Tag Archives: Philosophy


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.

Definition of Music

My definition of music tends to be very broad. Very broad:

Music is art where sound is the primary medium.

So, music:

  • A symphony
  • A raging guitar solo
  • A drum circle
  • A rhythmic loop of found sounds
  • Gregorian chant

Not music:

  • A painting
  • A mime performance
  • John Cage’s 4’33” (I’m not saying it’s not art – but it’s not music)

Where do I fit unaccompanied spoken word? It depends – I think a lot of it is musical, where the sound of the voice is an important part of the work, and I think a lot of it isn’t, where the poem is primarily about the words and ideas.

I very carefully do not reference rhythm, or melody, or harmony, or any other technical elements in my definition. Doing so makes the definition far too narrow. I recall a professor in one of my community college music classes two decades ago stating that drumming wasn’t music, since the drums had beat and rhythm, but no melody or harmony. The problem wasn’t with the drums, it was with his uselessly narrow idea of what constituted music.

On the other hand, I have come across variations of an even broader definition than mine:

Music is the organized interruption of silence.

That is too broad to be useful, in my opinion. Accepting this would require us to consider the following things to be music:

  • A conversation about budget spreadsheets
  • A jackhammer tearing up some concrete
  • A cow mooing

Each of those is organized, and each of those interrupts silence. And each of those can be incorporated into music, but I think that calling them music in and of themselves is not reasonable, and more importantly, is not useful.