The Martial Arts Subculture by Instructor Ma
These days when one speaks of a “subculture” you automatically think of some
underground group performing illegal, illicit, or immoral activities. The image that
is conjured up of a subculture is that of a group of tattooed weirdoes with body piercing
and funny hairdos all acting outrageously. Interestingly however, where the martial arts is concerned the opposite tends to be a more realistic portrayal. If you want to find
aggressive, tattooed, skinheads you are more likely to find them in the audience of a
wrestling match or an MMA event than in a true martial arts dojo.
The tenants of most authentic martial arts include words like humility, courage,
respect, honor, integrity, and obedience to elders and to those of higher ranks. These are hardly traits that create or encourage an aggressive or boastful attitude. One only has to remember the words on the wall of the dojo in that most famous of all martial art movies The Karate Kid: “Karate is for self -defense only” Again, these are not words that
encourage a competitive or violent nature.
For purposes of this discussion, we will refer to those martial artists and schools
that are legitimately certified by a traditional governing body such as the World Martial Arts Congress, The World Hapkido Union, the Korean Martial Arts Instructors Association, or other such bodies in China, Japan, or Okinawa. While the Military has a strict code of conduct so do the traditional certified martial arts.
Sadly, just as non-official paramilitary knockoffs have no governmental authority to enforce their “codes” and have members who can act however they like, the same is true of uncertified martial arts schools.
The image of the Cobra Kai school with its aggressive tattooed instructor (again
from the original Karate Kid movie) is not far from the truth in many of the mainstream mixed martial arts schools currently operating. Such schools pride themselves not on how they educate individual students but on how many trophies they win. Instruction is often geared more towards creating an aggressive win at any cost attitude than towards building the students’ knowledge, physical health, self-esteem, and ability to defend his or herself.
Such mainstream schools often quote Lombardi’s “winning isn’t everything it’s
the only thing,” when in reality the martial arts are supposed to be about humility. How
can one be humble when he is boasting of a trophy win, or trying to outdo a competitor
instead of helping a schoolmate. Truthfully, the trophy sport mentality is not a true reflection of the “martial arts.” The word Martial refers to warfare and there are no rules
or referees in warfare. True martial artists train to avoid fights but are prepared to fight
only if there is no alternative.
The subculture of traditional military martial arts is a close knit and mutually
supportive group, but it is usually overshadowed by the advertising dollars and corporate sponsorships associated with the sports industry. It is not unusual for certified high level professional instructors to be overwhelmed in towns swarming with large numbers of part time instructors. The author knows of several examples where teenagers were placed as head instructors or worse yet, owned the school when their age wasn’t even appropriate for the rank they claimed.
Mixed martial arts was originally brought to the fore front of public interest when
a consortium dreamed up the idea of creating an arena to compete with the wrestling
industry. No educated individual today would dare compare the smackdown version of
wrestling with true Greco roman style, nor would they believe that chair smashing and
throwing opponents out of the ring is realistic. Since martial arts were only recently introduced into America (post World War Two) and really didn’t take off until the late 70’s after shows like Kung fu and Enter the Dragon, most Americans are still not able to discern the artificial theater that is behind Mixed martial arts competition. MMA was originally billed as a no holds barred authentic demonstration of the martial arts when many of the original champions were former overseas wrestling show stars, and referees prohibited things like finger locks, eye gouges, biting, throat and groin attacks and other lethal self-defense techniques routinely practiced in traditional military martial arts. Most do not realize that the same showbiz smackdown promoters are involved in MMA promotion.
The “subculture martial arts community” practices techniques designed to calm
the spirit and improve the quality of life. One only must study the Dan Jung breathing
techniques of Hapkido or the flexibility and stretching techniques of Tae Chi to realize
that after a workout the student is usually more relaxed and at peace. By contrast the
more public fighting arts often produce students who are more aggressive and have an
For those who doubt the authority of these statements I can say from personal
interviews of people who after four years in an Olympic certified martial arts style they
author felt no confidence in his ability to apply what he learned in a real-world confrontation.
After one month in a military style certified school however, the difference was
astounding. Gone was the competitive nature of the instruction as well as the constant
number of impractical and repetitive sport encouraged forms and techniques that bore
little relation to the real world of combat. The practice was just as enjoyable, just as
physically demanding but the approach was more of a “be the best you can” rather than
“Beat everyone you can.”
As with any subculture it is often difficult to find members and to become one
yourself, but in the case of the martial arts it is worth the effort to do the
necessary research and to try to enter this amazing world of dedicated professionals.
About the author: Instructor Ma is a 3rd Degree Black Belt in the Korean self-defense art of Hapkido and a 2nd Dan in Traditional Taekwondo. She is a professional sports and fitness model and full-time Nursing student. She is the language, culture, and leadership development teacher for the World Martial Arts Congress. www.worldmartialartscongress.com