It is only an understanding of the rules that allows us to break them. Anything else is ignorance.
Miles Davis, arguably the greatest jazz musician of all time, began his formal training at the age of 13. Davis’ teacher Elwood Buchan would rap the young musicians hand every time he strayed from the score, prohibiting him from using heavy vibrato which was fashionable at the time. That pure unmistakable tone stayed with Davis throughout his career. So we have to consider that the very thing that made Davis so unique among his contemporaries was rooted in those formative lessons with Buchan.
“I prefer a round sound with no attitude in it, like a round voice with not too much tremelo and not too much bass. Just right in the middle. If I can’t get that sound I can’t play anything.” – Miles Davis
Although Davis went to Juilliard and chose to drop out, he credited his time there with greatly improving his trumpet playing technique, giving him give him a grounding in music theory that proved invaluable.
And once he knew the rules? He broke the rules. Once he knew the structure, he could break the structure. When you listen to “Kind of Blue” or watch him stalking the stage at the Montreux Jazz Festival, you witness an artist completely at ease and adapting second by second to the environment.
In martial arts, the ability to break an opponents structure is only an option if you understand how to create it in the first place. Bruce Lee studied traditional martial arts and that foundation ultimately informed his own creative process. It established a base of confidence from which to work. And Lee never failed to reference the roots and influences of his own art, be it fencing, boxing or Wing Cun. Strange how we succeeded in codifying Jeet Kune Do into a formulaic system, the very antithesis of Lee’s approach.
“Anticipate the difficult by managing the easy” – Lao Tzu
There is nothing new under the sun. There is however ample room to interpret, absorb, adopt and adapt. It is your understanding. It is your ability to conceptualise and articulate that makes this “thing” your own.
“Information is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom.” – James Gleick
At some point the path you are on with lead you to the forest’s edge…
“You enter the forest
at the darkest point,
where there is no path.
Where there is a way or path,
it is someone else’s path.
You are not on your own path.
If you follow someone else’s way,
you are not going to realize
your potential.” – Joseph Campbell