"Never be restrained by doctrine, still less to follow others all one's life."
Wang Xiang Zhai
The genuine classical forms, patterned movements and formalized techniques of traditional martial arts contain natural, instinctual responses hidden within their systematized routines. The task of the freestyle martial artist is to consciously draw out the instinctual responses and authentic combative techniques hidden in the 'living library' of forms, katas, patterns and sets of existing methods and techniques, in order to support the development of their own unique style. Without the aid of books or video, past masters created reproducible organizations of formally patterned techniques in order to pass on a valuable collection of martial, strengthening, conditioning and health practices for future generations to draw from. These organised and set routines were never intended to become the practice itself, but rather pointers to assist the way of a practitioner's learning and development.
The emphasis of the freestyle phase of training is to seek the principle of the movements and the core idea behind applications, not merely repetition of a fixed technique. The freestyle martial artist searches to draw out the thinking behind an approach, it's reasoning and why it has been adopted for combative application or strengthening and conditioning for heath and fitness. Once the essential idea has been grasped, then tested (with semi-compliant and non-compliant training partners) one's freedom of expression is given natural play in responsive action. When the fundamentals of the drills and techniques, and the essence of each type of power expression has been clearly understood, the practitioner must quickly turn to the freedom of spontaneous actions that is aligned naturally with their being (i.e. character and inherent nature). Thus freestyle martial arts practice promotes a more pure self-expression in creative, combative free-form.
Too much formalized practice makes the postures, breathing and movement forced and artificial. By freestyle shadow-boxing and free-sparring, the student informs their patterns of movement, postures and gestures according to genuine responses. All training-solo (shadow boxing/drills) and partnered, classical and contemporary, must include a relevant degree of reaction to chaotic elements. That is, unchoreographed, continually changing stimuli that prevents the brain from becoming overly fixed in patterns or complacent in practice. Genuine freestyle practice is not bound by any fixed technique or patterns of movement in its application. Thus Freestyle Internal Martial Arts is essentially a principle based art. The freestyler needs to focus completely upon the situation before them, remaining open in awareness and empty of preconceived notions (wu-xin). Observe everything closely. Use all of the five senses to remain alert and free to respond to the needs of the present; look, listen, touch and feel, smell, taste, continually use all or any combination of the senses to stay present and the mind will become immediately free of distraction. Through practice of conscious, mindful awareness, eventually the senses will become automatically (unconsciously) attuned to the here and now. This enables one’s movements and actions to be more naturally and effectively aligned to the needs at hand. Through disciplined training the boxer comes to liberate the power of natural, instinctual responsive energy and channel it through the knowledge of skills and technique.
All arts reside within the people doing them and do not exist otherwise.
All arts reside within people. without people doing an art, it simply does not exist. Genuine 'Internal' martial arts make sure to point out that this practice begins and ends within one's self. There is no outside force, no outside savior or assistance of power. Resilience, strength, humility and courage, competency and confidence are hard-forged (and even harder won) from within one's own self. Thus these arts cannot be apart from those who practice it.
Nothing can be given to or handed over to another, the student must create, develop, practice and refine it
via their own hands. Coaches and teachers can only assist in helping the student learn to draw it out of themselves. This is why a 'free-style' is so important, indeed, as it has been said "one man's road is another man's ruin." Each must find the way themselves. A good mentor, coach, friend or teacher can point the way or point out when we are off track, but every genuine practitioner must forge their own way.
Freedom of expression is an aim
During the freestyle practice phase the practitioner discovers their own unique 'voice.' Empty hands and with weapons, slow and at speed, static and in movement, mind, body and spirit are congruent in expression with the authentic voice of the soul- that is, the inner quality that is essentially one's self. When you move freely according to your own truly natural instinct your energy is free flowing and your spirit bright and radiant. This is also a way of wellbeing. The freedom of your expression; the development of a way you've discovered to apply a technique that works best for you, or an individual sense of how you move and logically flow through drills- all of this liberates mind and body and provides one with a great energy. In developing a freestyle practice one comes to remember function and process as well as form, without being lost or inhibited by trying to implement preconceived patterns of response. It does not do away completely with all methods or techniques, but measures all known and learned approaches through the necessity of present awareness in order to adapt and respond instinctively and appropriately to current circumstances. Investing in the learning and practice of drills, methods and techniques creates a bank of resources. Freestyle practice returns the practitioner to the core purpose of their martial art. It is important not to mistake the means for the ends. Whatever styles and methods you may practice, they are simply tools to be utilized in the cultivating of the light of one's genius. The term Free implies a sense of liberation. So the Freestyle practice helps emancipate the Martial artist to reveal and shape their movements and actions out of their own centre. This is knowledge of one's self. It is a gradual maturing and unfolding process arising naturally from trial and error, persistence and perseverance, creativity and expression. Freestyle practice channels and makes use of natural emotional energy. It works instinctual reactions and feelings through advantageous posture and breathing, combining tension and looseness, and utilizing movement and stillness. Technique and intent are present to guide consciousness and energy in a unified force.
“Life’s problems are different for each of us and each of us needs a different way of solving them. Therefore, each of us has to create his own method. If you imitate you'll be wrong. You have to create for yourself.”
Freestyle permits the practitioner to mix up all of their movements naturally and spontaneously. It allows the body to respond in surprising and interesting ways. It prevents the practitioner from becoming lazy, bored or too comfortable in their training. Each practice is fresh and new and rich with possibility in a way that keeps mind, body and spirit alive and interested. By introducing a touch of chaos and unpredictability into the practice, freestyle emancipates the mind enabling creativity to flow with greater force and profundity. The smaller self’s ‘ego’ is cast aside so that superficial competitiveness is replaced by a deeper sense of vital and spontaneous creativeness. Freestyle allows one's mind to stay free, calm and open, yet remain present and alert. It is essentially getting out of one's own way enabling the natural instinct to express itself freely, explosively and automatically, unhindered by over thinking at the conscious level. The Freestyle Internal Martial Artist fixes their mind in their movement and does not permit their attention to wander from the present. This is both meditative and martial. The mind (attention) movement (action), breath (energy) and feeling (heart) are all unified in a single, unbroken flow of physical and mental expression.
“Make yourself your refuge, walk in the world, and be unchained from everything.”
© Geoff Sweeting 2018