Tradition or Evolution?I do not believe it necessarily has to be one or the other. I believe there is a prominence of one or the other in most martial arts so the question is which are you most interested in?
The answer for me is evolution.
I started my martial studies in 1981. I have studied traditional martial arts from China, Japan, Korea and The Philippines. I have studied modern combat systems in the military and law enforcement. I delved into Russian Martial Arts which is vast in it's richness and can be traditional and cultural or very modern and scientifically based.
I have never been a traditional person, meaning that the old ways are of interest to me but they do not define my studies or me in any way. I am open minded in my spirituality, not religious. I have no particular political affiliations but recognize what works as being of value.
This outlook on life as a whole is also my perspective in martial arts. I recognize traditional ways as having value in learning how skills were developed and what their application can be. History is moderately interesting but I am more interested in learning from history so we can move forward and not repeat mistakes or keep going around in circles. When something no longer works or no longer serves a purpose it is time to let it go.
Lets use a martial example here. I think Okinawan weapons are kind of cool. The Tonfa, Sai and Nunchucks. It is interesting how farm implements became weapons when the government put controls on martial studies and confiscated weapons and punished those who used them. It has some historical significance in understanding the bigger picture. Do I have any interest in learning to be proficient with these weapons and spending hours practicing? No, not at all.
What weapons do I train with? Short stick or baton, short bladed edged weapons,read knife, and firearms. Why, you may ask? Because they are the modern weapons that I have access to and can have available to me if I ever need to use weapons in protecting myself. Some of you may argue that a firearm is not a martial arts weapon, I disagree, there is another article here on this blog discussing that topic so that is all I will say here.
In martial arts class do you wear funny outfits and speak a foreign language? Why?
Do you train in bare feet? Why? This one is an interesting one in modern North American society. Why do people train in bare feet? Where are you ever going to fight someone in bare feet? Unless you are in your bathroom or at the beach that is very unlikely. Some people think it is to toughen your feet, I guess it does that but the more probable reason is simply that in Japan and Korea you do not wear shoes inside. Interesting huh? It has little or nothing to do with practicing martial arts, it is simply a cultural thing of no shoes in the house.
What about a Gi? Why do you wear a Gi? It has nothing to do with martial arts it is simply the style of clothing worn in the past in some societies.
I look at many martial arts and ask "Why" when I see people doing a particular move or technique. It is disheartening when the answer is " I don't know, that's just the way we do it." Really? Is that a satisfactory answer? I do not think so.
In many Japanese and Korean styles the front punch is taught with a chamber position by the hip as the starting place. Why? Have you ever wondered? Most people do not and many teachers do not have an explanation. No, That's just the way I learned it, is not a satisfactory answer.
As I said, tradition does have it's place, but when does it start to hinder forward movement? I believe everything we learn in martial arts should be challenged and verified. I believe a scientific approach can validate what is useful and eliminate what is not. Using current understanding of anatomy and physiology, psychology, physics and math will help us to deepen our understanding and expand our knowledge and skills. Most of this knowledge was not available 100 or 200 years ago when many arts were being created. What worked then in that country, in that time, may no longer be the most appropriate or useful way to train and practice.
I still see people doing ballistic stretching. If you have any understanding of exercise science you will understand how detrimental that can be. Over stretching in martial arts is common. The effects are loose joints that get injured, overextended elbows and knees, hip problems and rotator cuff tears are all common in martial arts schools where the teachers are not properly educated and rely on the old ways as a valid method.
Tradition has it's place. I think one of the big issues however is that people get stuck in tradition and do not ask why, or how and then get stuck themselves. It is interesting to know the origins of a martial art, where and how it all got started but we also need to adapt and advance the art to meet the needs of people today in the modern world, in our own society and culture.
I encourage you to be brave. To stop and ask why, how can we use this, how can we improve this? Isn't that what the originator of the art did? They saw what was available, maybe studied the old ways and then modified it and modernized it to meet their own needs and the needs of the people around them. Why then would we not continue to do the same thing?
There is so much more that could be discussed here. My purpose however is to simply initiate thought and to encourage you as a martial artist to question what you are being taught. To encourage you to educate yourself in modern methods of training and base your choices on the highest level of knowledge you can attain.
There are some wonderful teachers and programs available to an open minded seeker, do not limit yourself to a tradition or one way of thought out of misunderstanding or some distorted sense of loyalty. It is up to you to learn the best that you can from the best teachers you can find.
As you expand your awareness, knowledge and skills you will naturally evolve, which to me is the primary purpose of existence ,the evolution of self and my martial studies.
...the evolution continues...
Enjoy the journey.
For more information on REAL Martial Arts visit our website at www.realmartialarts.org
REAL Martial Arts
Santa Fe, New Mexico