Every student has to determine their own path through the martial arts. Each one of us has different motivations and goals, as well as different strengths, weaknesses, and resources available to us. The unique mix of these factors will determine your path.
Some martial artists’ want to recreate something from the past, some time in history that speaks to them. This can happen in a variety of different ways: one Scottish-American may decide to learn the Highland Broadsword of Thomas Page as a way of connecting with his ancestors, while another Scottish-American may study kenjitsu because the mystique and romance of the samurai fascinate him.
Rather than recreating a dead art, other students may want to participate in preserving a living historical art, such as classical fencing.
Some people are motivated to be ‘competitive’ – they want contests and rankings and tournaments and opportunities to win. While some do this within the context of the traditional arts, some will change the arts to accommodate this better: so jujitsu becomes judo, or classical fencing becomes sport fencing. Somewhere in there, and I won’t try to draw too fine of a line, but somewhere the practitioners would be more accurately described as athletes, and not as martial artists.
The main goal for some is self-defense. Others just want to be badass. Some people just do it for fun, or for exercise. Some martial artists pursue the art as an art.
More often than not, I suspect that most people are mix of many, if not all, of the above motivations.
There is also a question of what they want to learn, which can work in many ways:
- Learn to use one weapon, using all sources (for example, working on longsword using German, Italian, and English treatises)
- Learn one complete art, using all weapons (for example, studying just Fiore dei Liberi’s L’Arte dell’Armizare, and learning all the weapons included in his treatises)
- Learning the arts of one time period (for example, learning a multitude of seventeenth century sword arts – regardless of country or source)
- Learning the arts of one culture (for example, working with all English sources, regardless of time or weapon – the Harleian Manuscript, Silver, Swetnam, Hope, etc.)
- Learning one tradition (for example, learning La Verdadera Destreza, which started with sideswords, moved to cuphilt rapiers, and later encompassed sabres and smallswords, across a several centuries)
- And so on…
When you see one martial artist critiquing another one online, it’s always helpful to understand where each of them are coming from. Personally, I’m happy that different people approach the arts in different ways – I think all martial artists benefit from there being a diversity of approaches. But a lot of conflict is created by people who are following the One True Path to Martial Skill, and who are therefore intolerant towards all other paths.