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Cultivating Your Personal Martial Expression

Cultivating Your Personal Martial Expression

“An artist’s expression is his soul made apparent, his schooling,

as well as his ‘cool’ being exhibited. Behind every motion, the

music of his soul is made visible.”

- Bruce Lee



Bruce Lee considered martial art to be, in his words, “an athletic expression of the dynamic human body,” as well as, “… an unfolding of everything an individual is: their personality, temperament, fears, strengths, etc.” I’ve heard it said by some people that Jeet Kune Do is (or was) Bruce Lee’s personal expression in martial arts and as such it cannot be taught or learned. I disagree on both counts and have discussed the subject in other blogs and articles. What I’d like to share here is how you, as an individual, can cultivate your own “personal martial expression.”


What do I mean by “personal martial expression”? The term relates the way you express yourself using martial arts as a vehicle; the way you communicate in combative form. It’s more than simply performing martial art movements, because those are simply moves; punches, kicks, traps, locks, etc. It’s what goes behind the movements and actions. It’s the underlying intentions that make your actions meaningful.


What you bring to your personal martial expression is the sum of who you are. It’s an out-pouring of your personality (physical, mental, and emotional) or as Lee stated, “…an unfolding of everything you are.” Every move or action you make, everything you do communicates something about you – how you think, the way you feel, how well you know yourself.


How do you go about cultivating your own personal martial expression? First, recognize that personal martial expression takes into account such things as individual genetics, personal attributes, and personal nature. Differences in such things as age, body structure, genetic predisposition, personal preferences and aptitudes all play into the equation. For example, one individual might be tall and lanky, another short and stocky. One person might possess fast perceptual speed, whereas another might be slower in picking things up visually. One individual might have good coordinative abilities while another is clumsy and uncoordinated. One person might have a very aggressive nature while another has a non-aggressive personality.


Second, understand that whatever you learn in your martial art training has to go through your own psychology, your own body and mind, to become your own – to make it part of your being. You need to take whatever it is you do, integrate it with your personality, your physical attributes, and add your own personal modifications if necessary. If you don’t digest it and put it through your own process, you will simply end up regurgitating someone else’s material.


Third, make sure that everything you do is infused with intention and emotional content (the depth of feeling you put into what you do). Whatever you move you make or action you take, do it with a sense of purpose and full investment of self. Don’t do something just for the sake of doing it. When you explode with a straight blast physically, explode with that straight blast mentally and emotionally as well.


To cultivate your personal martial expression requires a high level of self-knowledge and self-awareness. You need to know and understand who you are in all your capacities. If you have unique abilities, or a unique ability such as impeccable timing, an intuitive understanding and sense of distance, or fluid and fast speed of movement it (or they) will become part of your personal martial expression.


Personal martial expression should come from the inside out, not the outside in. What’s important is to let your actions be an ‘honest’ expression of who you really; to express your soul in every action. If you do that there won’t be any need to search for or attempt to create a personal “style,” if you want to use that word; it will develop naturally. And it will be uniquely yours, like your fingerprints. Cultivating your personal martial expression will allow you to express your own unique potential as a martial artist.


(Photo courtesy of David Sasha Tadman)



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