by Alexander Thompson, FMA
I have studied self-defense for nearly forty years. I've trained in many forms from different styles of martial arts. In that time I've achieved instructor ranks in Japanese, French, English and Filipino systems. But, I have delved into much, much more along the way.
I'm an American living in England who finds the beauty about this place is the fact that so many people from so many different cultures come here. This fact saves me air fare from having to travel to them to cross-train in martial arts.
In my efforts to exchange training information, one common criticism has remained constant:
Americans have no original martial arts. At least, that is what so called "masters" and practitioners from other countries have always claimed.
Well, friends and neighbors, I am here to tell you that is pure BS!
First off, you have to look deeper at the history and the formation of the U.S.A. NO ONE was actually born there hundreds or thousands of years ago. The U.S.A. has always been comprised of migrant people from other countries and cultures. These people had to adapt to a new and mostly uncharted environment to adjust and survive.
Now, stating the blatant obvious, let's break it down for the martial arts prospective...
Example: you have a Chinaman who is already well versed in the arts of Gung Fu when he first comes to America. He has been trained his entire life in the study of Chinese Gung Fu, he has trained with plenty of other Chinese people who have studied the exact same way. In this new land, he is very confident in his skills of pugilism.
One day, perhaps he meets a European who knows nothing of this Gung Fu. What he does know is...how to pick up a 2 x 4 and bash this little Chinese guy into next week. Now, suddenly, Gung Fu don't work so well anymore! Now, the Gung Fu guy has to rethink his training and strategy. So, he has to learn the way of the European to defeat him. And so, he does.
His Gung Fu has now been changed, It is no longer purely Chinese. It has been adapted to suit his particular needs.
WHICH is my point to this story...Americans can also adapt too, and make it their own.
By now, Americans have learned the ways of almost every martial art on the planet. You name it, you can find it in the good 'ol U.S.A.
Another example I want to bring up is Americans in Filipino martial arts.
FMA, one of the top combative's in the world, created a 2nd syllabus for Americans. This happened because many Filipinos, honestly, initially believed that us dopey Americans couldn't properly learn their advanced fighting systems. They complained how us Americans would always question the WHY. Of course, we can learn HOW, but, we also want to know WHY something is done so we can FULLY understand it better. So, this "awesome group" assumed we were dumb and needed a watered-down version.
At first, we did not realize this. But, it came back to bite the FMA organizations in the ass. Americans still took this version of FMA and changed it to suit the American way of thinking.
THEN...we went back to the Filipinos and practically just stomped every ass put before us!
It was after WWII when American soldiers returning from the Philippines began bringing back in earnest the hand-to-hand fighting concepts they witnessed in the Pacific. The resulting adaptations incorporated their way well into Western-Boxing, forever changing the 100 year-old sport from its stiff linear Jack Johnson approach into an advanced technical, much more supple and slippery way.
Americans learn the ways of others. But, others tend to forget...we are pioneers. We adapt and change and then usually go right back and dominate! THAT, in itself...most often helps it to eventually become OURS too.
Bruce Lee, another transplanted individual from China, began a martial arts revolution of serious magnitude in the 1970's. So, did you think this progressive Jeet Kune Do is foreign?
NOPE...Bruce was actually born as an American citizen. JKD is a hybrid martial art that consists of his Chinese background in Wing Chun Gung Fu coupled with his experiences in some serious cross-training into various other systems. However, his adaptation was coined right there in America!
Another prime example of our unique adaptive ability is seen as Kajukenbo.
Consisting mainly of Karate, Judo, Kenpo, Boxing, the founders of this exotic system came from each discipline and trained together out west. Then they would go fight total strangers in the allies of Hawaii, Samoa and other Pacific islands. Each studied what worked and what was total 'traditional' garbage.
Now, in my opinion, Kajukenbo is one of the most effective systems on the planet and, wait for it...it's considered an American martial arts creation.
Also, Freestyle and full contact Kickboxing...mainly an American creation! Hell, we even coined the term Reality Based Self-Defense and No-Holds Barred. MMA...definitely American made! Now, this has all become a global phenomena!
By allowing people from all over the world to come to the U.S.A. to train and by allowing us to travel to them too, we have now learned their ways, saw and adapted upon the flaws, and used them against others. This process still continues on and on.
Don't get me wrong...we still pay homage to where our learning comes from! Non-Americans have a tendency to whine and cry because we do not adhere to the so-called 'old ways' of certain common ancient traditions...so what! What we do is highly effective and that should be all that truly matters.
There are some systems that are alive and kicking BECAUSE of Americans!
We the people, have even saved the systems of other nations when their own people were going to let things die out due to lack of interest or political suppression. America has actually been solely responsible for rejuvenating the martial arts interests of many other cultures worldwide!
So...we do adhere to the ways of other peoples as well as our own. America has had much to contribute to the world arena of martial arts as well as bringing our own blend or brand to the table en force. By fixing what was wrong or perhaps lacking in other more traditional ways, we have indeed made it work better and made it our own in the process.
With the help of the internet, cable TV, DVD / Video, readily available communications, plus today's easier travel methods to make exchanging information more readily accessible, we can all now make ever-evolving adaptations to each of the original martial arts doctrines on an individual or group basis.
As I said earlier, Americans are pioneers in the truest sense of the word. And, we do pay homage and respect the ways of others and those who came before us. So, the next time you want to spew some oral diarrhea about how stupid, fat, lazy and un-original Americans are...just THINK again.
You don't even have to like us, but, you must recognize us for what we have done in keeping things alive and making adaptation acceptable.