BY Katie Marshall
This past weekend, Nan Sho students practiced Anyo Isa, the first full form in the Progress Arnis curriculum. By “practiced” I mean that we worked on the same set of movements, which usually take about 1 minute to do in completion, for over an hour, and learned something that changed my perspective on the Martial Arts and life in general. Classic Nan Sho.
At first we did the form as we originally learned it, as Progressive Arnis form, as we first learned it. We performed the motions in whatever movements our bodies and minds remembered learning and innately decided. The beautiful thing about the Martial Arts is that even when we do the same thing, every student does it just a little bit differently. Every block-check-strike is a fingerprint of the person delivering it, created by the impression their instructor, or several instructors, left on them. Renshi May often says, “When teaching, if you scratch your head before doing a form, your students will scratch their head before doing the form.” We are the culmination of the combined efforts of our teachers, our experiences, and the choices we make when delivering technique.
After several times through the form, as soon as we were comfortable with it, Renshi changed it on us. Before each execution of the form, Renshi would announce which style we would perform it in. We were to adapt our movements to other styles that we regularly train in at the Southern Pine Institute of Martial arts, which is quite a lot and no small challenge.
It was like changing your favorite recipe by one ingredient or going home a different way than you usually do or switching from oil paints to colored pencils. The same objectives were accomplished: each move was completed and we traveled the room defeating multiple opponents just as the form enabled us to do, but with each modified form, we were able to see what it would feel like to accomplish those objectives following different guides. It was hard. It was awesome. It was eye-opening. It was enlightening, to say the least.
If Martial Arts were literature, than the Hard Style version of Anyo Isa felt like an Ernest Hemmingway novel, full of short, declarative statements. Straight to the point. The IOPS Pencak Silat version was a poem read once; mysterious, playful, and full of small movements creating an impact that lingered beyond outright explanation and left me with more questions than answers. The Tai Ji version of Anyo Isa was more like a symphony than written word, as every movement was synchronized in time, structured, and partially because it took so much longer. Tai Ji speed is slow. Real slow.
My personal favorite version of Anyo Isa was the Kun Tao Silat Morin version. As soon as Renshi called it out, I smiled. I sank in my stance, relaxed my shoulders, and tilted my gaze higher, into what we call “Predator Gaze”. It was so, so on. I love Kun Tao the same way I love J.R.R. Tolkein novels: with great reverence, happy memories, delight, and without knowing it nearly as well as I would like. We pull a lot from Kun Tao Silat Morin in Nan Sho Budo: elbow strikes, low, even stances, and maneuvering with animal-like responses. I felt at home expressing Anyo Isa, a form from a system I love, in a style that I enjoy working in.
Performing Anyo Isa in different styles was valuable for more than just allowing us to celebrate each system that we train in and learn from. It showed us that concepts permeate techniques. An idea can be demonstrated in any kind of technique. One of the Nan Sho principles is adaption to the environment, whether it’s improvising weapons from what is around you, responding based on what you read in a situation, or practicing the same form in different styles.
Before, I thought of techniques and forms as stationary objects or cemented landmarks. You could only do them one way. This weekend’s class taught me that each move, each form, is in fact dynamic and alive, more of a doorway than a house. More blank canvas than finished painting. Each one can be expressed in a million different ways depending on the student and style.
Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest or the smartest of the species that survives; it is the one most adaptable to change.” This weekend, we learned how to adapt in real time, and became stronger and smarter students because of it.