The Truth About Traditional Martial Arts by KJN Ronald Stone
The other day I was chatting with a young man who mentioned he was interested in finding a MMA school to study at. I asked him if I couldn’t interest him in the traditional martial arts instead. His response, sad as it was, isn’t surprising.
“Oh, that stuff isn’t real fighting,” he answered. Rather than try to explain how traditional military martial arts evolved from centuries of combat I tried a different tact. “Wouldn’t you like to be like Chuck Norris or Jackie Chan?” Again, the response was not what I would have answered back in the day, but as would be expected today. “No, I want to learn how to really fight.”
Pointing out that most of the MMA fights are either scripted or heavily regulated (the more famous MMA promotions are dominated by Pro Wrestling stars) would simply have sounded like sour grapes and he wouldn’t have believed it anyway. I next asked whether it wasn’t better to train how not to fight rather than to develop an aggressive attitude, but he just looked at my non-tattooed body and smiled as if I were crazy.
We all know that you can only train for combat. You never know what it is like until you are in the thick of it, and believe me very, very, few truly want to be in a real life and death situation. You can only hope that your training system was the best at teaching the necessary survival skills.
So why have the traditional martial arts, once the top dog in the world of public attention, fallen from grace. I believe one reason is the attention-grabbing effect of the “spectacle.” Two men in a steel ring is much more attention grabbing than someone doing one finger pushups in a Buddhist temple. Remember how popular the gladiators were? Besides there has been so much fraud and exaggeration over the years (movies with people flying over temples and standing on swords etc.) that the public belief system has been eroded.
The truth of the matter is that traditional “military style” martial arts instruction is the best methodology for surviving a combative or self-defense situation for a simple reason. They have been tried, tested, and refined in the caldron of battle for centuries. Understand, I am not talking about “sporting” arts where referees set limitations on technique application and power and lethality are modified in favor of speed and “point scoring.” I am referring to martial arts that can trace their ancestry to certified organizations still regulating how and why techniques are used, and who can teach.
Once you realize how truly few instructors in the west understand the military application of kata or poomse it becomes easier to understand how a rough and tumble MMA match can appear more effective. Worse yet how many schools try to teach “KIDDIE KARATE” techniques to adults as if people fought that way.
Children are taught in a static or repetitive manner to develop muscle memory and to weed out the less enthusiastic students who for a variety of reasons may not be worthy of learning the master level techniques. For obvious reason children are not taught lethal techniques.
Those who don’t understand the difference in practice, techniques and lethality only diminish the reputation of the marital arts and perhaps rightfully so. Recently a grandmaster I know gave a seminar to the army. After an hour or so he began to sense some skepticism, so he inquired about the group’s attitude. Some of the soldiers replied that they had just been instructed by another famous martial artist. The grappling techniques they had learned seemed to be contradicting what my friend was teaching. He then chose a couple of soldiers and asked them to put on their combat gear, belts with canteens and ammo pouches, rucksack, etc. Then he asked them to demonstrate the techniques the previous instructor had taught them.
Once they were geared up the soldiers were unable to move around in the grappling mode they had been taught. My friend said it was it was like watching a turtle stuck on his back. In other words the men weren’t taught the practical aspects or applications of the martial arts. What works in a ring with a referee with a television audience won’t necessarily work in combat or self-defense. Professor Joseph Connolly once commented that training an Olympic athlete to ski and shoot at paper targets won’t make them an Army Mountain trooper.
I don’t want to disparage any athlete and those in the mixed martial arts work and train hard. The problem is that I believe in the truth of the adage “jack of all trades, master of none.” Also, the core basic training tool in MMA is to create an “opponent aggressive” attitude. The martial arts on the other hand teach humility, and respect. True martial artists don’t step into a ring to “pick a fight” but rather train hard to win if ever forced into one. When a traditional martial artist watches a ring MMA match questions immediately arise such as “Why didn’t he take the groin shot? “Why didn’t he use a skin pinch or an eye gouge?”
What happened to the throat attack?” The answers are simple. Such moves are “illegal” in an MMA match, so they are not routinely taught or practiced. Again, MMA was designed as a sport not as a reality combative system.
Traditional martial arts masters realize this but wonder why the public doesn’t understand this. I suppose it is partially because of the media and partially because of a “head in the sand” attitude on the part of martial arts instructors. Most of them prefer to approach their business more as a hobby and run their schools as if people would automatically seek out their greatness. The industry is a group of competing individuals who for the most part take an “I am alone in this” attitude. Most instructors seem to prefer to run their schools much as they did when they were learning. In other words, they find it more interesting to train and learn and teach than to it is study business and marketing techniques or to cooperate in industry wide marketing campaign. MMA on the other hand is corporate run and has a worldwide marketing group. No wonder they seem to be hogging the limelight. Can this be corrected? Certainly, it can. What is needed is more cooperation among professionals and less backstabbing and slandering of competitors. The question is can such a large group of individuals work together to help improve the entire industry and will they realize that there is strength in numbers? That is a question that is hard to answer. It has been done before. In 1961 just nine schools decided to work together under the unified name of Taekwondo. Those nine men and their dream has become the worldwide phenomenon that is Taekwondo today.
About the author: R.W. Stone is a veterinarian in Florida. He is an avid horseman, martial artist, best-selling western author, and a firearms enthusiast. Currently Stone is ranked a seventh dan in Haemukwan Hapkido, a fourth dan in Daehan Yudo and a second dan in Kukki TaeKwondo. He is the Master Instructor at the American Dragon Martial Arts Academies in Ocoee, Florida. Read his daily thoughts on Martial Arts at www.facebook.com/groups/koreanmartialarts For more information visit www.kmaia.org
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