By Junelie Anthony Velonta | Feature Writer
Vol. XCI No. 5
Aug. 28, 2019
The subtleties of a painting are found in the brushwork. Each stroke, on its own, reflects the skill of the painter’s hand, serving as an extension of the painter’s thoughts and emotions. With knowledge, both fresh and ancient, the hand commands the brush to interact with the paint and the canvas in a very specific manner. As the brush touches the canvas, the paint runs off and leaves a predictable but risky mark—creating a semblance of controlled chaos. After all, no one, not even the artist, knows the exact manner in which the paint would react to its surroundings. Slowly, as the different strokes connect, as the colors merge and overlap, an image forms. Finally, the painting is complete. Different artists favor different sets of strokes to illustrate their works. The same could be said of people. As information becomes easier for everyone to access, so do the concepts in which people identify with. While the list itself may not end, one of the more enduring concepts of identity was with which half of the brain they are dominant— “Left brained” or “Right brained.”
A development on the “left-right brain” concept are the personas attached to them. Perhaps it is to simplify the idea, or to facilitate people into buying into the idea, but these personas have now permeated into other concepts. Chances are, if a person is asked about his or her Myers-Briggs personality type, the four to five letter reply would often be accompanied by a representative persona. From “Analysts” to “Explorers,” people have now associated the nuances of their personalities with these almost clear-cut personas. A simpler version of these personas describes three aspects of a person’s personality. It is rather simplistic. However, this simplicity also means that it is also easier for many people to digest. The “Warrior” is the persona for the people who place heavy emphasis on their physicality. People who express interest in the more beautiful things in life often identify with the “Artist.” In varying contrasts to both of the prior is the “Scholar,” for the people who value the empirical understanding of the natural world, and sometimes beyond.
The question remains, however. How reliable are these personas?
The Warrior and the Artist
It is often said that sword is kin to the brush. The strokes it deals on the canvas are true, sure, and irreparable. Though it requires no ink, it colors whole fields in different shades of a singular color, while the crimson characters it strikes on parchment are indelible—often unforgivable. One has to ask, where is the beauty in this?
The phrase “warrior poet” is often thrown around when talking about ancient figures. However, it must be noted, that the phrase is modern. It is perhaps the movie “Braveheart,” starring Mel Gibson, that helped popularize the term. If the quote containing the term is examined, however, it is used for dramatic effect. At best, it was a throw-away. Nowhere in the movie was the concept explored.
Why was this so? If we look back to hundreds, even thousands of years ago, the concept of the “warrior” and the “artist” was not separate. The warrior classes of different cultures around the world do not put a line between the martial and the artistic.
Young samurai from hundreds of years ago were brought up with an air of thinking, and an appreciation of the softer aspects of human living. As they grow, they hone this appreciation with almost the same emphasis as with the study of bujutsu—the Craft of War. To interact with people of the same social standing, they discuss poetry and the arts. All this culminates when, in a ritual prior to their voluntary deaths, they express the finality of their lives in the last poem they will ever write.
The martial arts may be rugged to some. Like a dance, however, the martial arts also express artistry. Perhaps the most common representation of the martial arts’ artistry is the flashy moves of Wushu. After all, the practitioners of Wushu fly about as their weapons spin and flex around their bodies.
This is not the only way to express artistry, though. With each martial art comes “form.” Forms are the practitioner’s expression of not only his or her knowledge, but also of their understanding of their craft, and of their own selves. Each strike, power is rooted from the ground, travelling up to the hips and eventually into the limbs. A masterful execution of a form could only be done through expression and understanding, much like with art.
The Artist and the Scholar
How does the formless beauty reconcile with the angular data? As sheets of data print out hundreds upon hundreds of ones and zeroes, as the graphs continue to plot and connect one point to the next, it becomes more evident that conventional beauty is not found in the systematic and scientific study of the world. Art, perhaps, is found somewhere else.
If one takes time to get to know an artist, especially those focusing on the visual arts, it would slowly become obvious that art does not only involve the “soul of an artist.” Surprisingly, there is science in art. There is more to the visual arts than being an easy draw and color, as technicalities give guidelines and rules for a piece to become aesthetically pleasing. Visual elements, and the understanding of them, leads to a good piece. This is where the understanding and mastery of science enhances an artist’s ability to do art.
Perhaps the most influential example of this is the “quintessential Renaissance Man—” Leonardo da Vinci. da Vinci’s style is remarkably mathematical, though subtly so. Light shines accurately on his subjects, as if they were really alive and real. This was a combination of da Vinci’s insight as an artist and his skillful and logical observation of the natural world. As an engineer, his active imagination and innovative thinking made him a leading name at the time. At the height of his career, he created maps that were almost as accurate as those we have today. And he did this when cartography was more of an art, than it is a science. All this, without the aid of modern technology. All this, with innovative thinking, and artistic imagination.
The Scholar and the Warrior
The book and the fist seem like natural opposites. After all, one represents the peak of modern humanity’s mental faculties, culminating into the fast-paced world today, while the other embodies the primal and violent urges the individual has inherited from his or her caveman ancestors. Would they even intersect?
Surprisingly, much of what we know about how medieval and renaissance warriors truly fought with swords from the back — when times are from handwritten manuscripts. People study these manuscripts academically. Not only that, while fighting may seem like a one-sided ordeal to most, this academic study and revival of martial arts have invited people of diverse backgrounds. From engineers to doctors, a unified scholarly knowledge managed to revive multiple martial arts from words and pictures imprinted on aging parchment. Today, this effort in known as Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA).
Why was this so?
To understand the martial arts, especially those that deal with weapons, requires understanding both the human body and the weapon. This was especially so with HEMA. While most people are familiar with oriental weapons and martial arts, European weapons and people move and behave differently. First, the weapon must be understood. Guidance from the manuscripts could only go so far. They must be swung and experimented with. Later, these swings and experiments must be made parallel to how the human body works. Both of these come with experience. However, when a researcher has zero experience, empirical knowledge helps out a lot.
Not only this, but many masters themselves advocated the understanding of the science and mathematics to complement martial knowledge. Luis Diaz de Viedma, in one of his works, actively used mathematical concepts to teach fencing. After all, fencing in the Spanish style is a dance of knowledge and guts, with a minor mistake easily becoming a cause of death. It is both a slow and methodical duet. To gain an advantage would require scientific knowledge.
While a person may identify with a dominant persona, it must be said that these personas don’t stand on their own. If anything, these personas are just the subtleties that make up a person. They are the brushstrokes. It is up to the person to make the image.