Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Let's all play nice here.

Not withstanding my rhetorical flourish about Tae Kwon Do in the next post, I've been a little miffed by all the trash talk on the Internet between martial arts styles. It's always existed to some degree, but the anonymity and ease of the Internet has allowed the dialogue to really plunge into the toilet and get trapped in the septic tank.

I find it sad, given that we're living in a golden age of martial arts. You can't spit without hitting a martial arts school. (And believe me, from what I've seen said online, there's plenty of spitting going on...) But not only are there plenty of schools , there's also a diversity of arts available.

That gives a person many choices to start out. You can easily find an art that suits your needs and interests whether you want to compete, learn self-defense, achieve physical fitness, or learn a particular cultural or philosophical slant. It seems many of the trash talkers forget that there are many benefits to martial arts, and not everyone comes into the arts with the same goals.

At more advanced levels, the availability of many different martial arts allows a serious artist to explore a second - or third, or fourth - art and learn new skills, while hopefully developing new perspectives on old skills.

I was heartened, for example, to read an interview with a professional MMA fighter in which he said he'd like to learn Tai Chi next. Although he didn't expect to cop a Tai Chi movement inside the cage, he wanted the benefits of spirituality, relaxation, and meditation the art is famous for.

A serious student of the martial arts will tell you that all martial arts are simply variations on a theme. Each is a theory of movement tied to a combat strategy, laid over the same principles of biomechanics, physics, and psychology shared by all humans. In other words: there are only so many ways for a person to punch, kick, lock, or throw. There are only a limited number of angles to strike or cut with a weapon.

Rather than denigrating other arts, we should be looking at them more closely and asking the simple question: "Why does this art do it this way?"

One of the things I respect about the modern MMA concept is that they are very willing to look for and borrow techniques from any style. If their approach suffers from a limitation, it's that most of the application is designed for a one-on-one confrontation against a single opponent in the ring. This seems to blind many of them to the utility and effectiveness of arts originally intended for battlefield combat against armed or armored opponents. They have trouble understanding this context.

Of course, traditional arts don't have a monopoly on good ideas to explore. Modern arts offer innovative methods for conditioning. Modern arts may also address more contemporary methods of attack.

So while we may have some strong opinions about the martial arts, let's try to maintain some respect for each other. There is much we can learn from one another.

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