Thursday, October 19, 2006

Pushing The Boundaries of Competitive Martial Arts


Ever since the martial arts officially arrived in the US in the 50s it seems every decade since has had its own defining moment. The 60s gave us Bruce Lee. The 70s introduced the public to the TV series Kung Fu which greatly popularized that art in the West. The 80s saw perhaps the biggest wave of all with The Karate Kid movie series. The epic of Daniel-san and his karate mentor Mr. Miyagi is now a part of pop culture. The 90s, however, brought us to something that had controversy surrounding it in its shaky relationship to traditional martial arts: Mixed Martial Arts.

When Brazilian jiu-jitsu players introduced their version of Vale Tudo (lit. anything goes) as a mixed martial arts tournament in the US back in the early 90s, the idea was to pit exponents of various styles against one another to see which one would reign supreme. The first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) became the most heralded sporting event in martial arts history. To call these matches violent would be an understatement. Visions of Shaolin monks sitting in meditation on a secluded mountain began to quickly fade in the wake of these often brutal and bloody contests. Martial philosophy and spirituality were nowhere to be found in these outrageous spectacles. The UFC looked like a depraved video game come to life. Suddenly US politicians everywhere jumped on the bandwagon to protest the so-called savagery of no-holds-barred fighting. Some UFC fighters were actually arrested in Canada for competing in these events. While many viewed the UFC as reprehensible for what appeared to be gratuitous violence, others saw it as a necessary retrogression of sorts - a return to what the martial arts were originally intended for: uninhibited combat.

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8 Comments:

Blogger Becky said...

I've never seen a UFC match, nor do I wish to. I do not consider this to be true martial arts, but some twisted perversion like the evil sensei in The Karate Kid movies. Yet how many people will watch this and think that it is what karate is all about. I've already had people respond to my encouragment to join classes at my dojo by saying, "No, I could never do karate. I don't like fighting." Or "I don't approve of violence." These people have no concept of what the martial arts is all about, and stuff like UFC doesn't help matters any.

6:32 AM  
Blogger Charles James said...

Hi, John

Wow, I guess I haven't been keeping up with the times.

It is similar to the daytime hosted shows with persons who throw chairs and such for sensationalism. It is what makes television money.

Like reality shows which are not really reality shows. More sensationalism shows.

There have been these types of fighting matches through out history and most times it involved money. We have just taken it to the next level using technology.

If you can reach millions of people and they buy into it then you can reach millions of wallets and purses.

I don't particularly agree with it and apparently have not watched it so maybe I should not express an opinion.

Anyway, nice post dude!

10:09 AM  
Blogger supergroup7 said...

People train in martial arts for a variety of reasons. These UFC moments give opportunity to those who desire that kind of challenge. Personally, I prefer not to explore that avenue in my path.

12:57 PM  
Blogger robredmond said...

Is the UFC what martial arts is all about? Sure. I don't believe the martial-arts are about anything in particular. Martial arts are not "about" anything. They are physical activities. The only thing that gives martial-arts meaning are the feelings of the people who are interested in doing them.

Martial=military, not meditation. The original concept behind developing fighting systems is to beat the tar out of other people - either offensively or defensively.

Following World War II, the Japanese began a heavy campaign of propagandizing their martial arts as being other than military in nature in order to convince occupational authorities that they should be allowed to practice them.

That propaganda was extremely effective, and today we have not only the general public but ourselves convinced that martial arts have some singular, agreed-upon purpose, such that Becky above believes she can speak for me and you and say what the overall purpose of martial arts is.

If the UFC guys like beating each other senseless, then that is what martial arts are about for them. If you like meditating on a mountainside, then that is what it is about for you.

Either way, no one can say what it is about for everyone.

9:31 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Becky:
Well, it's one aspect of martial arts that I feel can't be totally ignored. These fighters don't see themselves as barbarians but world class athletes, and they are. But as you suggested, there are those who will watch this stuff and misinterpret it, and that certainly doesn't help matters.
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Mr. James:
It's true that there have been these kind of contests historically. I'm not sure if there's alot of money in it though. Certainly not like boxing, nor do I believe it will ever match boxing's popularity.
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Mireille:
It's a matter of perspective. Like you say, everyone who gets involved in the martial arts has their own personal reasons. Obviously these kinds of events, and for that matter the martial arts in general, are not for everyone.
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Rob:
I agree that no one can say what the martial arts is about for everyone. But I'd love to see how you can beat the tar out of someone defensively!

11:38 PM  
Anonymous blackbeltmama said...

So, which style reigned supreme? I'd be curious to know. . .

10:44 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Black Belt Mama:
Initially - Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The karate/kickboxing guys could fight standing up all right, but had no experience at all with jiu-jitsu type grappling on the mat. UFC's first #1 competitor was a guy by the name of Royce Gracie. Nobody at first could beat this guy. The Gracie family were introduced to jiu-jitsu in their homeland of Brazil in the 20s, began competing in mixed martial arts in the 40s, and even had a TV show in the 60s showcasing these contests. So it was experience really that prevailed, not jiu-jitsu. In time, competitors from other styles caught on to the Gracie way of fighting and began to develop strategies to counteract theirs. Because of the Gracies, jiu-jitsu is now one of the most popular martial arts in the US.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

These days, the UFC and Mixed Martial Arts are sanctioned, safe, sporting events. Statistically much safer than boxing (in which athletes die annually), these events allow martial artists to test their abilities at every range of combat. While the most common combination seems to be muay thai and BJJ, there are catch wrestlers, sambo specialists, and Judoka crosstraining in Karate, Kempo, Boxing, and even the occasional TKD.

Personally, I believe that martial arts are fundamentally about martial ability. Everything else is an adjunct to the activity. Yes, there are a multitude of reasons to study martial arts, and you may gain health, spirituality, flexibility, or any number of other benefits. At its core, however, it is about the ability to fight. If you don't have this key ingredient, you are not a martial artist.

The vale tudo, pankration and mixed martial arts tournaments and leagues are giving many martial artists a venue for pressure testing their skills against other martial artists. These people are skilled and technical.

I personally don't train in martial arts for combat or violence. But I do spar and I do enjoy competing. For me, martial arts without the "martial" side is like learning golf by going to the driving range but never golfing a round on the links. You may learn to swing the club, but until you actually play a round of golf, you don't golf. You're a guy who hits a bucket of balls at the range.

I believe that the initial UFC exposed the fallacy of a widely held belief that a striker could successfully keep a fight on the feet against a determined, trained grappler. Now, it's become accepted that training must include every range, including the ground. It's interesting that Bruce Lee knew this in the '60's, but it took so long to catch up.

I can tell you all honestly that I when I saw the UFC while in college , it had a profound impact upon me. The violence was completely irrelevant to me. I was fascinated by the relatively small guy who won fights from underneath much larger opponents. And he did it largely without punching or kicking them. It was amazing to me.

I respect anyone who trains for whatever reason they choose, regardless of motivation or particular style. My hackles rise a bit, however, when this respect is not reciprocated. I know and train with several professional mixed martial artists, and they're as serious, spiritual and respectful to their arts as anyone. They simply have a different philosophy, a different idea of what constitutes martial ability. None that I know personally are egotistical or violent in nature. In fact, they are all exactly the opposite.

11:51 PM  

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