Form Your Own Opinion
by Master Dave Modzak, Karate
When I wrote the “Path of the Warrior in Suburbia” for this fine publication there were, of course, a few open ended areas of discussion that were placed there pretty much on purpose. The primary point of that piece was to introduce the discussion of the disturbing state of martial arts training in today's society.
Now, would you like me to continue on with a related topic? I knew that you would...
Let’s start referring to the way martial arts are commonly taught in many schools these days as...“Microwave” or disposable martial arts.
So much of it is the unforgivable “McDojo” approach of selling belts and pushing contracted students to pay the rent. A system without a soul.
Also, much of today’s training is the presentation of what I call trimmed-down martial arts.
There are few classic techniques or correct forms being taught nowadays because, as I was recently told, “they are useless in the cage or on the street and you’re stupid to practice them.”
My friend Isaac, an MMA practitioner, was adamant about his definition of practical applications in a street fight and proceeded to challenge me to prove how Forms (Kata) had any value what-so-ever.
An interesting as well as a popular point of view, so I posed the question aloud...
What practical value does the practice of Kata have in a street fight?
First, why was Kata introduced into the martial arts to begin with?
If it were useless, why would combatants over the past thousands of years have practiced them? After all, the competitions of the time were basically life and death situations and not some point tournament or cage fight.
Second place was a burial, not a trophy. What value did they have?
Having had the answer drilled into me for the past 40 years by my masters, I thought the answer was simple and direct. As it turns out it’s not the answer that is generally taught, if there is an answer taught at all.
I was taught that Forms are practiced to simulate combat against multiple opponents using various self-defense techniques that become offensive tactics in combat application. The more complex the form, the more attackers it represents.
Self-defense techniques are practiced repetitively and applied in Forms to develop muscle memory so that eventually your body knows what to do without your conscience effort.
This frees your mind from thinking about moves so that you may pay attention to your surroundings on the field of battle giving you the opportunity to adjust and adapt to the combat requirements as they evolve and change. Therefore, on the street you may remain constantly aware of what is going on around you while you defend yourself.
I further explained that the practice of Forms would help the practitioner to develop good balance and posture creating speed and power. The spectrum of Forms practice is wide and varied from some that simulate defending against multiple attackers with your back to a wall to some that are specifically for exercise and even health.
As it turns out, that wasn’t the answer he was expecting. Frankly, he looked like a deer in the headlights.
He was under the impression that Forms were only taught so that you could pass the next belt test or look pretty in a tournament. He was under that impression because not only is that what he was taught but that’s what he experienced at many of the martial arts schools he investigated.
He was so convinced of this that I had to do some checking...
Amazingly enough, I discovered that his way of thinking is relatively prevalent in the martial arts today.
I spoke to World Champion Kata Champions and found out that the traditional form they did meant nothing to them other than that’s the way it was taught to them to win the Forms competitions...stunned, you could of knocked me over with a feather.
I talked to some instructors who said they use it to warm up their students or get them ready for their next test. Some told me that Kata is useless unless you combine it with gymnastics for tournaments.
Of course, today there are plenty of martial arts that completely abandon Forms and focus solely on the fighting or Kumite.
Now, I think that perhaps you get my point. There is much more to the martial arts than just the fight; they are about all of life.
Pardon me for a moment while I put on my Kamikaze headband.
Remember what the movie “The Karate Kid” (Yes, I always watch it whenever it’s on) said, “we train to fight so we don’t have to.” Gichin Funakoshi said each day is Karate training. Sun Tzu said the greatest victory is to defeat your opponent without fighting.
It seems to be that much of the martial arts training these days treat these philosophies as bumper sticker slogans and not as ways of life. In fact, it became apparent that philosophy was rarely if ever taught at all. Appreciation of life around us daily seems to never be brought up.
Music is used to pump up the blood for a fight and not soothe the soul. Discipline of study, philosophy, and a classical education seem to be left out of much of the martial arts training these days...fascinating; however, in my opinion it is unfortunate.
The more the martial arts are cheated means the more the practitioners are cheated and eventually the more life it self is cheated.
Is it the fault of the student or practitioner? No it is not. After all, they are the one’s in search of training. They pay their money, sign their contract, and expect a certain level of training to follow.
Does the fault lie with the instructor? Perhaps it does or perhaps he is only doing as he was taught.
Is it the fault of our economy? Let’s face it; if you don’t have students you can’t pay the rent. So, is it cases of let’s just give them whatever they want as long as they pay?
Should we blame the media?
I could go on for more time than is necessary...
I believe the overall blame lies with our society as a whole. The desire for instant gratifications and the disposable way of thinking many adopt runs rampant everywhere we look. It dilutes our work ethic. Fewer are actually willing to work as hard as in times past.
I found schools that will sign you to a 12 month contract and guarantee you a black belt in that time frame. Just show up two times a week and make sure your check clears.
Our education system itself is geared toward teaching to the test so of course it has overflowed into the martial arts.
We have created a society of entitlement thinking and expectation and the martial arts are just one area of our society that is suffering for it.
It suffers because we lose our sense of history and connection to the past and our connection to those who went before us in the development of the arts we so greatly appreciate and diligently practice.
Is it just the traditional arts that suffer or is it all arts that suffer?
I believe all martial arts suffer because of the nature of our society, which has spilled over into the arts, and I believe I can prove that by starting today and working backwards.
Let’s start with the art that is so prevalent today, the world of Mixed-Martial Arts.
Is the MMA that is so popular today new or not? I submit to you that today’s MMA is the completion of an ancient circle that began at the very dawn of time itself. Granted perhaps things such as Forms are missing as well as philosophy and perhaps even history itself at some schools; however, that does not mean it is not the completion of an ancient circle.
Isn’t it true that today’s MMA was influenced greatly by the UFC? The UFC literally started to highlight the Gracie Jujitsu system of fighting.
Brazilian Jujitsu was influenced by Japanese Jujitsu, which in turn was employed by the Samurai in combat, which of course had roots in Chinese Martial Arts and we are all familiar with the elaborate forms and postures of Kung Fu.
They of course were influenced by India. How did the martial arts of India come to be? Was not that entire area conquered by Alexander the Great who just so happened to be an expert in Pankration? How about those Spartan Warriors or even the original Olympic Games themselves?
What say we simply examine the ancient paintings in Egypt’s Beni Hasan tombs that are more than 4,000 years old? Or have I drawn a line through history that simply cannot be understood because we have skipped teaching so many things in the martial arts to accommodate our need for instant gratification?
I submit that the more we trim from the arts the more they suffer and before long what connection to history and time will we have left?
We have the power to change that. We as practitioners have the power to change that through our inherent discipline and love for what we do. We can begin to bring to light the whole of the arts and appreciate all that we do regardless of style and influence.
Uh oh, here’s the part where I kick over another hornet’s nest...
Only we as martial arts practitioners and teacher’s are to blame for the current state of (martial arts) education because only we have the power to change the state of the martial arts themselves.
We need to start practicing mutual respect and honoring each other as well as our collective past.
I, for one will begin to do so, I hope that many, if not all will join me.