It pretty common that somebody asks me which martial art is best. The next most common thing is somebody essentially telling me which martial art is best, usually by attempting to illuminate me about a particular system’s shortcomings (“Your eastern tiger style is nothing compared to my crane form!”). Yes, I do know that kickboxing doesn’t teach about ground and pound, and trouble will ensue once a double leg occurs.
In particular, I’ve been musing over the debate between Mixed Martial Arts and Traditional Martial Arts. Old vs New, in all its arguable glory.
A lot of movies play off this riff; an old grizzled veteran gets paired up with a new spunky greenhorn. The new kid on the block is bothered by the old-school methods, the senior complains about novice’s know it all attitude. Humor ensues. Above, Will Smith from Men In Black II explains it:
Agent J: No, what you remember is that you used to drive that old busted jaunt. See, I drive the new hotness.
[Points at K]
Agent J: Old and busted.
[Points at himself]
Agent J: New hotness.
This is the party line, of sorts, of MMA: Traditional martial arts are old and busted, and mixed martial arts is the new king. The reality is that both sides of the TMA vs MMA debate have valid arguments. Debate club was never my thing, so I’ll do a play by play with something I do understand … pictures. In my head, I see two followers of their respective path, duking it out with words.
TMA: We’ve got thousands of years of experience and heritage; developed training methods and systems beyond the purview of the cult of the current.
MMA: Pretty awesome vocab, old man. There isn’t a reason to cling to the past. We’re on the cutting edge of training.
TMA: You know that a lot of your stuff comes right from our stuff right?
MMA: Anything you can do we can do better.
TMA: MMA does not teach the realities of street self defense.
MMA: Neither do you.
MMA: Besides, think of your “live” training methods. Too many rules, doesn’t actually simulate combat. Up over here, no rules, no holds barred.
TMA: No rules? No respect either.
TMA: We cultivate respect, honor and discipline.
MMA: We cultivate fist to face.
TMA: We develop ourselves mentally and spiritually.
MMA: We have a different form of spirituality.
MMA: Plus, we don’t wear skirts.
TMA: *cough* … *cough*
TMA: Plus, we use swords.
MMA: We have bling.
TMA: We have Chuck Norris.
MMA: You have Jean Claude Van Damme
TMA: Our senior citizens are hardcore.
MMA: We’re getting there.
MMA: We have epic stare-downs.
The Real Deal
I’ve said this before about Aikido – we should be careful to attribute things to a system that it may not even claim about itself. People choose different hobbies for specific reasons. If I wanted a hobby that helped me age gracefully, boxing and MMA would probably not make it to my short list. If I wanted something for my kids to help them with confidence, respect, and socialization free from competition, then I’d pick accordingly. It’s not like people can’t figure it out when they really think about it.
My beef is that the “Who’s top dog?!” game can turn ultra-juvenile. MMA is marketed with its heavy metal, we can kick anybodies ass, Tapout bikini babes themes – which can bring out the utter douche bag in us all. (When I wear my ONE Tapout shirt I increase my submissions percentage and elite jerk skillz by at least 10%. ) On the other side of the coin, a number of TMAs are insulating themselves into a fantasy world, becoming so insecure that they take moralist high-roads and choose not to evolve.
When a particular camp, school, or niche disparages another, it tells you something about that group. Their complaint may be 100% valid, but the way people bring issues up is very illustrative. Take a moment and ask yourself why the critic needs to say what they’re saying. Chances are, their communication is all about validating themselves and nothing about adding value to your life.
One other thing: MMA is a sport. When you define the rules of a game, you set its limits. In many respects, a lot of traditional martial arts are now sports too, with their own peculiar rules. When it comes the elusive “realities of the street”, I can tell you that one martial discipline is top dog. It’s called gun play.
I came from a traditional martial art background, and I think there is a lot of value to it. In my training now, I focus on no-gi jujitsu and MMA, because that’s what I like, what appeals to me. This isn’t a time-life made for TV movie, but I think that there is a lot for each camp to learn from each other.
I’ve jokingly laid out some points of discussion, but what’s your take? I’d love to know about your experience and opinions.
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