Who would’ve ever thought that we’d pay over $1.00 for a gallon of gas, hang a 3” thick TV on the wall, e-mail and surf the internet on our phones, or have our musical libraries readily available on a mobile device that can fit in our shirt pockets? Well, it’s all a reality, not a dream. And these things are merely the tip of the iceberg. Advances in our society are vast and fast-paced, just like our lifestyles. That being said, advances in Martial Arts seem to be inevitable. But, have all of these advances been for the better or for the worse? Like the saying goes, “the only thing that remains constant is that everything will change”.
It seems that every decade, the face of Martial Arts changes. In the 70’s, it was a mystical, very militant training system that was rooted in Eastern culture and philosophy. Many of the people that trained were lured by the discipline and order that was so closely associated with mere thought of training Martial Arts. Of course there were not dojos on every street corner. As a matter of fact, if you wanted to find a dojo, you had to know someone, who knew someone, who knew somebody that could get you in touch with their brother that had a friend that trained. Well, maybe it wasn’t that ridiculous, but it wasn’t easy to find one. Primarily because training wasn’t something that you talked about, and it definitely wasn’t mainstream. Most of the people that trained were adult males that prided themselves on the secrecy of the arts.
Roll in the 80’s, with introduction of the Karate Kid (the Ralph Machio , not the Jayden Smith version) and the Ninja Turtles came a Martial Arts face lift. Now, dojos weren’t filled with testosterone driven men following orders barked out by an instructor that resembled a drill sergeant, but rather little boys with buck teeth and little girls with pig tails. Instructors had to learn new approaches to classes while still incorporating the principles that were taught in “traditional” dojos.
With the influx of children training, dojos became easier to spot. After all, what parent wanted to drag their child three flights up to a dark room above the local bar, or a dark, dingy garage behind a corner convenient store. So, as training became a little more mainstream, so came the decade of competition. Children taking Martial Arts lessons couldn’t rightly go out and pick fights to test their skills, so tournaments grew by the dozens. With the rising number of participants came the desire for higher level competition. So came the generation of traveling competitors.
As we approached the turn of the century, a movement (led by a man with the last name Blanks) to promote fitness through Martial Arts once again changed the face of the neighborhood dojo. Now, the floor that was once filled with jumping and kicking kids were being flooded by overweight adult men and bored housewives. Now, much of the mystique and tradition that was taught were being replaced by watered down cardio drills, and 2 hour high intense classes were being shortened to 30 minute get in, get out workouts.
Now as 2010 approached, we turned yet another page in the Martial Arts manual. The rebirth of the UFC and Mixed Martial Arts saw a significant drop in traditional Martial Arts programs and an increase in more eclectic, watered down versions of their former counterparts. Despite the change, the emergence of new studios seems to be prevalent. So, has all this change hurt or helped Martial Arts in general. Not unlike all other facets of our society, dojos have been forced to try and keep up with these changes or fall by the wayside. Over time, dojos have gone from being small finely disciplined to more sizable, but laxed facilities.
As with any other industry, the change was inevitable, but has it helped or hindered our ultimate goal? Growing up in “
Sorry to use the cliché, but back in the day, we always arrived early to class (students weren’t permitted in class late), and everyone cleaned the dojo prior to class starting. After this was done, we all helped each other practice, advanced belts working with and setting an example for the lower belts (and the lower belts actually listening without question), and then participating to the best of our abilities in class. Distractions such as cell phones and “instructing” parents weren’t even permitted in the dojo. After class, every student put the equipment away and cleaned the dojo for the next class. Because students took pride in taking care of the dojo and their fellow participants, no one would ever think of disrespecting anything or anyone in the facility. Have these days just slipped away? I would like to think not!
Sadly, the changes that have come over the past decades have been both a blessing and a curse. Although our facility has been able to balance the preservation of the old, while still embracing the new, some of the negative I alluded to has still seeped in. When new programs arise that do not follow traditional protocol, provisions have to be made, but in the end, all the basics must exist; discipline, respect, perseverance, humility and focus. In Martial Arts, we preach living what you train…take what you learn and apply it to everything you do. Have we lost that “goal” of improving our own character? Sometimes, I have to step back and look at my own training and ask the same question. Are we selfish in our training and our goals or are we still striving for that unattainable “perfection” of not just the physical, but also the mental and spiritual.
Many of us look at our dojos as our sanctuaries. It is where we go to escape life for the duration of our workout and reflect and improve on ourselves. As society changes, let’s not forget what originally attracted us to training. Let’s not forget how to become good “Martial Artists”, not just good fighters, or weapons performers, or competitors, or anything else that we’ve tunneled our sights on. Embrace the essence of what it means to truly “live the arts”. Remember, everything changes, but is every change for the better? Just like the people that still love their scratchy LPs or their loud muscle cars, we have to preserve those “old’ qualities that we don’t want to lose in the newer generation of Martial Artists. It’s merely food for thought…