Thoughts on Viewing
© 2012 Jeff
I've been to a few events with a large number of very, very talented
martial artists demonstrating. For example, I've been to the All-Japan
Iaido tournament a few times, the All-Japan Kendo championships half a
dozen times maybe, as well as the All-Japan Jodo tournament twice. I've
been to a few kobudo demonstrations with hundreds of representatives of
various koryu bujutsu groups performing over the course of a full day.
These events are definitely not the best place to view martial arts.
The performers are unquestionably top-notch. The problem is that you
get numb to what you're seeing. I've never been to the Louvre Museum,
or the Prado, or the Rijksmueum, but I've heard that the sheer number
of masterpieces on display eventually makes you breeze past paintings
in a second or two that, were they displayed on their own, you might
otherwise spend hours trying to take in.
I was having these kinds of thoughts last year, after going to the
All-Japan Iaido tournament followed by an extensive koryu bujutsu
demonstration in the same month. A few weeks later, I went to a public
exhibition of a large national calligraphy contest.
Viewed singly, the works of art were breathtaking. A single, powerful
word written by a shodo master could be analogous to a single iaido
kata performed by a hachidan hanshi.
A series of kanji, part of a single, unified work of art and written by
one hand, might be analogous to a demonstration of a set of kata from
the same school, performed by a master of that school. The
characteristic flavour of the school, as well as the individual
performing it, comes across clearly and leaves a strong impression on
Seeing a number of works of art at the same time, it is evident that
they are slightly different, but it begins to become difficult to
appreciate how they are different, or which is better, and why.
After viewing more and more demonstrations, you begin to feel a bit
overwhelmed by it all. One performer ... or one work ... is starting to
blur into the next.
You might even start to lose interest - even if you are deeply
fascinated by your own study of martial arts (or calligraphy, or
painting, or photography...)
And so it got me thinking about focusing on one work ... or focusing on
an expert performance of a single kata. You begin to evaluate things on
a more technical level. How did he or she make this movement? How did
this sense of pressure or power occur at this instant? Why is the sword
stopping here, and not there?
As you look closer, details begin to emerge.
Looking even closer, more details emerge. The almost "fractal" nature
of the kata - the sense that there is no end to the level to which you
can analyze the parts - becomes almost overwhelming.
Looking too closely, you lose your perspective and the work starts to
lose the overall meaning it had before.
Step back and look from a position where you can see the whole, as well
as the details, and you may be struck again by the beauty of this
one-time event - captured on paper, on video, or in your memory.