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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Haters Gonna Hate

Anyone who spends much time talking about the martial arts on the internet (which, as evidenced by this blog, I do) rapidly becomes aware of a very vocal e-contingent of anti-traditionalists.

They are all over YouTube, hurrying in droves to insult and belittle videos of taekwondo belt tests, karate kata, and aikido demonstrations. They are ready at a moment's notice to harshly assert their opinions on others' martial arts choices (not that anyone asked) on any message board, whether or not it is a martial arts message board.

To them, if you're not training in one of a select few modern full-contact martial arts, you're not really a martial artist at all. And they'll tell you so. And if you insist on suggesting your way has any kind of value, get ready for a caps lock firestorm.

What's a traditional martial artist to do? Ignore them? I do plenty of that, for sure. The problem with just dismissing them outright, though, is that they're a little bit right.

No matter how long or how hard I train in aikido and taekwondo, I'll probably never be able to stand toe-to-toe with a Muay Thai kickboxer or competitive mixed martial artist who has trained as hard as I have. If the martial arts are defined simply as methods of fighting, there is frankly no reason at all to train in aikido, taekwondo, karate, or kung fu when one has Brazilian jujutsu and krav maga to choose from.

I need to accept this truth in order to move past the criticism: not that I can't learn real martial skills from traditional arts, or that I shouldn't strive to make my arts as effective as possible, but that there are other arts which, given all equals, are probably more effective. When this truth ceases to be a shock to me, it ceases to be a weapon that can be used against me.

The next step is to understand the other reasons I practice my arts. Aikido was founded by O Sensei Morihei Ueshiba with the goal of teaching us to live as one with the world around us. The country of South Korea embraced and formalized taekwondo with the goal of building healthy bodies and respectful, courageous citizens. If I can accomplish these goals for myself, and pick up a few valuable martial skills along the way, then I have succeded, and my arts are valid.

And if that's not good enough for the anonymous self-appointed champions of modern fighting styles, then I think I am perfectly justified in ignoring them.


  1. Hi there Owl Matt! I too practice aikido and am familiar with the anti-traditional climate out there. I don't think Ueshiba set out to create a less effective art, and I think you concede this point too readily. Any martial art can be the "most effective" (whatever that means) because they all share the same martial principles (timing, posture, balance, body mechanics, connection, awareness, generating power, etc). I am in the process myself of exploring other arts to see the overlap, and am surprised by the commonalities. Aikido is what you make it: how hard you train, how hard you search for the answers, who your teachers are... but I think it's all there for the taking. If you were so inclined to train in a way to defeat a krav maga or bjj person, you probably could, through the same trial and error method competitive fighters use. Maybe you'd lose a lot of the time at first, fill in the gaps, and develop yourself until you started to win. Most aikidoka simply are not interested in that type of competitive behavior, or in sparring with MMA fighters. Most don't train for that goal. But I don't think the tools you would need are lacking in aikido.

  2. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Kim.

    I think O Sensei intentionally created an art that (a) was less harmful than its predecessors, and (b) made martial effectiveness only one of a long list of priorities, and both of these I consider obstacles to fighting efficacy. I don't mean to suggest that aikido cannot be an effective martial art; if I thought that, I wouldn't be training it. But traditional martial arts are more than just fighting, and it seems to me that someone who spends his time just learning to fight will probably become a better fighter than someone who spreads his time and effort over the many facets of the tradtitional arts, of which fighting is only one.

  3. Your blog is quite inspirational. I say inspirational because it has inspired me to start one of my own. So, thank you for that.

    Next I want to say that you shouldn't put too much credence in the knuckleheads and barbarians in the world that think might makes right and that if you don't have cauliflower ears, you can't handle yourself. In my experience they are disgruntled people who took a traditional martial art for a few years, followed some undistinguished sensei blindly, never took their training seriously, wondered why they lacked real skill and then resented the traditional schools whole scale.

    True martial artists don't worry about styles. The baddest muay thai guy in the world might get killed by a sumo wrestler if his thai elbows are being absorbed by kilos of flesh. The BJJ player of 10 years training can get thrown by a Judoka of 2 years training if the Judoka spent all 2 years on that one throw.

    Ultimately, combat, whether it be fighting or competition comes down to people, not styles...the will, not the skill. I take Karate, have for years, but I remember my sensei saying something that stuck with me to this day. He saw me punch one of my peers in kumite and my opponent doubled over and took a knee. I was both pleased that my timing was sound and troubled that I had hurt my friend and after class I approached my sensei and apologized. He said that in the heat of the moment, Karate can do much damage and cause much suffering, but the ultimate goal must always be not just to win but to win humanely. To win with control, rather than power. He said that Aikido best exemplifies this philosophy by absorbing and redirecting rather than colliding, as I had collided with my opponent that day.

    Without pursuing that higher standard of combat - combat to control instead of destroy - the martial arts are just barbarism by another name and martial artists are just animals glorifying violence.

  4. Kamil, please let me know how that blog comes along. I'd love to read it.

  5. I have to agree and disagree. A person's discipline and decision making can overcome almost any obstacle. I don't like the meathead approach of ground and pound.. the strike first and go for it approach. Martial arts is a chess match and purist know this. Judo, Karate, Kickboxing, Boxing, and the grappling arts are just as mental as physical. The edge is only given to the one who uses their head the best.

  6. But isn't the "meathead ground and pound" stuff a chess match, too? Someone who has to get out on the mat and struggle against an opponent on a regular basis is going to learn the mental part of fighting as well as the physical, and will probably learn it better than someone who trains in the more traditional ways I do.