MMA VS Traditional Martial Arts

Recently I’ve seen the topic of MMA vs. traditional martial arts (TMA) in forums, blogs and hundreds ofdifferent places on the internet. Generally, the MMA supporters claim that if traditional arts were effective, they would be dominating in the cage fights and that most TMA guys are trapped inside a world of fantasy combat. Adversely, the TMA supporters say that their techniques are too lethal to be used in a sports setting and therefore the people living inside of a combat fantasy are the people who choose cage fighting to express their art.

In my 31 years of training, I began with with traditional arts and then switched to MMA in my teens for competition. Then when I was in my 20’s I switched back to traditional arts for the rest of my journey. In this article I will do my best to explain to both MMA and TMA practitioners the pros and cons of each side, with hopes of giving a clearer perspective on the issue.

I should begin by clarifying that the modern era has a far different understanding of what combat is than in previous years. Historically, traditional arts had been used strictly for protection and many of the representatives of each lineage had to be sworn to secrecy to make sure that potential enemies would not gain advantage through the knowledge of their styles’ techniques. Secrecy has been and still is a fundamental factor in terms of martial arts. Once you know what your opponent is capable of, you are able to form a strategy around his best movements. Without the element of surprise, many styles lose at least 60 percent of their effectiveness. So there have been numerous styles that have attempted to camouflage movements to appear to be drunk, dancing or animal-like to confuse the opponent.

In earlier China when two people finally did decide to expose their movements to each other in combat, they first signed a legal contract or waiver in case of the death of the other individual. This means the first time you saw someone else’s style, there was a good chance that one of you would die or receive permanent injury at the least. In addition these fights took place with only a few witnesses so that the concentration of the fighters would not be broken. However most often fights were just spontaneous events that took place against bandits, thieves, assassins or a form of unavoidable conflict. The true goal for the traditional fighter has always been survival not combat. If he could remain a secret his entire life, he would have been more successful than the traditional artist who has had to win 20 battles, but now suffers a severe limp.

The modern fighter is not so interested in what martial arts is capable of outside of the realm of combat. They seek out to challenge themselves and their abilities whenever the opportunity lends itself. This often means that the more people they are able to conquer, the more successful they are. Through fighting continually they prove their courage and show their value to the world even if it means sacrificing their own health for glory. The modern day fighter is far more concerned with glory than survival.

Even though it would seem that these two different systems of practice are in opposition with each other, they are actually different points of the same circle. MMA fighters have stripped most of the components such as forms, one steps, weapons, multiple opponents and various forms of practice in order to be supremely efficient at one situation. The MMA fighter should always dominate the cage because it is the natural setting of his training. Yet if you give him a knife and ask him to go against a knife fighter, he will be eaten alive because he is no longer in his element. No style can beat a Taekwondo fighter if they are limited to the rules of Taekwondo and no one can beat a jujitsu fighter when they are limited to the rules of jujitsu.

So no matter what type of contest we see, we are forced to accept the reality that is given to the contestants. Likewise, basketball players and football players can only be successful in their own environment. The argument that one style is better than the other lends to the ignorance of the speaker.

So instead of trying to convince one side that the other is better, you should understand we are actually all on the same path. MMA fighters wouldn’t even exist without the traditional arts. Each kick, punch, elbow and take down are a part of an arsenal that was developed by a style much older than MMA itself. In fact I’ve been training longer than the term MMA has been around and I’m only a beginner in my own mind. As MMA continues to improve, they also add more techniques from the older traditions in order to make their game more effective. In fact all of the great fighters of MMA are traditional artists first like Rhonda.

Even though Bruce Lee complained about the roots of traditional systems, he would have never been able to know Jeet Kun Do without first having strong roots in Wing Chun. The traditional arts are only a blueprint to teach you a way to express yourself. All arts in the beginning are quite unnatural because power is not something the human body is able to immediately translate physically. Once you learn the rules of your system, you must relax during combat and let it flow on its own. Yet if you throw away the blueprints, you will only be as good as you already are. A beginning boxer may start flailing after he takes a punch much the same as a traditional artist will change his system to panicky slap boxing after taking a powerful shot. In both cases it indicates that it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

Traditional artists should also understand that we can not improve our system of movement without interacting with a non co-operative opponent from time to time. Historically all of the traditional artists had practices similar to MMA to make sure they were getting the best out of their style. They had to be sure that their system of physics was working as effectively as it did in theory. Due to the Great Cultural Revolution many of the teachers and arts were scattered. In addition many performers and acrobats that made shows about kung fu stole the spotlight and lead the world to follow a false idea of what true combat entailed. Whether this corruption was intentional or not doesn’t matter. The result is that there are more people who can perform movements than apply them.

Many of the traditional arts have become watered down and it’s not due to the techniques, but rather the practitioners who refuse to research the techniques. It doesn’t matter if you are trying to use Praying Mantis, Drunken Boxing, Karate, Bagua or Muay Thai, there must be a time when someone is trying to honestly hit you in the face. Perhaps your movements are perfect but you have no concept of timing or strategy. Traditionalists far too often underestimate the power of the human will and will be defeated for that poor assumption. No one is going to let you beat them, just because you know kung fu. Nowadays, traditional styles are in the hands of a much more peaceful society and the practice methods have not evolved to meet many of the modern day circumstances. For example modern day ninjas should be the most efficient with guns because they are supposed to master all weapons. If you don’t take on the modern day reality, you are still training for a historical fantasy.

The greatest flaw of the MMA fighter is they ridicule the physics because they feel the physics teacher is inadequate. If you attend a class and the teacher shows you something you’ve never seen before you can’t say, “Prove it.” In fact the teacher would have the students prove the theory for their own growth and development. If our society always had teachers attempt to prove their own theories before they could be taught in class, we would still be working with inventions as primitive as the wheel or flight. There are always teachers and doers. If MMA fighters worked hard to prove many of the traditional movements to be true instead of attempting to prove them wrong, they would immediately accelerate in terms of victory in the ring just by the element of surprise itself. In a sense, the MMA fighters have become the rigid thinkers that Bruce Lee spoke against because of their refusal to do what they feel is not possible. Yet many things are impossible until someone has decided to do it.

In my personal opinion both sides that would argue superiority need to have a slice or two of humble pie. I even place myself in this category because I’ve also been tempted to judge the man and not the movement. We are all explorers of the human body and there is no one who is an authority on what is possible or even practical. If MMA fighters do not adopt some of the practices of the traditional arts, you will burn out or get injured long before you reach your true prime. Do you really want to say, “I used to be a martial artist?”

If the traditional artists don’t seek a way to evolve their style to the modern world, you and your art will become obsolete. At heart we are all survivalists not fighters and that means knowing how to fight and knowing how to not fight. Accepting every challenge is almost as dangerous as never accepting a challenge. If we don’t take more efforts to work together for the benefit of both sides, martial arts itself will soon be a thing of the past. There are so many enemies worth fighting and we are wasting time on each other.

In the end, I myself returned to the path of traditional arts because improvement of self is truly an endless journey. If you continue to explore the physics of each movement, it will eventually unlock your ability to see the world through a more magnificent lens. Martial arts will improve the way you paint, talk and do business at the highest level so I can not stress enough it is primary that you protect your brain. Don’t become punch drunk for a few bucks that would be easier made through a few better ideas than fighting. Save your brain not only for your sake, but for your loved ones who want to enjoy your personality until you are old and gray. Yet without the benefit of my experience in combat for a short time, I would have never gained the full understanding of how to react to each situation. If a warrior does not train his mind to be as sharp as his body he will be manipulated out of his own power. If a warrior fears conflict, he will never know his true potential.

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