Friday, October 08, 2021


Lately, on martial arts threads I see online, it seems that traditional martial arts (TMA) have fallen out of favor. Apparently if you're not training for life-and-death or the Octagon, you're spinning your wheels. But in the idealistic past we've had TMA heroes gracing the big or little screen that seemed larger than life. Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and the TV show Kung Fu inspired us. It was David Carradine's portrayal of Caine, the Shaolin monk turned cowboy that inspired me to bug my parents to enroll me in my first martial arts class. Carradine was not really a kung fu practitioner of note, but that didn't matter to me. Norris once quipped that Carradine was about as qualified a martial artist as he (Norris) was a gifted stage actor, but I digress. Both of them presented martial arts in a very positive way. I miss that. And in its place we have to witness internet squabbles over full-contact sports like Muay Thai and judo, versus aikido, wing chun, tae kwon do, karate, or any other TMA du jour that's on the radar of these basement-dwelling chat-room pseudo cage fighters when they should be out looking for a job. To be fair, not all critics fall into this category. But then, the qualified critics, those with real combat, security, or fighting experience, (usually) can't be bothered airing their grievances on reddit. 

In 1984, The Karate Kid movie became a surprise hit. And in its wake, martial arts schools flourished. Enrollment doubled and tripled overnight, especially with kids, but what made this movie unique was the feature of the tournament. So between charging for lessons, belts and tournaments, karate school owners raked in the bucks. It's my opinion that kata and point-matches for trophies and colored belts have been both good and detrimental to karate. By the early 90s MMA came to the US, courtesy of a Brazilian clan's rendition of jiu-jitsu. A corner was turned, and there was no going back. 

In the old days, TMA were held as magic. We believed, because we had Kato and Lone Wolf McQuade and Mr. Miyagi there to give us faith. They were the good guys. I believed, because I wanted to believe that the style of karate that I espoused gave me a chance to be something greater than I was. Maybe I was naïve. I was young, what did I know? 

Today, critcal thinking reigns, so when we see a video of a "master" knocking out his student via hypnotic gaze, we know better. But these cringey clips, along with qi strikes and 7-year-old black belts, these things by default get relegated to TMA. And that's a shame. Still in spite of it all, the karate that I know, somehow, still possesses something magical.

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