I began my martial arts career at five years old at American Martial Arts Academy in Shelton, CT. There aren’t many schools like this one, and I say this not only because I work and train there.
When people ask me what style I train in, they get one of two answers. Either a five minute speech breaking down the inspirations and philosophies of myself and my beloved dojo, or the easy answer: “I train in a hybrid style.”
Myself and the rest of my dojo adhere to the belief that limiting yourself to one style will only limit yourself as a stylist and a person. I’ll face it, I am a hopeless Bruce Lee fanatic. I mean, who isn’t really? Bruce impacted the world of martial arts like nobody else can. Besides his insane physical prowess and martial skill, Bruce did something extremely blasphemous for his time....he mixed styles. I know! Insane right? I mean, who thinks it’s a good idea to revise what you’ve been taught, discard with what you deem ineffective, and add techniques and training methods you deem superior? Logic? Reason? Blasphemy.
Needless to say, Bruce impacted me almost as much as Pete Mansfield, my actual instructor.
Mr. Mansfield encouraged me from day one to be creative and absorb teachings from outside of his school and grow as a person. He caught the Bruce Lee bug long before I did, slyly incorporating elements of his teachings and making them his own. Even though I learned countless techniques from my instructor, the most important thing he ever taught me was to think for myself and be progressive.
Since I have earned my black belt I’ve been on a solo journey, slowly gravitating more and more to Bruce Lee’s philosophy, Jeet Kune Do. Don’t get me wrong here. I love martial arts from karate to boxing, but I fell in love with JKD. Mostly because it’s not a strict style, but a philosophy based on the principles my school was built on. I began reading books, seeking out JKD instructors online, and for lack of any strict JKD instructors in my area, I’ve sniffed out any content related to it that I can and swallowed it whole.
The more I moved towards JKD I began to move away from traditional training. I loved the realism, openness, and grittiness of JKD, and repetitive, traditional movement appealed to me less and less. I hit the bag and worked reactions more than pushing stances and throws. I practiced much more eye gouging and groin kicking than spinning crescent kicks. Was my old training hogwash, of course not. It just isn’t right for me at this point and time. Someday I may look back at my old forms and pick them back up. But for now, my heart just isn’t in it.
Now this made my conundrum even more difficult. What do I do? What style do I train in? My instructor taught me mostly Judo, Japanese Jujistu, and Tang Soo Do. I trained in a year of Wushu with another amazing instructor, Jaimee Mansfield. I got more heavily involved in grappling arts via a grappling club at my college. So who am I as a martial artist?
The more mature I become as a stylist, the more I realize that this lack of identity works in my favor. Humans love to easily categorize all aspects of our life; it makes everything easier to understand. However, the world does not conform to our perspective, and we cannot bend it into any shape we want it to be.
We need to embrace reality as it is and adapt, adapt, adapt. So I’ll take giving potential students, parents, and friends a five minute speech over simply repeating a one style mantra if it means I have more potential to grow.