Traditional Martial Arts or MMA (mixed martial arts)?
For me it depends on what you’re interested in. Many reading this will say it has to be MMA. I would agree with them if you want to get in a cage and have a fight but have no inclination to take your application, understanding, appreciation and knowledge of martial arts to a higher level.
My background and then thoughts are this:
I have studied Kung fu and Kickboxing for 24 years. My mum thought it would be good for me to get rid of some of my limitless energy. I still remember her first breeching the subject with me when I was 6 years old. She said “would you like to start Kung fu?” I didn’t know what Kung fu was but I said yes and was hugely excited. I started shortly after. Soon I discovered (and wanted to be just like) Bruce Lee. He is still my idol because of the way he broke down social and racial barriers, his unwaveringly sound philosophies on life and martial arts and of course his immaculate speed power and technical ability as a fighter. (Ironically I wasn’t allowed to watch his films until I was much older) I just somehow knew he was “the man”
For the first 5 years or so I just wanted to fight like my martial arts superhero and enjoyed the combat side of things. From the age of 11 onwards, as I matured, I developed more of an interest and appreciation for the traditional movements, philosophies and aspects of Kung fu. I was more happy to spend time focusing on improving complicated techniques which require precision execution and timing.
To be clear, I have never lost the love, interest and value in having a physical workout, sparring, and hitting / kicking mitts and shields. I just appreciate other aspects of martial arts now too.
Since my 20’s I have become more interested in the Tai chi movement and breathing aspects of Kung fu. This is where martial arts originated from and I want to know and experience more. Not for combative use but for personal relaxation, meditation and peace of mind. I love moving (or trying to move) gracefully with free flowing movements, chi (energy) running through my body. It feels fantastic and is good for the sole.
To truly become at one with Kung fu it takes a life time of practice and dedication. I acknowledge that I have a long, long way to go and would love to visit China one day and learn with some masters. To become a more rounded martial artist not just a good fighter.
Bruce Lee described many aspects of martial arts as classical or traditional mess. I understand his point but also disagree. If you are interested, learn the history, learn the in’s and out’s. It doesn’t just have to just be about fighting. It is whatever you make it.
The past 15- 20 years have seen the explosion in the popularity of MMA (Mixed martial arts). For the spectator MMA is exciting, raw and anyone can give it a go. I appreciate the athleticism and skill involved in being a tough and well-rounded fighter but for me, a traditional martial artist, it just doesn’t look very nice. The fights are usually scrappy and overly violent for my taste. I would rather watch two highly skilled practitioners fully padded up with protective equipment have a heavy sparring session demonstrating speed, grace, power and good technique. I find watching Judo / Jujitsu practitioners grappling on the floor very fascinating and educational as this is a completely different skill set and a valuable one too. Integrating upright fighting and grappling as MMA does, definitely produces the most versatile fighters, which is of great value to the individual but personally I would rather prefer it done without the high levels of aggression and intent. (I.e. attempting t render your opponent unconscious while they lay semi helpless in a pool of blood on the ground.)
Unfortunately like everything in Western civilisation, we Westerners want it faster, easier and ready-made. For those that don't require a more rounded, developed art form, MMA / UFC is great. Fine. I highly respect MMA practitioners as athletes, but for me I look for a lot, lot more. Martial arts can be something you do for one hour every week, or it can be a lifestyle, not just a statement of how hard you are.
It is possible of course to be both a devoted practitioner of traditional martial arts and a top MMA fighter. Personally I find it difficult to comprehend the mentality of any martial artist wanting to inflict pain and damage onto another human. It simply is not in the spirit of it. A true warrior doesn’t need to fight to prove his or her worth. Is this self-defence or sport?
Maybe I am a hypocrite as I have competed at tournaments to test myself, see how I stack up against others and experience fighting new opponents. I was however wearing extensive protective equipment with the goal to win the fights on points scored and ability.
To conclude, we all have a choice and a lot will depend on personality type. If you are someone who likes things that you can jump straight into and do without thinking too much or you just have an aptitude for fighting you have your option. If you are a person who likes explore deeper into your interests, and experience things a little more substantial and fulfilling you have yours too.
I have the following channels where you can find out more.