobudo (because they’re both worlds unto themselves)
accounting/dojo management
distributing/pedagogy & teaching
…and on and on an on…

In the world of filmmkaing I happen to specialize in producing, directing, writing, fundraising, marketing, and distributing. I have some skill in all the other areas…but with varying degress of proficiency.

So I think what I’m trying to say is that martial arts falls someplace between math and filmmaking.

What I often hear expressed by folks training in Okinawan martial arts is that they aren’t sure what the fundamental principles are and what the basic rules are. It is during that time of uncertainty that students endlessly ask for examples – because they’re not yet able to categorize the other stuff they’re learning. Part of this has to do with how Okinawan karate was taught for many years – which is a pretty non-structured apporach.

And I’ve also noticed that in a dojo, students absorb different things at different points. So I can talk till I’m blue in the face about balance displacement – and have a student tell me they only know one throw…when I can easily tally 20 that have been presented to that student and that they have trained…but for some reason they don’t all stick. Lots of that probably has to do with the oral and kinesthetic tradition of teaching Okinawan martial arts. The original practitioners may have been literate – but many of their students might not have been, and publishing a text was a difficult affair.

So now we’re got the ability to self-publish texts and books and video…but that knowledge in the dojo is mostly arranged and trained around the traditional training devices of kata and kumite – which were both sort of the end-notes of knowledge…not the learning outline.

What’s fun is that now we’ve got folks upending that model.

One of the ones that comes to mind as someone who’s done this in a pretty dramatic way is Pat McCarthy. Mr. McCarthy has really done a heck of a job organizing his massive curriculum around principles first and then having students explore how those common themes manifest in a range of empty-handed kata, weapons kata, and two-person sets.

His was a massive deconstruction and reconstruction effort that took a wide variety of traditional martial arts elements and reorganized them within a model that is more easily gasped by students in the western hemisphere.

So he’s got quite a bit of the entire encyclopedia, if you will. And for me Uechi is a volume in it. I’ve chosen to be a Uechi specialist thus far in my training. Which for me means focusing on the particular movements and principles cataloged in the Uechi kata. And I’m happy doing that. I understand that I’m choosing to ignore quite a lot of material that’s out there in the world. And I also know that I’m simply not Pat McCarthy (or someone similar) — and don’t ever want to be. Though those kind of folks have my categorical respect.

So I’ve (happily) resigned myself to fact that I’m simply not going to know all the joint locks that exist in the world and all their variations…because I don’t wanna know them all. But I do know that there are certain kinds of joint locks, and I’m pretty good at using a few of them.

So how much material do we heap onto our kyu ranks? I dunno. What would it mean to deconstruct and reconstruct Uechi by principles that are first taught – and then memorialized by making reference to the uechi kata? I dunno. But boy that’d be fascinating undertaking…wouldn’t it?

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