Bastardization of Martial Arts

by Sensei Mike Pepe

Below are some thoughts on the state of the martial arts these days. Opinions are mine and not that of the Beisho Assoc. or my wife. The article is still rough around the edges but I open it to your discussion

   Let's say for the sake of argument that martial arts were put on the map when Soken Matusmura systemized his techniques in 1830. 

  This makes all "modern" martial arts approximately 175 years old. Still young by historic standards.  Still, the martial arts have developed as quickly as technology did after the invention of the microchip.  Only problem is the microchip made technology better unlike the martial arts which is, now I fear, in a sad state.   In any martial arts system there would have been a founder or Soke living in the 1900's. I give you Itosu Yatsasune,Kano Jigoro,Choki Motobu,Choshin Chibana, Funikoshi,Ueshiba and Nagamine to name a few. The list of Soke would be a dozen.

     A quick look in BlackBelt magazine reveals many videos and DVDs depicting masters in sweatpants, muscle shirts, camouflage clothing, wrestling pants and more. Long gone are "traditional" masters in a neat white gi displaying a nice lunge punch. 

  Sport karate has taken traditional karate techniques and turned them into a gymnastics routine that only students of Olympic caliber can attempt. Traditional weapons have been shaved and colored to make them pretty and faster all to the oos and aaahhs of the audience. Screaming and yelling are now accepted as the "old fashioned" kiai.

Americans with little patience have turned their original style (the style they started in) into "American combat techniques" and "reality systems" of "karate". These systems, forged with little discipline, have broken away with the idea of posture and stance. If it works then it must be good. Photos of large men with scowling faces overpowering an opponent grace the pages of every magazine cover. Sadly they miss the point that it's hard for smaller people to "overpower" anyone. Reality systems manhandle muscle and overpower opponents claiming these are "techniques" of said system.  

    Mixed martial arts (MMA) which started with Helio Gracie as the founder have accelerated the decline of the traditional martial artist. Whereas the Gracie system uses proven techniques using a gi, the "modern" MMA are anything but. Long gone, from 10 years ago, are the clean white gi and now only tight wrestling pants are worn. Every martial artist assumes his or her system has nothing to offer and jumps on the jitsu bandwagon. Traditional Jiu-jitsu students now practice a few years of boxing, Muay Tai, and other systems to add to what was once a traditional style. People are only too happy to "add" to their style, the next best thing since the last thing they added to their style. The striking artist now rushes to learn ground techniques to even the score.

  There is no pure jiujitsu-pure boxing-pure shotokan anymore. 

  Martial artists now embarrassed to show their "traditional" self defense technique, call upon jujitsu, chin-na, wrestling, boxing, Muay Tai or any other "reality" system rather than their time proven techniques.

   There are not many schools around using a bear paw or chicken beak. Long gone are the traditional stances of Shotokan to make way for the (lazy) American fighting stance. The low sheiko dachi of Goju has now become a stand up side fighting stance. These "traditional" techniques I fear will soon become extinct in the martial arts community only to be replaced with mauling techniques like head grabbing elbows and knees.

 The move toward reality and away from traditional martial arts I fear will be the death knell for karate as we know it.

Zero Mostel sang about it on "Fiddler on the roof" how to cope with change that you can't stop.

 Sadly people break from their original style because it is lacking in certain areas. Sometimes students break because their style is to stiff feeling the style is so structured it leaves no room for growth.  Modern martial arts can only be called "karate" in the loosest sense of the word. The new form of the old karate is now called Mixed Martial Arts.    "Students" who lacked patience or were rough to the likens of Chotku Motobu disliked bowing, standing at attention and washing the floor. They quickly dismiss these things as unneeded. Time honored kata are scoffed at by students lacking the disipline to practice.

Granted, people join karate for modern reasons none of which are to learn a "traditional" Japanese art. 

 To think that by taking a Kempo style and adding some gun defenses and calling it mike-ryu makes it legitimite seems ok to these many entrepreneurs. There are literally hundreds of these new systems on the market. Their only claim to fame is they are reality based and the guy on the cover is a Soke. 

My feelings are that the more the X generation wants this reality the less need there will be for Traditional schools practicing an old art form. Enrolments will dwindle and traditional dojo will dry up all becoming little club dojos with only a few followers.  Consumers don't want the old stuff. They want the new. The young and restless won't flock to a traditional dojo whereas a more seasoned, mature adult might. The older consumer understands what the younger seems to miss. I suppose seeing someone getting raked in the eyes in a photo will also turn off a mature consumer! 

 A student who bends his style may somehow include techniques that are not really his system but where does he/she start to break from the style hence having to rename it.

 I understand the round kick was shockingly new when it came from China and I know Sensei Tom Wirtenan took the spin kick to Ohio when he went off to college with devastating results. But did these things break from the system?

 These so-called masters all seem to have reinvented the wheel. Get in, rake the eyes, knee and do a wristlock or something.  Man, it will be hard to decide where or when "traditional" started.  If we knew who "stole" from whom first it might make things a lot easier.

  There a handful of styles that considers themselves Koryu styles or "ancient" styles. Author Dave Lowery to name one. There are ancient styles of weapons, Iaido, karate and more. These systems do not add to their system. They only teach what the old master taught....Maybe in modern eyes they don't have much to offer but maybe that is not their goal.

 Beikoku Shorin Karate Do? Far from a Koryu style...I remember a student wearing satin pants and red, white and blue gi! He even introduced gymnastics kata in Kumite kata Nidan! LOL!  This is not the point. One style does not count for all the others. 

Where did traditional start? Could it be pre 1980? Before 1960? Was it 1500? I can do my karate using a traditional jiujitsu move or a traditional small circle technique or a traditional karate technique or a throw from the traditional Kodokan series. Am I traditional?

 The wheel takes a big turn. I was once a modern karatka now the modern systems have passed me by (surpassed?) Now I am considered traditional compared to the "now" karate. Another time if I'm still around my style may become fashionable again and I'll be the "now" karate.  Till then I'll keep my gi on thank you.


A warrior rambling

Sensei Mike





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