Every once in a while, someone in the martial arts claims to have created something totally new. However, often as not, a look through the history books shows that it is not so much “new” as “generally forgotten”.
I think this is succinctly captured in the following line from the book “Asian Fighting Arts” by Donn Draeger and Robert Smith:
“There is nothing new under the sun … nothing, that is, except the very old.”
As an example of what I mean:
Pankration was a Greek sport introduced into the Olympic Games in 648 BC. It was a mix of punching, kicking and grappling which had few rules (no biting, no eye-gouging, etc).
Plato – yes, that Plato – subsequently wrote that he objected to the amount of time spent on the ground in these matches because it “did not teach men to keep their feet” and was therefore, “useless for military training”.
2641 years later and the first UFC is held and it too had few rules (no biting, no eye-gouging, etc) … and it’s not long before people follow in Plato’s footsteps by stating the amount of time spent on the ground makes such training not ideally suited for civilian or military use.
This is just one example of many. We can see repeating patterns in the martial arts and I think Gichin Funakoshi expressed this nicely when he wrote:
“To search for the old is to understand the new. The old, the new. This is a matter of time.”
While some would argue that the “new” is better than “old”, and others that “old” is better than “new”, I think we need to be both. Bunkai practise is both “new” and “old”. My karate aspires to be simultaneously modern and ancient. To be stuck in the past is as unhealthy as being “cut off from your roots”. Either way prevents growth.
The ideal then, for me at least, would seem to be seeking to be both old and new.
All the best,