Americanization of the Martial Arts

On guard position

On guard position

It is no secret that Asian martial arts are incredibly popular in the United States. Any given town may have two or three Korean Tae Kwon Do schools, a few Okinawan karate schools, a Chinese kung fu school or two, and a handful of Judo, Aikido, Jiu Jitsu, and other schools scattered about. The prospective martial arts student can pick and choose which style appeals to him or her most and is even free to combine elements from multiple styles. Such was not the case in the founding days of the martial arts, when arts were passed on from student to teacher in a direct lineage. It was not always easy to find a teacher, and the student had to spend a lifetime mastering the art. There was no “picking and choosing”, no shopping for styles and masters. So how have the martial arts integrated into western consumer culture? Quite well, actually. The freedom to pick and choose has allowed the blending of styles that have been separated for centuries. In the end, we are seeing the emergence of a truly American class of fighting styles. This conglomeration of fighting arts is a melting pot, much as America itself is.

It should be pointed out early on that this article makes many sweeping generalizations that are not true of many particular martial arts schools and styles. Some schools proved to be adaptable to local influences almost immediately, while others have retained their traditional characteristics for decades. This article is not intended to say that one way is better than another. It is just an observation of how the martial arts scene, overall, in America is changing.

The first wave of the martial arts boom in the United States occurred in the years directly following World War II. American servicemen stationed in the east discovered the strange, effective fighting arts of Japan while based in the region as part of the post war occupational force. The primary martial art that was introduced at this time was Judo, which was popular in mainland Japan, along with some forms of empty hand martial arts from the island of Okinawa. These Okinawan arts are collectively known by their Japanese name–the words “kara” meaning “empty” and “te” meaning “hand” combine to form the now common word “karate” or “empty hand.” The second wave was an interest in Chinese forms of martial arts (kung fu), largely popularized by the demonstrations and movie and TV roles of Bruce Lee in the nineteen-sixties. The martial arts enthusiasts of generation X can largely trace their martial arts influences to the Karate Kid movies.

Yet, through all of the decades of martial arts practice in America, martial arts remained firmly rooted in its oriental culture and tradition. Classes began with salutations in Japanese or Chinese, and the same languages were used to count out punches and kicks during drills. The more closely the American martial arts schools held to the traditions of their forbearers, the more the art was respected. Schools that integrated oriental martial arts with American boxing and wrestling were often viewed as having somehow “watered down” the traditional nature of their art.

Those views have been slowly changing over time, and mixed martial arts (MMA), which combines striking arts with wrestling and grappling arts, has become an accepted class of martial arts in its own right. This has been particularly highlighted by the success of the Ultimate Fighting circuit, which is as close to no holds barred fighting as you’ll find in modern sports. The early Ultimate Fighting Championships featured competitors who were essentially one dimensional. Someone might be a boxer, a grappler, a karate practitioner, or something else, but rarely did you see true mixed martial artists. However, the one dimensional fighters soon found themselves outmatched by the more versatile MMA competitors. This was most stunningly highlighted recently when Royce Gracie, Jiu Jitsu master and the winner of three of the first four Ultimate Fighting Championships, was defeated soundly in his return match by Matt Hughes, a modern MMA fighter.

Does this mean that traditional martial arts have been supplanted by the new breed of MMA styles? Absolutely not. Rather, it just goes to show that, even in the martial arts, there is not one size that fits all. Clearly, if you are fighting three five minute rounds in a chain link octagon, then MMA might be the way to go. However, who can say what would work best in a real world confrontation? Besides, as any true martial arts practitioner knows, the true value of studying the martial arts comes not in finding ways to beat your opponent–rather, the real challenge is to face down your own failings and become the best person you can be.

Guest Writer bio: Gary Russell is a freelance writer, martial arts practitioner, and software engineer. He is the founder of TopSearch Consulting, a full service web content and keyword article provider.

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/220456

Yes, you too could be a guest writer on my blog. Email me your article idea and we’ll talk. I’ve used guest writers for my monthly newsletter years ago and I’ll do it again.

Blocks from Canada

I got an email regarding my last post on Blocking Sets from my friend and fellow instructor Marlon Anthony Wilson. Here’s what he had to say:

Interestingly I added a “blocking set” to my white belt curriculum.

  1. Advance block 1
  2. Advance block 2
  3. Go back block 3
  4. Go back block 4
  5. Turn block 5 (turn to 6:00)
  6. Advance block 6
  7. Turn block 7 (turn to 12:00)
  8. Advance block 8
  9. close

I use it to help emphasize stepping heel to toe when moving forward and toe to heel when stepping back. As well as “everything moves together – everything stops together.”

Nice to see your write up.

Thanks for your response. Stay warm up north during this harsh winter.

Moving Blocking Set 1

Moving sets allows the students to practice blocking techniques while moving and against a prearranged, predictable attack. We use these for white and yellow belts after they learn how to move (Half-moon steps) and how to block (blocking set 1). Now the student needs to do both at the same time — a real challenge at first.

Moving Set #1a (Two person)
Defender:
Half moon backward, perform block 1
Half moon backward, perform block 2
Half moon backward, perform block 3
Half moon backward, perform block 4
Half moon backward, perform block 5
Half moon backward, perform block 6
Half moon backward, perform block 7
Half moon backward, perform block 8

Attacker:
Half moon forward, perform a punch
Half moon forward, perform a punch
Half moon forward, perform a shuto
Half moon forward, perform a shuto
Half moon forward, perform a hammer
Half moon forward, perform a hammer
Half moon forward, perform a low punch or front kick
Half moon forward, perform a low punch or front kick

Moving Set #1b (Solo)
Salutation
Half moon forward, perform block 1
Half moon forward, perform block 2
Half moon backward, perform block 3
Half moon backward, perform block 4
Pivot to the right, perform block 5
Half moon turn 180, perform block 6
Half moon in a horse stance facing front, perform blocks 7 and 8
Close

The last set is much like a mini-kata and should be thought of as a practice technique to synchronize moving and hitting. Remember that blocks are strikes towards an offensive strike. Do you have another way of practicing blocks? Let me know.

You Do What You Practice

Setting up for an arm lock

Setting up for an arm lock

The most important aspect of martial arts practice, especially for Kempo, is actually working the techniques on human bodies. Partner work is very important because you develop the muscle memory in this type of training. Partner training also provides visual feedback about where the opponent is hit and how does the opponent reacts. By working with various body sizes, weights and abilities, you get a sense for how different people will react and how you can adjust for variations.

Often times when classmates work together, they go soft on each other. They don’t want to hit the sensitive or vital points. Aim for the target you wish to hit. Don’t practice missing on purpose just to be nice to your fellow student. It develops bad habits and faulty muscle memory. Rather, stop before you hit the target. It is easier to add more power and distance to your strike than it is to redirect bad muscle memory.

But what about the dreaded horse stance? How is that useful?

It teaches you proper knee orientation and weight distribution. The horse stance conditions the knees, legs, and hips for what is expected of them during Kempo techniques and kata. But it is not a fighting stance.

A master from another art once asked me why we practice from a horse stance. I gave him my patent answer, the one I give my students and accept as an instructor. But he didn’t buy it. He felt it was more important to practice the stances you are going to use from the beginning. Going through phases in stance work is not good for the student and slows down active defense skill.

Now I have to re-evaluate how I teach others. I still haven’t changed the method of instruction yet but this conversation still lingers in my mind. It speaks to a truth about training that can not be rejected just because our methods work too. His insight is very telling about the effectiveness of Kyu-ranked students — they are lacking in adequate fighting skills due to our training crutches.

The focus of all our drilling and memorization is to hone our physical skills. This feeds into something that isn’t done nearly enough in most schools and definitely needs more repetition in our schools — doing drills. These are important to develop timing, gauging, and balance when working with another person. In Arnis, the drills “picking” and “sinawali” are great examples of this.

Have you ever worked on a drill that you thought were great? Let us know in the comments. Also, if you ever did something you practiced in class but it didn’t work right in the field, I’d love to hear about it too.