“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” – Michelangelo.
Michelangelo’s Artful Words suggest that the “Angel” existed in the marble prior to his carving, or that he did not carve the form of the angel but rather chipped away everything that was not the angel waiting to be “freed” from the marble. At least in this sense, martial arts and sculpting are alike.
Learning a new skill can be a daunting challenge. With martial arts, often people can drop out before they realise their full potential thinking that they “aren’t meant to be a fighter”. This principle reassures the naysayers that even though they feel they aren’t meant to be a fighter, doesn’t mean they don’t have the capacity to be a martial artist.
When applied to martial arts, Michelangelo’s words suggest that we must not accumulate techniques but rather “chip away” all the things we do that fail to conform to martial principles in their purity. In that sense, our pursuit of martial excellence becomes a process of reduction rather than one of accumulation. In other words, the “angel” already exists in all of us.
If we examine Michelangelo’s statement pre closely, his point rests on the premise that the initial size, shape and grain of a block of marble ultimately determine what should be carved from it. The marble contains an inherent shape for which it is best suited, and it is up to the artist to bring that shape forth. In essence, the sculpture precedes the sculptor.
So how can we approach martial arts with the same reductionist philosophy used by Michelangelo?
The answer is simple: while the martial arts lack solidity, martial artists do not. A martial artist of the past did no create the martial arts out of thin air. They discovered the martial arts, finding them in the “block” that is the human being. They discovered that human anatomy generates more power one way than it does another, that it bends in certain ways and breaks in others, that is is vulnerable in certain respects and strong in others, etc. The strengths and weaknesses of the total human being pre-existed the emergence of martial arts and martial artists. Waiting in the “block” of humanity for the martial artist to “set it free”.
Thus, if true martial power already exists in us there is an implication that it is within us now. Dormant. Meaning our body’s capacity for incredible speed, pwower, and technique pre-exists our understanding of it. It suggests that martial arts cannot be about accumulating practices that empower us but rather ceasing all practices that disempower us! We do no have to start doing the right things but rather stop doing all of the things that interfere with the “angel” of martial artists within.