Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Creative Writing As Martial Art? Part 1

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I have always tried to define the ethos that guides my writing. Until recently, the closest I could come to a complete answer was the idea of writing as craft. I was taking literature out of the world of art and placing it beside basket weaving. There is a skill and beauty to craft, but more importantly, it is treated as a passed down practice. In reality, many writers write like this. Their writing is merely the passed on ideas of other writers, who thoughtlessly regurgitate the methodology taught to them. But that does not cleanly fit what I do as a writer.

While reading the Tao of the Wu Tang Clan it hit me – the Buddhist priest invited to write the forward explained, that even though the Rza and himself did not speak the same language, they understood one another. As an aside to a bigger revelation, he explained that Rza saw music as a martial art. Reading that brief ember lit the fuse that is this idea: “Creative writing is a martial art.”

First, let's make sure we're all defining the same things as creative writing. I am using this vast term to include anything defined as poetry – including spoken – word and visual poetics, and prose – fiction, creative non-fiction and any sort of play. I'm sure corporate creative writing fits as well – but a treatise on the beauty of a well written advertisement is above my pay scale.

Now – what are martial arts? Let's lean on the Eastern philosophies behind martial arts. To keep it simple, we'll put Sun Tzu to the side. What do we have left? Various styles of Kung Fu, Bushido, and Muay Thai (My sincere apologies, I do not know enough about Taekkyeon to include it in my thesis). All three forms of combat have familiar threads that run through them.

For instance, all three martial schools of thought involve meditation. Students are asked not to find stillness, but calm. All three have a “slow way.” The most pronounce demonstration of this. is what we call Tai Chi Chuan. There are slow kata techniques as well. Muay Thai slow arts are often tied to prayer ritual. Most importantly, eastern martial arts are simultaneously tied to the future and the past. Students are asked to master techniques and routines that have been passed down for centuries, however, students are encouraged to create their own techniques and develop their own martial arts.

For example, the Gracie family of Brazil. A family of judo practitioners developed the most important grappling art of the modern age of martial arts – Brazilian Ju Jitsu. To promote their art, they created a competition in the US called the Ultimate Fighting Championship. As fighters realized the dominance of the Gracie clan and adapted, a new martial art was created – Mixed Martial Arts.

Sometimes competition is good. It leads to the creation of a new art, like MMA. However, competition has its negatives. Debates rage in grappling and karate circles about the negatives of “point fighting.” In other words, competitions create schools and methods that serve only a single purpose – to win competitions. This often leads to techniques being adopted into a martial art that have zero practical use. In his Jeet Kun Do Manual Sifu Bruce Lee encourages martial way practitioners to take the good and eliminate the negatives from martial arts. That is one of the first things we must do when developing our own martial way of literature.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Dane Swan

Dane Swan is a Bermuda-raised, Toronto-based internationally published poet, writer and musician. His first collection, Bending the Continuum was launched by Guernica Editions in the Spring of 2011.

Go to Dane Swan’s Author Page