Traditional or not, that is the question…

Traditional or not, that is the question…

Martial Arts have become a lot like institutionalized religion these days.  Go on you tube and there are endless videos of someone who has come up with their own system (we will call it S.W.A.T.) and they spend the whole time telling you how this or that traditional technique will not work in a “real” fight.  They usually work in some chuckles about the practice of Kata’s and how useless they are. Tai Chi is often the scapegoat and the target of many of these folk’s venomous words.   Sometimes they go on to show you something from their unique system that according to them really does work. Next they do a demonstration of some punches, elbows, and yes maybe even knees!  If you follow their new system you will be sure to defeat an attacker in a “real” fight.

Then unfortunately you go to some traditional channel and they will do the same type of thing.  They bad mouth some other style and say how it is not as effective as theirs.  They may even bad mouth practitioners of their own style from other schools. These schools may even practice Kata’s but then when it is time to “really” fight they of course don’t use any of those techniques.  Remember Sensei H.?

Then we have MMA.  Questioning this will probably get the most people upset.  MMA fighters tend to claim that traditional styles don’t work either. MMA has become the litmus test for martial arts techniques these days and whether they are “worthy” or not.  It seems that the whole MMA world has bought off on the fact that if it isn’t used in MMA then of course it isn’t “real” or has no value.  I will agree that MMA is probably the best overall way to prove your fighting ability without actually permanently harming someone.   There is no doubt to me that the MMA style of fighting has a lot of merit.  You practice techniques that cover all ranges of attack and you find out what it is like to really get hit. There doesn’t seem to be any cohesive philosophy of how and when to use the techniques that they have learned though.  We all do have to acknowledge that even though it is as “real” as we can get in practice, it is in fact not “real”.  There are techniques that different styles use that are not allowed due to the rules MMA has.  Also even though people don’t seem to realize it, MMA is just another style of martial arts fighting.

Am I missing something?  Did these people who berate traditional martial arts invent punches, elbows, or even knees?  How are these not traditional techniques? What traditional Martial Art does not include them?  What secret techniques have they developed? I challenge you to show me any new empty hand technique that has been invented in the last 500 years!

Does anyone remember back at the earliest UFC events like UFC 1?  What was the main thing that was happening that was blowing everyone’s minds?  It was Royce Gracie beating guys many times his size seemingly effortlessly!   Within a short time it was settled, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu was the most effective martial art.  Now that it was settled everyone could just quit their Karate, Kung fu, or Taekwondo School and take up BJJ.  Geez I am glad that is settled!  But wait a minute! There seems to be one problem. Why is it if I look at all the current MMA champs none of them are strictly BJJ practitioners?  Except for a few wrestlers with heavy hands most are strikers???  What happened?  I thought it was all settled and we all just needed to become BJJ practitioners and forget the rest.  Well it seems that somewhere along the way strikers figured out how to stop BJJ guys from shooting on them, awe the sprawl!  Now that the BJJ guys had to stay at a distance they were suddenly getting knocked out.

Just to be clear I am not knocking BJJ here at all. I think BJJ is a great martial art. I am trying to make a finer point.  Where did BJJ’s techniques come from?  They came from Japanese Ju-jitsu (of course some were modified by Royce Gracie’s father Helio Gracie).  Isn’t Japanese Ju-jitsu a traditional martial art?   How long has BJJ been around?  Isn’t it kind of institutionalized?  Doesn’t that sort of make it a traditional art as well?  If MMA is the litmus test doesn’t that prove that traditional martial arts do work?  What about all those punches and kicks that the strikers were using to knock the BJJ guys out?  Don’t they belong to some traditional martial art?  Or did they learn them from those other guys (S.W.A.T.) who made fun of the traditional martial arts and had their little chuckle.  Can any MMA fan forget they day the Anderson Silva knocked out Vitor Belfort with that newfangled technique called the “front kick”!!!! (Isn’t that the first kick all of us learned in any traditional class when we were white belts?) It was amazing!  The day after the fight that is all people could talk about. Suddenly everyone was learning and throwing the new front kick.  But wait I thought traditional techniques did not work???

This brings me to my next point.   How many times have you heard the announcer say so in so fighter is a Taekwondo practitioner and then throughout the whole fight the “Taekwondo” practitioner never throws any spinning or high kicks?  You might assume that’s because according to those other guys (S.W.A.T.), with their own system, high kicks would never work in a “real” fight. Then the next fight comes along and the announcer says that this fighter is a Muay Thai practitioner, once again not an elbow or knee or even a clinch is seen throughout the entire fight?  Those other guys with their own system were using elbows and knees so they must be good right? How about the MMA boxer? He cannot seem to figure out how to get more of a combination strung together than a one, two!  Did anyone recently see the David Benavidez fight where he knocked the other fighter out with a 7 punch combination?  When is the last time you have seen a “boxer” in MMA do something like that?  What is going on here?   To be honest I do not believe that vast majority of these fighters have had any traditional training. They train in a MMA gym.   There is nothing wrong with that in and of itself and it doesn’t make them any less a good fighter.  It is just that a claim is being made that makes them appear to represent a particular style or system even though they have not had any extensive training in that very system.

But here is the question. Aren’t many people out their deciding that traditional martial arts don’t work in real fights based on the outcome of MMA fights? Or that Muay Thai is more effective than Karate based on the outcome of these same fights? Are they are making this decision based on some Youtube video proclaiming that their system called S.W.A.T. or something like that is the end all, be all?  Wasn’t it decided that BJJ was better than them all?  How is it possible that people can decide which style is most effective if the people they are watching don’t have any extensive training in that particular style.  Or can people rely on the traditional naysayers on Youtube that claim traditional techniques don’t work but seem to have none of their own?

So it seems to me that there are a lot of apples and oranges and out right BS being propagated here!   All the techniques you see in MMA originally belonged to one traditional martial arts style or another.  I will include boxing in this.  Although boxing is classified as a sport not a traditional style of martial arts it is similar in that it has a philosophy behind how to use the techniques and it is effective in a “real” fight. Let’s not forget that modern boxing after WWII was heavily influenced by Filipino martial arts.  All traditional fighting styles were developed for a fighting purpose.  What other possible purpose can a punch, kick, choke, throw or lock have?

The other misnomer is that martial styles are somehow static.  We say Karate as if it is one style but how many styles of Karate are there?  You can say the same for any other style that there is.  So why are there so many?  Because the truth is that all techniques and philosophies have pros and cons.  This is the origin of the different styles.  A certain Martial Arts master learns a particular style and then at some point he decides that the system he has learned is lacking somehow.  Maybe he gets into a fight and he loses, which makes him question what he has learned.  Was his stance to high and he lacked power?  Or was his stance to low and he was to slow in his movement.  So he goes off and adds some other different techniques or changes the philosophy behind the techniques.  In doing this he creates his own version of that style or a complete new style.

Isn’t that what those S.W.A.T. guys and the MMA have done?  Effectively they have just created new styles just like every other founder of a system in the past.  They even did it for the same reasons, they felt like the style that they had learned was lacking or inefficient in some way.  But the point is that they are using some subset of the same techniques.  They just change the philosophy behind using them.  The techniques themselves are not truly new.

A right jab is hard to evade and is very fast but it doesn’t have a lot of power.  A right hook has a lot of power but is slower and easier to block.  The same also could be said about a front kick verses a round house kick. Can anyone really say that a jab is better than a hook or vice versa? How about realizing that at a certain time a jab is better than a hook and at another time a hook is better than a jab?  Doesn’t the true test of the technique really come down to if this particular fighter knows when to use the jab and how well he has honed his technique in using it?  Is a spinning hook kick to the head powerful?  Yes.  Can it knock someone out? Yes.   Are there risks using this kind of high kick?  Yes.  Does that mean that it will never work in a “real” fight?  No.  There are a lot of factors that go into using a technique like this.  But to say that it could never work in a real fight is nonsense.    The real question we ought to be asking ourselves is when and where is the best time to use any technique?   At any given moment during a fight there are techniques that make sense and those that don’t. The real key is knowing what to perform when, and having the skill to perform what is needed, when it is needed.

To summarize:

  • Royce Gracie won so often because he was an excellent fighter with excellent technique. BJJ was effective for so long because it is a well thought out system and people didn’t know how to defend against it.
  • A martial art or style is just a template. It is up to each fighter to be able to put into action what they have learned.
  • The method of training is much more important than the individual techniques that the style contains. The way you practice is how you will fight.
  • The philosophy behind the martial art is equally as important as the techniques
  • The style you practice has to fit “you”! Give choosing a martial art some thought taking in to consideration your physical build and your temperament.
  • If you are going to complain that traditional techniques or styles don’t work, first you have to take the time to be sure that you understand the techniques that you are complaining about. Second when you demonstrate your “own” technique that will work,  it better not be a punch, kick or a knee because I am pretty sure you did not invent them!
  • A martial art or a style is just a collection of techniques and a philosophy of how and when to use them. They each also have their own training methods. In the end they all have pro’s and con’s.  It is the continual search for Martial perfection that causes there to be so many different styles today.

What works in a fight is what you make work in a fight.  Don’t be afraid to question the techniques or how they are practiced in your chosen style.  If you are truly training for self defense make sure that your practice includes some amount of realistic training.  Next will get into an even hotter topic, Kata’s!

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