Why do people make fun of traditional martial arts?
Learning TMA is like learning Latin, a dead language. Training in combat sports is like having conversations with real live humans so you can actually learn to communicate with people.
There’s great value in understanding where our words come from. But ultimately, you’re never going to have a real conversation with anyone in Latin. Well… you might exchange phrases with a Latin professor, but it’s going to be a very limited exchange of words. It won’t be a very human conversation. It’s going to be mechanical, if you will. The emotion, the feeling, the nuances of basic human expression will be absent.
Traditional martial arts are those that prioritize preserving tradition over all else, because that’s the way the teacher before us taught it, and that’s how his teacher taught him, and so on all the way back to the founder.
And all this “tradition” translates into real fighting in much the same way that studying Latin translates to speaking to real people in the modern world. Meaning it usually doesn’t.
If you learn just English, Chinese, Hindi, and Spanish, you can effectively communicate with the majority of humans on earth. Because those are live languages, widely spoken, actively used, and because of that, constantly evolving to tell our story of the modern world.
A live combat sport is comparable in this way: want to learn how to fight for real? Want to learn how to win a fight against any kind of fighter? Not just someone from your style? then you must practice having live unscripted “physical conversations” with real live people. Why? Because you’re doing something real, chaotic, unpredictable, in the moment- there’s emotional content. There are nuances!
It’s not simply a surcursal academic understanding of what’s going on. You are literally living in the moment. Living through the experience of bringing a semblance of order to chaos through organized violence in real time.
“Be Quip Je, Je Quip Be!” (That’s Klingon for “You hit me, I hit you!”) And while the made up Star-Trek language of Klingon is great for talking about simple violent actions, warp speed Star-ships, and wether phasers or disruptor beams are better weapons, you’re never going to have a deep and meaningful conversation in Tlhlingon Hol.
I hold a number of ranks in various traditional martial arts. Earning those ranks had less to do with my ability to fight, and more to do with my teacher’s trust that I understood the traditions they had conveyed to me well enough to repeat those traditions and pass them on as they had been passed down to me.
When I finally prioritized training to win fights over training to parrot traditions, I was shocked how often my own paradigm changed and how quickly my “style” evolved from one training session to the next. Techniques and gameplans that I once believed to be rock solid against one group of training partners were often proven to be full of holes against fighters who had not been indoctrinated in my traditions. What I had was a failure to communicate. I love to study traditional martial arts forms and try to find the original intent behind them. Some of the movements prove to have incredible wisdom and insight in their purpose, design, and application, while others seem truly ineffectual and silly to a fighter with a comprehensive understanding of hand to hand combat, as if the techniques had been developed to combat untrained weaklings rather than against actual fighters. But because of tradition, all of these techniques are passed on, both the good and the bad- but more often than not, without any satisfactory explanation about what we’re even supposed to do with any of this information besides repeat it to the next generation and the next, and the next, and the NEXT!
The tower of Babel story is a fascinating narrative that repeats across many different cultures. The ancient Hebrews, the Sumerians, the Assyrians, The Toltecs, the Aztecs, the ancient inhabitants of Nepal, parts of Africa, and the ancient Greeks all told similar stories about a time when all people spoke the same language, and because they could effectively communicate with each other, they were able to build a great tower that reached up into the heavens, insomuch that their work offended the gods who said “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them… let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other”
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