Everything is cyclical, or so “they” say. “They” also say that everything old is new again, and this applies to pretty much everything in life.
Martial arts are no exception.
I began my training back in the mid-’60’s when “state-of-the-art” meant karate practitioners wearing flood-water pants and crew cuts …
There was a freshness, a perception of being on the cutting-edge of things, when I first got into the arts. Although I was just a kid I had a lot of exposure, seeing as how my older brother had studied Judo during his term of service in Korea. His instructors were from the Republic of Korea forces that produced some of the toughest martial artists around at the time. He had taken to teaching me some fundamentals when I was 7 years old and I took to them like a fish to water. He’d loan me his Black Belt Magazines and I’d spend hours reading the articles, looking at the pictures and drooling.
There were no “fads” back then – everything was too brand-new, and there wasn’t the multitude of arts to choose from that we have now. There was karate, judo and jiujitsu, and that was pretty much it.
In the ’70’s we were introduced to Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and all the other legends, each giving their own interpretation of what current martial arts were and influencing a nation of practitioners hungry for new techniques and philosophies. We found out that Kung-Fu was real, that Hapkido was an actual thing and that Aikido was a mysterious art practiced by guys in long black skirts. We had Bruce’s Wing Chun and Jeet Kune Do; Taekwondo made its appearance and we were introduced to The Green Hornet and Kung Fu on television as well as a flood of chop-socky movies from the Shaw Brothers. It was a time of expansion, of trying new things and of instant “masters” appearing on the scene.
It was the future that had been predicted in the ’60’s. It wasn’t exactly what we’d expected – again, at that point we weren’t really sure what to expect – but we were pretty much happy with it.
Came the ’80’s and the waves of ninja. Everyone was running around in black pajamas and throwing shuriken from their perch high in a tree. Sho Kosugi was a star, American Ninja was the latest Hollywood thing on the horizon and kickboxing was introduced as the latest, greatest thing in competitive fighting.
The arts began to split, to differentiate. The general public slowly became aware of the differences between karate and judo while the hard-core practitioners were gearing-up for specialization in their own arts. Media awareness reached an all-time high and Daniel-san got his butt kicked on a regular basis.
Again, the ’80’s produced a lot of what was expected in the ’70’s but once again threw in some curve-balls – who would have ever expected something like Capoeira to appear on the scene? The general “feel” at the time was that martial arts were maturing (even though they’d had a few thousand years under their belt already) and we began to be able to differentiate between fantasy and fiction. Martial arts became big business, with schools springing up on every corner and kids (and adults) lining up to get their coveted Black Belts. Associations appeared that offered to teach you how to run your own school and videotapes promised in-home mastery of any style.
The ’90’s became famous in November 1993 when UFC 1 took place. This was the beginning of what would turn out to be a juggernaut. Mixed martial arts demanded that everyone take a fresh look at what they did in terms of efficient training, conditioning and competing. The older stars of the martial arts world such as Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal came out with new material, in-home workouts based on martial arts took off with everyone doing Tae-Bo or Karaterobics. Cross-training became the new buzz-word for many and led even further into a blending of traditional and “new” martial arts.
By this time of course the previous fads and trends had died out. Ninja had returned to their dark lairs, kickboxing became a little bit more “traditional” and most of the charlatans had been flushed out by the new wave of knowledgeable practitioners.
The first decade of the new century brought further refinements to MMA, “discoveries” of such hot properties as Krav Maga and Systema and the further fictionalization of the arts in such Hollywood endeavors as the continuing Matrix franchise and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
And Now The Future
This brings us finally to my predictions for the future of the martial arts. I have no way of knowing if most of these will come true nor do I really count that as one of my chief worries, but those reading this young enough to be around in 20 or 30 years will know if I was right or not.
- We haven’t seen the end of frauds yet. The human animal will always be searching for short-cuts because of greed and impatience, and this plays right into the hands of fraudulent “masters”. In spite of the Internet’s ability to impart increased knowledge to students the frauds will always be one step ahead.
- Fads will continue. Whether you call them “fads”, “trends” or “movements in a bold new direction” there will still be those that jump on every new bandwagon that comes along. Along with the frauds, fads will continue to lure the unknowing and the greedy with their advertisement of magical benefits without lifting a finger. The next ninja craze is just around the corner.
- MMA will mature. Compared to traditional martial arts MMA is an infant, and as such has plenty of growing pains yet to go through. Whether it becomes a more-rounded art that incorporates self-defense and philosophical considerations or becomes a specialty sport with more technological improvements is unclear, but change it will. Personally I think it will become a traditional martial art (thus embarrassing those who laughed at TMAs in the ’90’s and ’00’s), ceding its position as a combat sport to another, yet-undiscovered style.
- The increase in preparedness and survival issues, along with increased crime, will lead to a Renaissance of self-defense training. With such horrendous events as 9/11 and more recently the Colorado movie theater shooting in the news and increasingly in our awareness, the general public will begin to recognize the wisdom of learning to defend themselves rather than rely upon overworked and understaffed police departments. This training may well make use of firearms as well as empty-hand training and may take many of its concepts from such military systems as LINE and MCMAP.
- Traditional martial arts will experience a resurgence. Besides serving as a base of information for MMA to use in their quest for expansion, there will be a core group of hardcore traditionalists that wish to preserve and continue their arts, no matter what the current fads are. Rightly or wrongly they will think of themselves as the Mercedes-Benzes of the martial arts world – expensive and exclusive and certainly not for everyone.
- Fewer martial arts will be “discovered”. We’ve pretty much exhausted most of the world’s supply of martial arts, barring someone finding ancient Polish scrolls showing some brand-new way of fighting or some explorer unearthing a storeroom of unique weapons in Switzerland. Instead, we’ll see a continuing blending of martial arts with some configurations being proclaimed “new” styles. Bruce Lee’s statement of “use what is useful” will become the mantra of the next generation of martial artists.
Here’s to the future!