Martial Arts Systems are living breathing entities. It is the Martial Artists that stop evolving.
There's a huge industry popping up around the term Mixed Martial Arts or MMA. It fascinates me that this has happened but it is completely understandable why. For years, decades, generations, Traditional Martial Arts systems have failed. Failed to evolve. All too often do we cling to the past and hang on to outdated or irrelevant material for the sake of preserving or honoring someone that came before us. So quick are we to idolize our teachers and subjugate ourselves, that we forget it is our responsibility to evolve martial arts to a higher level.
To say someone does primarily Muay Thai, then adds Boxing, and BJJ. To call it Mixed Martial Arts begs the question - why not take the principles you like from Boxing, and the ground fighting from BJJ, and evolve your art of Muay Thai instead of calling it MMA?
Wei Xiao Tang, Grand Master and founder of 8 Step Praying Mantis Kung Fu, said before his death - "It's incomplete (his system), change it." What happened was quite the opposite. In reverence for their master, most went on to freeze the system in time, preserving the past as their great master left it.
|Luo Guan Yu|
The original Kempo was developed by a group of guys that went to a wide variety of martial arts schools and brought back the techniques to test them in bar fights. What didn't work, they got rid of. A streamlined system that offered a small number of techniques that could be used against two basic types of hand strikes, as well as a knife, and club attacks.
Mantis Boxing was born of someone supposedly streamlining 18 different styles into one. Even if exagerrated or completely fabricated, the point is still there. Evolve. Tai Ji Quan, or commonly known today as Tai Chi, was originally born of the same heritage. The stories of the Chen family, or later the Yang family, all point to someone condensing, streamlining, and evolving the arts to make them work better for them, or against certain opponents.
BJJ came on the scene in a blaze of fire. Taking all comers from any style of fighting, and decimating them for years. Now what is happening? The art is transforming for the tournament circuit and losing much of it's teeth. More and more rules are taking the focus away from what can really destroy someone, to what works on the mat or in the cage. Is the art still effective? For now.
The Traditional Arts went through the same process in the early 70's with the introduction of Point Sparring. A type of fighting that replaced the bare knuckle tournaments with a 'safer' alternative. It ultimately destroyed the practical fighting applications of most art forms, to keep things safer for two fighters testing their skills. Traditional schools began training people to win point matches, rather than being able to actually fight. The end result? Martial Artists that could play tag, but no longer use their arts practically.
BJJ schools are now entering the same phase. Many schools no longer teach the self-defense aspects of the art, and strictly focus on sport fighting. I hardly visit every school in the nation, but the trends are clear in the industry, magazines, blogs, etc. This has had a two-fold effect. On one hand, it has caused an amazing evolution of the art well beyond even what the Gracie's had done with it. On the other, it has left behind some of the more practical, real world components.
Back to the point of this article - MMA. What is it? 'Mixed' Martial Arts? Why? Shouldn't martial arts be evolving and relevant? Incorporating the best techniques they can find in order to win in a battle of the times? Why does one need to mix them up? Traditional Jiu-Jitsu had focus on stand up grappling, and ground techniques with very limited striking (due to it being the grappling art for Samurai that dropped their swords in combat), but it was still called Jiu-Jitsu. Samurai wore armor, so punching and kicking was not relevant. Why not evolve the style to include striking and kicking, from arts that have those skills developed?
Kung Fu styles were comprised of Striking, Kicking, Locking, and Throwing, yet they were called Praying Mantis, Eagle Claw, Hung Gar, Tai Chi, Long Fist, etc., etc., etc. and not dissected into something called MMA. And yet they were, at their heart, the oldest form of MMA.
The MMA thing is born of a necessity. A necessity to return the arm of evolution to hand-to-hand combat. It is filling a void in what we as the stewards of Traditional Arts were failing to do - evolve. As in Mantis Boxing, someone a long time ago, threw out a lot of junk they didn't need, and combined the best they could find to create Mantis Boxing. Yet for most, Mantis Boxing lies in ruin, with applications that will never work against a modern fighter, a boxer, or a full speed, full power, larger attacker. Why?
First I ask you this - why does an Eagle Claw practitioner, whose style was born from 'Elephant Style Wrestling', or Bohk (Mongolian Wrestling), and later combined with strikes, and kicks to become Eagle Claw, why do they not practice to defend against a Japanese Judo artist (another throwing art)? Or Shuai Jiao; a Chinese throwing art. Why do they instead focus on cartwheels, flips, and splits to impress people in a show, rather than carry the primary heritage of their art?
Those are topics for a separate article in itself; you can read Brian Kennedy's book 'Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals' for good insights as to why, but the combination of their root systems to form those styles is a significant point here.
The same type of legends are passed down for many other styles as well to include Tai Ji Quan. Chen Tai Chi was created by the Chen family, by taking other styles and keeping the techniques they liked. One of their protege's - Yang Lu Chan, founder of Yang Style Tai Chi, created his style by combining Chen with other styles he had trained before. Time, and time again, the history of martial arts has shown that this is how styles were created, styles were destroyed, and styles evolved.
Bruce Lee's failure...That's right, his failure. He had many successes in his life, but he also had flaws. Bruce Lee was a phenomenal martial artist to be sure. He was a hard worker and went above and beyond what most are willing to do to train. How good of a fighter was he? I don't know, but he was one hell of a movie martial artist, and quite the philosopher. His failure however, was in thinking he needed to 'create' another style, or as he put it, "a style of no styles".
Bruce found limitations in his primary art Wing Chun. Wing Chun lacked a high degree of kicks, failed to shut down certain types of attacks, and lacked the ability to generate power in strikes similar to boxing or other traditional arts. As a matter of fact, if you watch Donnie Yen in the movie Ip Man (still a movie but a great depiction of the art), about Bruce's Wing Chun teacher, you will see an accurate representation of Wing Chun's use in combat. A thousand punches on a body versus a few powerful well placed strikes.
Bruce went outside of Wing Chun seeking answers...to evolve. He learned alternative kicking from Chuck Norris, studied other styles of Kung Fu, I believe some Western Boxing(?), and even grappling. Picking up techniques from other various teachers and sources along his journey. Doing what needed to be done for himself as a martial artist and teacher. All, solid ideas and paths to success.
In the end, he made a classic error in judgement. Rather than creating his Jeet Kune Do, why didn't Bruce Lee do what we should all be doing? Evolving the arts we practice, rather than feeling we need to do one of two things - a) adhere to the past in a draconian fashion, or b) create a completely new style and/or abandon our traditional arts, and the positives they have to offer.
Why didn't Bruce fix Wing Chun? I don't have an answer for that. Perhaps it was for the same reason we are reticent to change our styles - out of respect and reverence for our teachers. The point is, we are too quick to abandon what we have, for something with a new name/title, or to stick our heads in the sand and pretend that our styles are invincible, or too deadly for cages, rings, mats, and test fighting. Who are we serving by preserving?
Historians have a value to society. Carrying on tradition can have it's appeal to it's own audience. But why do we teach 'Martial Arts', in a way that allows a martial artist that has studied for 2 or 3 years, to be destroyed by someone with 6 months boxing experience if the two paired off in a match? Why do we see the effectiveness of an art like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and pretend that it does not exist, or that we'll magically stay standing in a fight with them? Even though we haven't trained at all in the ways to shut down their most basic attacks?
We must, as teachers, practitioners, as warriors, continue to evolve and keep an open mind. Staying fixated, or stuck in the ways of the past, ways that are clearly no longer working, is correlated with tactitians in WWI, using Napoleonic tactics against the new warfare - machine gun nests. This resulted in the death of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands before new strategies were evolved.
When we fail to adapt, this is why a term such as Mixed Martial Arts exists today. We created it.