Tuesday, January 10, 2017

When Worlds Collide - Why MMA doesn't need to be an art to matter

We are doing something new here at grapplinggirl.  This post is from a guest author, Kassi Nicole Guillford. We would love to hear from more of you in the future, so you have an idea and would like to guest post, please shoot me an email!

Here's a little about Kassi:
Kassi is a purple belt on Team Gustavo Machado training in Norfolk,  Virginia.  
She holds a Bachelors of Arts in Instrumental Music Education and a Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction.  She's a middle school band director in her 9th year in the  public school classroom.  

When Worlds Collide

I’m a 31 year old middle school band director who got into jiu jitsu as a replacement for competitive marching band. I had spent my entire adolescence in the marching arts between high school, college, and summer competitive circuits, I lived and breathed it. Unceremoniously, at twenty-two, I was aged out of competition. The void it left in my life when I was no longer able to actively compete shattered my soul.  Over the course of the next two years I tried step aerobics, Zumba, belly dancing, and macramé before an old band friend suggested jiu jitsu. He said I’d love it because it was mentally just like drum corps. It had become his recovery when he aged-out and figured it would be the same for me. It took me a year after that to stumble into a gi school, but my friend was right. I was playing the same mental game and I loved it  

Since I didn’t become an athlete until I was an adult, it was band that taught me many of the lessons commonly touted as reasons kids need sports. It taught me the value of hard work. It taught me that I only get out of life what I put in. It taught me that trying really hard isn’t the same as actually doing it. It taught me how to systematically break down and solve problems.  And it did all this before I ever stepped foot on a marching band field. That’s where my life changed.  I’ll put them in a table to you can see why they are similar in my mind.
Marching Band
Jiu Jitsu
Long rehearsal camps leading up to competition.
Big training camps leading up to major tournaments
Regular rehearsals throughout the week
Training sessions throughout the week
Physical stamina required to move and play at the same time
Physical stamina required so you don’t gas out during a match
Good conditioning prevents injuries
Good conditioning prevents injury
You are competing against other bands who are performing different music and different drill that is tailored to their strengths and weaknesses
You take the mat with a game plan that works your strengths and works around your weaknesses. Your competitor does the same
Lower body technique is the basis of all good marching bands’ look and sound.
Footwork is vital to take downs and throws
Strong upper body technique ensures you can deliver musically.
There’s an MMA parallel here, I’m not going to pretend to understand how to throw punches. I really hate getting punched. 
When you understand fundamentally how to move, you can do it reliably in any situation
When you understand the mechanics of a technique, you can do it from many positions.
You rehearse all of these elements separately with feedback from your instructors to improve your skills
You drill techniques separately and get feedback from your professor or coach.
You will rehearse the same drill or musical segment 1000 times, and expect to improve on each repetition.
You will drill a move 1000 times and expect to improve every single time.
You do run-throughs in rehearsal to improve stamina and be sure that you can string together these ideas that you have rehearsed separately.
You spar or roll live to apply techniques drilled separately on a live opponent.
The scoring system rewards both difficulty and execution.
The scoring system rewards attempted submissions and dominant positions.  
All members of the band must be able to perform their role to be competitively successful
For your team to win a tournament, all the members must do well in their individual matches. In MMA, you need all members of your coaching staff and training camp to be on top of their game.
Final scores determined by judges perception and interpretation of your performance.
Refs make decisions on their perception of control of the match, number of punches thrown/ landed.

Meryl Streep set the martial arts community on fire with the sentence: “...we'll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.
The thousands of words of think pieces (Like this one!) and video rebuttals full of ire over the fact that she doesn’t value our discipline. We took her statement that martial arts is not an art to mean that it isn’t worth something. That it isn’t as important as real art. And we all know what real art is, amiright?
But what about marching band? I’m willing to bet that a huge number of you read that list above with your tongue firmly planted in your cheek. That you’re picturing some overweight, pimple-faced kid with a retainer, and a lateral lisp talking about “one time at band camp..” where they worked so hard…
You didn’t say any of that. I filled that in with my twenty years of people not getting it. Of telling me about how they “played a little guitar, so I totally get it.” Oh-so-hilariously quoting American Pie. Because I’ve never heard that before. Even my own teammates jokingly refer to the annual sabbatical from training that happens every August as “Kassi going to band camp.” 
This is where you expect me to say that “if MMA is an art, marching band is a sport.”
I think both are false.
I am going to catch the wrath of both sides of my life, but as a musician and a martial artist, they just aren’t the same. Bear with me while I flesh this out. If you’ve made it this far, you may as well keep going.
True mastery of any discipline is described as artistry. The work of brilliant mathematicians or scientists is often described as artistry. Are scientists or mathematicians artists? Hardly anyone would argue that point. Unless there is the perception that in withholding the designation “artist” that you are devaluing the work.
It is in this vein, I find my counter example regarding marching band to be identical. We want so badly the respect and social status that comes with athlete and sport designation. We work hard. We’re a team. We’re dedicated. By God, we’re a sport!
Marching band is hard, it is skilled, it is disciplined… and it is not a sport. Because we don’t have to share that designation to be valid.

Artists are known to be feverishly dedicated to their craft. To spend their lifetime in pursuit of an ever-out-of-reach goal. To describe someone as an artist has the built in implication that the common man won’t quite understand their level of dedication to their discipline. As martial artists (I use that colloquially) we fit the bill. We are dedicated, crazy, and always growing. Always learning.  
If we aren’t artists then she, and all those elitists clapping for her, don’t think we are all of those things. We look at the martial arts community and see countless boot-strap stories of success. Men and women who are both inspirational and inspired. Fighters that have put in the work on their craft to make the impossible seem effortless. How is that not artistry?
In a room full of performing artists, she didn’t really need to flush out her definition of art. But she hints on it in one of the last lines of her speech. Which, if you aren’t this kind of artist, likely slipped you by “We must be very aware of the privilege and responsibility of the act of empathy.”
“We must be very aware of the privilege and responsibility of the Act of Empathy.”
That’s heavy.
That wasn’t political. That wasn’t about President-Elect Trump. The responsibility of the act of empathy speaks to both the responsibility of the work’s writer/composer/ choreographer and also to convey this meaning to the audience. Art is like time-traveling exorcism. You are hearing the sounds, seeing the sights, and feeling the emotions of people who aren’t there and may be long dead. The magnitude of that responsibility as a performer and that gift as a patron are enormous.
Robert Heinlin explains his definition of art in his book Stranger in a Strange Land

“Art is the process of evoking pity and terror, which is not abstract at all but very human…. creative art is more like intercourse, in which the artist must seduce -- render emotional -- his audience, each time.”

It is in that second phase, the connection with the audience, that martial arts takes a different path. Martial arts existed for thousands of years without an audience and continues to in far flung corners of the globe. Martial arts are about building people. Bodies. Minds. Souls. The audience is and has always been irrelevant.
While Ms. Streep certainly said what she did with a derisive tone. It remains that if The Arts (theatre, music, dance, visual arts, and literature) collapsed today and never existed again, martial arts could not fill that void.
We don’t need martial arts to be The Arts anymore than marching band needs to be a sport to be valid. Our contribution to the tapestry to this world is through producing men and women who are iron sharpened and take that dedication and intensity into all parts of their lives.