Traditional Martial Arts today?
Its been a much debated topic with numerous posts online being centered around the effectiveness of the traditional martial arts today, and what they can offer to society. As someone who has both trained and taught traditional martial arts for a number of years, it is an interesting topic for me to address and a number of factors need to be considered in terms of the `role` of martial arts today.
Combat effectiveness in the Martial Arts?
Firstly, and most obviously, there is the factor of combat effectiveness. The early UFC hoped to pit fighter against fighter, asking the age old question of which style was most effective when it came down to a `no holds barred` contest. Would the bigger man dominate over the quicker, more agile opponent? Was karate better than boxing? From the first UFC’s, and the dominance of Royce Gracie and his style of Brazilin Jiu-Jitsu, it was clear that a new type of fighter had emerged, one that was not only comfortable on the ground, but advantaged in this way. Martial arts then took on a whole new format in the following years, and the idea of mixed martial arts was born, focusing on arts like kickboxing and muay thai for standup game, wrestling for taking down the opponent, and BJJ for ground game. Many now think of MMA as being the pinnacle of combat effectiveness as it tests the fighter’s skill, and fitness against a non-compliant opponent, something that the traditional martial arts can lack. I contest this belief but on to that at a later date.
Martial Arts Principles
I have trained and taught Yoshinkan Aikido for many years now, and a constant criticism I find from people looking at aikido is that the techniques seem ineffective, unrealistic, and dependent on the compliance of the partner. It is true that in the beginning we rely on our partner working with us to help us understand the technique we are trying to do, but what people fail to grasp is the principles underlying the techniques learnt. Aikido looks a lot at wrist grabs due to its being based on samurai unarmed combat. Samurai armor was weak at the wrists and so it was common to attack here. A wrist grab attack in today’s world is unrealistic, yet the principles we learn from this simple attack helps us to build the foundations for more realistic attacks. Aikido looks at connecting with the partner/opponent and keeping this connection throughout the technique. An easy way for this principle to be understood is through the wrist, as the elbow and shoulder can then easily be controlled. If we looked straight at a hook punch, headbutt, or other such `realistic attacks`, this simple principle could be overlooked and so, in my opinion and in terms of aikido, simpler attacks are necessary until you understand the basics. All martial arts, regardless of style work on the principles of unbalancing the attacker while maintaining your balance, employing power through the hips and lower body, and neutralizing the attack, either through a block or movement. This can be seen in the boxer slipping the punch, unbalancing the opponent and allowing an opening to counter punch. It is often not the most powerful punches that cause the knockouts in these cases, but the punches timed perfectly where the opponent is off balance and left open. This principle in my opinion, is true of all martial arts, regardless of styles.
So in terms of combat effectiveness, I believe that all martial arts, traditional and new, have their place and these all teach the same fundamental principles, all be it with a sometimes different slant. What is crucial, is to remember what is being studied. A `Martial` art, martial meaning war. The effectiveness of the traditional martial arts still hold true today, in my opinion, but it is dependent on the patience of the individual learning, as well as the instructor teaching. There is a tendency in the traditional martial arts to sometimes forget the applicability of techniques, focusing too much on the `art` and not enough on the `martial` aspect and so to keep its role in terms of combat effectiveness in today’s society, traditional martial arts should address this.
Combat effectiveness is just one role the martial arts can play today, and in my opinion is not the most important. Next blog I will discuss the role it can have on the development of children through the instilling of respect, discipline, fitness and a don’t give up attitude.