Sunday, 28 September 2014

MMA "versus" Traditional

One of the great MMA fighters - Georges St. Pierre

MMA “versus” Traditional

This is a post I never intended to write.

I’m from the traditional side, and have only a scant idea what goes on in the MMA world, so I can really only speak for one part of this supposed dichotomy. I don’t believe that there should be an either/or way of looking at MMA and Traditional. At some points they meet, at other points they merge and interact. And at other places – in culture, training, goals and mindset – they may be universes apart. At least may be.

I don’t think that it really matters whether MMA and Traditional are forced by opinion to verify their value, and their existence. The world is big, and there is plenty of room for both.

I do suspect that MMA, in order to continue, will have to settle into a series of applicable art forms (forms as in styles), simply out of reverence for those who paved the way. In fact that is happening. Authentic lineages have been born, fighters are passing their knowledge on to new generations – and as with the Traditional systems – solid bases are being formed from which new ideas evolve.

(Traditional martial arts systems, contrary to the “my style is the purest” mind set, are always evolving. A system evolves with the passing generations, or it gradually fades and dies).

What finally pushed me into writing this post, was the frustration of reading sentences in my favourite Kung Fu magazines such as: “Of course, would these techniques work in an MMA ring?” or “”Can Kung Fu compete with MMA?”

I read comments like these, throw the magazine down and go practise The Six Healing Breaths. What does it take to remember,during a sudden shift in cultural winds, where you came from, and who you are?

Actually, these comments are insulting not just to the Traditional martial arts, but to MMA as well. MMA is very busy. The MMA world has outstanding athletes and fighters who train deeply to accomplish their goals. They should be positively referenced, not compared to an ill-perceived weakness in some other side.

I came across something slightly similar in the 60s when a few Kung Fu folks decided to compete in North American Karate tournaments…

“Man, that stuff sure looks good…but it’s useless in a fight!” (I had started studying Kung Fu at the time and had witnessed someone cough blood for two weeks as the result of being hit by a light touch strike using only five percent power).

Then came…”Katas are useless!” That happened somewhere after the emergence of Taekwondo (the Taekwondo syllabus contains patterns or forms) and the growth of Kickboxing. Suddenly, Kickboxing (Jeff Smith, Bill Wallace, etc.…all who came from the Traditional arts) was the realest thing on the planet!


So let’s not waste our time doing Kanku-Sho. Or a Bo Kata. Because who really walks around town carrying a six foot staff?

And Tai Chi? “Tai Chi is for old people. You get a couple of more years in the stretch longevity-wise but – really –who’s gonna wait around ‘til you finish your punch? Hah hah! Pass me my gloves.”

Well, the next “most real” came somewhere from Brazil, Shoot-Boxing and Muay Thai. Obviously, most fights end up on the ground, so if a fighter can get inside those kicks and punches, the other side is sure to be toast.

The best coaches and fighters chose not to discard, however, but merge the two. stand up and grappling. Which was exactly what all Traditional systems from Isshin-Ryu Karate to Choy Li Fut ended up doing during their own formative years.

The martial arts are for everyone. If a youngster wants to perform his Kata in a tournament, why does he have to compare himself “to the ring”? It’s different…and it’s the same. The main thing is that martial arts training has helped him survive a broken home and has greatly improved his marks at school.

If a young woman wants to compete in a Kendo, Judo, Savate, Caopeira tournament, let her be. Let her do what she enjoys without snapping at her  self-confidence. Her Kendo or Aikido is as real to her as anyone else’s personal journey in the martial arts.

Does it work in the street, does it work in the ring? My advice comes from my Karate teacher, Sensei Monty Guest: “First see how you can change your community for the better. See how you can make a positive difference in other people’s lives.”

One time, the late Ray Hayes from Whitby, Ontario, Canada, organized a learning arena where four of us, my Karate Sensei included, taught rotating groups in half hour increments. Ray taught his specialty, Kempo; another instructor taught pressure points; Sensei taught Karate basics; and I taught the basic Chinese broadsword.

After bowing out his last group of students, Sensei Guest came over to my area. I was showing some people a basic figure eight pattern with the sword. He took the sword right out of my hand and touched me on the chest.

He said: “What’s more important than this sword, is a good heart.”

Of course he was right.


MMA folks…continue to train hard, learn from those who have come before you, be respectful, and pass your hard-earned knowledge on to others. Traditionalists, stop swooning as if the goal of your journey is suddenly in doubt.

By the way, MMA people will fast become the Traditionalists and the Traditionalists will continue to evolve. They’ll evolve by both digging deep into the treasure of their art while at the same time remaining open to new ideas.

And “real”? Real is “real for the ring”…real for the street…real for your heart. There remains the real that some of my students have been involved with all too often…war. My advice for the YouTube enlightened who post their comments beneath a video of I Chuan push hands. You want real?...go fight ISIS.

To my Kung Fu sisters and brothers who write splendid articles which I truly enjoy reading – and from which I learn a lot – haven’t you ever come across those that never bother to read your magazine, who don’t really care. You may know whom I’m talking about. I think I met a few of those across the decades. Remember them, and what they can do, and you won’t doubt a thing.

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