Are Traditional Martial Arts a thing of the past?

Are Traditional Martial Arts a thing of the past?

Are traditional martial arts a thing of the past

This is a tough one: well – yes – we can say with no doubt that kungfu is out of fashion in 2018, and traditional martial arts such as Karate, Judo, Taiji quan and Aikido might be considered a thing of the past. Still, the cause of this shocking answer is to be found in the only thing that is certain in life: change.

Change as a wheel that is super slow, but cannot be stopped.
A question to you, Martial Artist, that are reading this article: do you like music? Of course you do, and which genre you like to listen to? If I had to collect all your answers, for sure I would get a graph where genres such as Rock, Hip-Hop, Country, Pop and Dance would be the most popular, while a small number of your preferences would hit the “Classic Music button”. And the reason is simple: there’s a time for everything, and change is the only thing that can explain this turnaround. Martial Arts, just like Music, are not exempt from this immutable law, and what we see today in the martial arts panorama is just another expression of this golden rule. Just like Mozart and Beethoven, no doubt they won’t strike tonight’s radio hits, but nobody will ever forget them.

Styles like Karate and Kungfu are slowly – but inevitably – becoming the Classic music on vinyl and tape: only a few decide to learn them, and only people who lived in their golden period can really appreciate them.

Bruce Lee: the turning point.
Do you remember in the 60′ the first movies who stroke the western world and made Kungfu so popular? Travelling far away, especially in remote places like China, Malaysia and Thailand was still something not cheap and common like it is today; the industry of movies was growing exponentially, as the combination between Bruce Lee’s skills with the extremely demanding audience of a growing industry like Hollywood, made Kungfu take off so rapidly. Therefore, Chinese Martial Arts and other fighting sports like Muhai Thai and Kick Boxing just experienced an explosion of popularity that lasted until the end of the 20th century.

Are Traditional Martial Arts a thing of the past? An inevitable change.
Although Martial Arts movies could offer a virtually endless range of stunts and adrenaline, with the beginning of the 21st century people wanted more. This is due to mainly four reasons:

  1. the increasing spread of the Internet
  2. the sudden price-drop of cheap flights, who now allow people from all over the world to say “yes, going overseas to learn what I saw on TV is no longer a dream”
  3. the consciousness in the young generation, due to TV and media, to be finally able to express its skills worldwide through the Internet and Youtube
  4. last (but I would personally put it at the top of this list) athletes trying to emulate martial arts stars

are traditional martial arts dead kungfu is dead 1All the above reasons, mixed together, forced the worldwide martial scenario to adapt to survive, which hilariously is the first rule in Nature. Sports like Wrestling, Boxe and Kick Boxing reached a point where Hollywood movies and Sports needed to be blended together in order to survive, otherwise movies would have evolved separately, leaving Martial Arts industry alone with the sole purpose of educating young people to become a better person, working on their inner self, and all other values that just a tiny group of people, nowadays, is still open to accept.

My purpose here is to explain the reasons of this change, not to prevent change from happening.

Don’t get me wrong: who’s writing this article is a traditional martial arts practitioner, who is extremely rooted to the real purpose of martial arts, but my purpose here is to explain the reasons of this change, not to prevent change from happening.

The first rule of a successful business is “give your clients what they want, not what they need”
Following the golden rule of change, the fact is that Kungfu is sadly fading, and Traditional Martial Arts are now mostly filed to leave space to a new world of fighting sports: MMA (Mixed Martial Arts). With the invention of MMA, people now have access to:

  1. fighting for real
  2. leaving rules to a minimum
  3. lgiving athletes a chance to prove their skills.

It’s important to point out how most men choose to follow a TV show – or getting to the park to watch it for real – where the violence within is proportional to their sense of frustration (yes, “their” because aggressiveness is mainly masculine). People who are more inclined to follow high impact shows and sports, go to the stadium on Sunday to be able to yell and let go everything that they have been held inside during a whole week of stress, regardless of the reason. This is a psychology fact, not a sentence found on google.

“We want to see more blood!” used to yell people at the Colosseum during the ancient Roman empire.

This trend reversal is just the translation of the title of this paragraph into martial arts: give people what they want, not what they need. And this applies to all business types: from food to TV. In modern martial arts, it does not matter if injuries can be permanent, does not matter if you don’t follow a particular style: just fight. The exchange for the owners of UFC and MMA brands is to create business, and for the Athletes to get their need to fight accomplished. Period.

A restaurant with all Cuisines in the world.
Wouldn’t be nice to know a restaurant where you can be served a meal that contains all the flavours of the world? A plate filled with food of no particular shape, but with the irresistible taste of all cuisines in the whole world: Italian, Mexican, Vietnamese, Chinese, American, Korean… It would be the ultimate dream for everyone in the world!

Mixed Martial Arts are doing the same with all world martial arts: they pick all flavours and create the ultimate taste, because it’s the result that counts.

MMA are great under this point of view, because they go straight to the point: if knocking my opponent on the ground is the ultimate purpose under a martial point of view, so’ll be it: fight using what you just need to win, no limitations in choosing which style you want to mix. However, under the “artistic” point of view, we cannot say that Mixed Martial Arts should be given the name “arts”, but rather “fighting sports”.

Definition of Art

The reason is simple: yes, you have wonderful fighters, extremely prepared and fearless, but where’s the artistic component? Where’s the control of impulsiveness, the respect for the other, the rules such as “respect  your opponent” and “fight if you have to, not to prove anything”? For this section, please check the article on Difference between Art and Sport.

My point is simple: MMA and UFC based sports are a great invention, but are sending people (especially the young generation) the wrong message: to fight before thinking, just like the world outside was a ring, with no difference both under the legal point of view and the health point of view, things that people tend to underestimate: just to think that our brain moves within our skull, as a layer of fluid guarantees that it can resist some kind of shocks. Sports with extremely reduced rules can lead to serious consequences, as the constant message that everyone hears (but ignores) during shows like these is always the same: cool stuff to watch (now), but what in the next five-ten years?

My vision of Martial Arts for the future
Humankind has been evolving for thousands of years, and we are all aware that the “animal” part of ourselves will be hard to be fully repressed; after all, this component is the one that should protect us when we are in danger, allowing us to unleash our full potential and survive in case our life is in danger.

are traditional martial arts a thing of the past

Are Traditional Martial Arts a thing of the past, in the end? The answer is No, if only their deep meaning could continue to pulse in someone’s heart, just like a Beethoven’s masterpiece that people recognizes just after listening to its first few notes.

Kungfu is dead, and we all know it, but its teachings should not be forgotten: learning martial arts to become a better person, finding the balance between respect and self control, along with the ability to become a real animal if this means to protect our life and the one of the persons we love

From “my pen is better than yours” to “my car is the fastest”. A problem rooted in humankind.
Today martial arts have become too competition focused, and the Internet can prove this anytime: questions like “What is the deadliest martial style in the world” or “How to defeat your opponent in less than 3 seconds” are easy to be found on the web, and this clearly means that people is asking for it; a consequence of their own curiosity or because they watch too many movies / fights, this is hard to know.

It’s not uncommon even for me, that I use Youtube for promoting martial arts all round the world, to receive several comments that sound like “that’s useless: that master is better” or “that styles does not work today, mine is the ultimate style” or even “go to that channel and see real masters”.

Looks like the only purpose of having your say in the industry becomes a provocation followed by a trial where people beyond a keyboard just start letting their cruelest thoughts go without knowing that the purpose of that particular video is in primis showing, not comparing. People need to rediscover the purpose of things rather than choosing them for the way they look, and this covers almost everyting in this world:

  • Cars: to move/go to work or to show yourself?
  • Clothes: to protect yourself from cold or to look cool?
  • Videogames: to have fun or to prove that you don’t play games for kids?

Basic Training for Martial Arts

Considerations from someone who loves Martial Arts, but does not compete for them.
Personally, I am aware that I am not in control of what happens in the world, but if I could I would channel this current trend of “fighting to prove” into something to the advantage of the current (and hopefully future) generation(s): you wanna fight? Fight. You wanna prove that you can destroy your opponent? Prove it. Total freedom of choice. But some strong rules need to be introduced, because while your round goes on, ten minutes of show might brainwash 10 kids every single minute.

Let the TV show say “use martial arts for defense only” before the fight begins. Let’s use our Fighting Champions to promote a respect-focused lifestyle, uplifting the values of Martial Arts everywhere: at school, at work, at the Sunday football match

I don’t know the right formula to make this happen; the only thing that I wish for is that the modern message that Martial Arts are sending nowadays could be more clear out there. And with my small contribution I hope it can be somehow of help.

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About the author : Fabio Zambelli

Fabio Zambelli
Fabio has dedicated his life to Martial Arts for more than 20 years and has been teaching since 2005. Extremely committed and passionate to the way of the warrior lifestyle, he lives his days following Martial Arts’ principles: hard work and self-sacrifice. The diplomas he is most proud of are his failures as overcoming these demonstrated that Martial Arts values, along with their code of conduct, have worked on him. His extraordinary determination, concretized in Heart of The Orient, the world's first designed and hand-crafted Dojo for Shaolin Kungfu, is proof that human willpower has no limits.

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