My oud teacher, Mavrothi Kontanis, has been working with me recently on playing with feeling, on expressing something, on saying something through my playing.
Bruce Lee said that martial arts were for him about personal expression, about honestly expressing himself. This concept is the key to not only doing something really well, but making an impact with whatever it is that you are doing. Watch this short clip of Bruce Lee talking about it:
Think about the music you really like. What’s your favorite song? I bet it gives you a feeling when you listen to it. Think about your favorite visual art, your favorite painting. We don’t love things because they look good or sound good. We love things because they feel good. The best artists are masters of expression. And the only genuine or honest expression is self expression.
Bruce Lee said that he can “put on a show and be cocky” or “show you some really fancy movement”, but that is not honest expression. Similarly you can listen to a musician who is great technically, who plays something fancy and impressive, and you might think…wow…that guy has great skill. But what really sticks with you is the person who speaks to you, the person that has something to say. You hear it, and it resonates with you. Mavrothi told me that if I’m not saying something then I’m saying nothing. Very uninteresting. It’s exactly the same with martial arts.
If you want to be great at whatever it is you’re doing, you need to say something through your performance. It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing music, painting, sparring, or cleaning your house. When there is a purpose behind what you are doing, when you are expressing yourself, then you are going to make an impact.
In the above interview Bruce Lee said that honestly expressing yourself is very difficult to do, and added:
You have to train. You have to keep your reflexes so that when you want it, it’s there. When you want to move, you are moving. And when you move you are determined to move. Not anything less than that.
There are prerequisites to expressing something well, or even having the ability to express yourself at all. You need to know what it is that you want to express. And you need to have put in the training time, to have developed the skills to say what you want to say. But once you do have the skills, remember that you should be expressing yourself in everything that you do.
It’s easier not to do it. It’s easier to just go through the motions of whatever you’re doing. When you practice martial arts/self defense, it’s easy to push hard or to move fast. But you should be doing more. You should be saying something to your opponent. Through your actions, tell your opponent, “I’m going to kick your ass buddy, or I’m going to die trying!” This can be playful of course. I don’t mean to suggest that you should literally be kicking your training partner’s ass every time you train. And, you can alternatively say, “I’m going to put you down without hurting you.” But whatever you do, say something!