The European Historical Combat Guild

Investigating Europe's Historical combative methods and behaviours

Saturday, 16 January 2021

Interpreting your interpretation

Some thoughts and considerations in part sparked by recent discussions of an oft debated source in the history or European Martial arts, and no I am not going to talk about who it is, though you might guess.


How do we interpret the effectiveness of our interpretation?

First or all we are all interpreting a system, whether the system is living or dead, we are interpreting through our own mentally, physicality and a host of other factors. When we have a teacher, they can guide us and perhaps lets us know when we are heading in an inappropriate direction, though of course when we have a teacher we are interpreting, we are interpreting their interpretation. This rabbit hole is another post if I have not done wone already.

So, let us consider some things we need to reflect on to interpret our Interpretation.


What are the sources for?

Fighting? What is that? There are obviously different goals for martial arts, and we need to be clear what those are. We need to know what those goals are, what the source we are looking at is intended for and what we are looking for in that source.

What we are looking for colours what we see, and we will interpret what we are looking at through he lens of what we are looking for.

Now while we can say fighting, as if it were one encompassing thing. However, a system is a summation of the things the person who created thought was important to function and succeed in combat, fighting, the goal they intended it for. So really a system is a preservation of those things, it is not about success in fighting, for us.  


What is this source aimed at?

So, we need to consider what the source we are looking at is aimed at. What problems is it claiming to solve, explicitly or implicitly. We also need to consider time and context, place etc. they will all effect the system that creates it. Are we matching the source to our approach?


What does the source say?

Obviously, we need to understand what the source is saying. What are the key concepts and Principles of the system? If the system says we should only do X when Y happens, then we need to recognise that and only do X when happens otherwise we are contradicting the system.

We also need to remember that a source will sell itself and the person who created it. A source will say it is the best for solving a problem that of course may or may not be true. Unfortunately, many systems do not address this with examples of being of them being used, or when they do, they are often self-referential. So, it hard to be sure how effective it was. Just because the source survived, does not of itself mean it was s effective. Regardless, a system is only as effective as the people saying they use it.

Is the Source Unique or does it claim that it is?

Many systems claim themselves to be part of a wider school or lineage, others makes claims of being different to all the rest, others make claims of being "New".

Now the veracity of those clams is less important than they are actually made. If the source is saying it doing something different, I need to make my interpretation with that in mind, especially when they are expressing ideas that are an outlier to the others of the time and in wider context.


Are we doing what the source says or are we “fighting”? 

Neither is wrong as such, unless we are claiming  we are doing the system when we are not

If the system says we should fight this way, then if we are doing that system, we should fight that way.

If I am ignoring the approach of the system, I might be highly successful as a fighter, but I am not doing the system, my success as a fighter says nothing about the effective of the system or my interpretation of it unless I can show to be doing what I say I am doing.


Do we know that the source was actually conveying an effective approach to the problem?

Too often it is treated as self-evident that because a source is from a period where people used the sword for example to fight for their lives that it means any system that survives from that time is inherently effective. 

However we do not know that. 

Especially if the source claims itself to be different and outlier, new or unique. Even with more popular and widespread a system may be, just means it was good at surviving in the market and sustaining itself. In the modern world we cannot judge the effectiveness or validity of a system based upon how popular it is, number of students, number of schools or how present in the wider consciousness of the society it is.


When we do what we say we are doing, is that congruent with what we say it is?

My interpretation of the concepts and Principles of the system may be a good interpretation. However, is my physical application of those things in line with what I say they are or should be.


Just because I say I am doing something does not mean I am actually doing it?

Just because I or others claim I am doing the system, am I really. I have seen skilful fighters, who claim they were doing system X, they stood in a stance of system X they had their fight, which was utilising g system Y and then when they had won, were standing in a stance of system X. Look at how effective system X is!! Most vocally the supporters of system X.


Just because we say the same thing does not mean we are doing the same things?

Lots of systems say similar things or the same things. Yet there can be a huge variation in how those things are executed in practice. Two systems talk about economy of motion, one does something in one move, the other in three. Wing Chun, and the various spellings etc, talk about similar concepts, use artefacts like Chi Sau to train them they produce a huge variety of results,


How do we test our interpretations effectiveness?

Success in free play, competitions? Maybe? But are those things a valid analogue of the intended goal of the original system? A practitioner of that system may be applying as correctly as possible the Principles of the system. However, they may fail in the modern analogues available. This may be because the analogue is not an effective representation, the fighter themselves is not skilled or experienced enough to makes what they know succeed in the analogue, or the system itself is flawed.



We have to constantly ask questions of what we are doing what we think we are doing, what and how we look at things. We also need to vigorously assess how we think about and verify what we are doing. This becomes more important when we make claims about what we are doing being based upon a source.

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