I have a few instructional videos on YouTube, and naturally, they're viewed by all types of people, and of course everyone on the Internet thinks they've been anointed as experts in all things.
Yesterday, someone left a question on one of the videos -- "How would that stand up to an MMA fighter?"
In the last decade, I've heard that question more and more.The question is usually directed at the internal arts that I practice, or kung-fu, or karate, taekwondo, etc.
The implication is that traditional martial arts are useless and MMA is the real fighting art.
I'd like to answer that question this way -- oh, shut up.
I'm 58 years old as I write this. I'll soon be 59 and 14 months from now, I'll be 60. The last real fight I was in was at age 18. If you're keeping score, that's more than 40 years ago. I hadn't studied kung-fu at that point.
I was always a good fighter as a kid and teenager. I was in many fights. In those days, boys were considered sissies if they backed down from a fight. One of the few life lessons my father told me was at an early age. He said, "Kenny, never run from a fight." I never did.
But once you become an adult, if you have any intelligence at all you understand that fights can land you in jail, cause you to lose your job, and land you in court. Fighting is simply not a good move unless your life is in danger.
And now we come to the subject of art. The reason martial arts are called "arts" is because there is much more to it than fighting. There's philosophy, there's self-discipline and self-mastery, there's technique and power, there's tradition and history, there's the physical and also the mental balance -- it's a way of life for many of us, not just a way to learn how to beat people up. I knew how to beat up bullies long before I ever stepped into a dojo. The martial arts have made me better at it, but I have no intention of ever using that knowledge.
I got into martial arts in 1973 because I wanted to learn how to protect myself even better than I already could, but I was also intrigued by the philosophy. As I studied the techniques and the arts, I also studied Taoism, Zen Buddhism, and it had a profound effect on how I look at the world.
As I studied, and especially after I discovered Chen tai chi around 1998, I began to see the arts as multi-dimensional, with layers that could only be reached by hard work, attention to detail, and practice. I'm still working at it, despite health setbacks during the past 3 years.
I have respect for MMA. I know that many of them are tough fighters and they learn a lot of varied techniques from different arts. But in 40 years, I want to see some MMA fighters who have been in their arts as long as I have and still are able to walk or speak without stutters, or have joints that work. I have a feeling the damage would cause men to drop out of that art many years earlier. Most trained boxers would be able to whip other men, but boxing is an art that requires you to take a lot of damage. A concussion is not something to play around with, but for boxers, it's part of the game. You don't see many 60-year old boxers. Sometimes, you see boxers who have been damaged, like my hero Muhammad Ali.
I've known several young guys who took up MMA. I've heard of injuries that kept some of them on the sidelines. I know one famous MMA fighter and coach who is said to have dropped out because his body had taken too much punishment and he was broken down in his early forties.
As a martial art, MMA is fine. It's pretty realistic. There are no forms to learn. There's not a lot of tradition, and not much in the way of philosophy. It certainly can teach you to fight.
And then what?
If your only goal in a martial art is to be tougher than any other man alive, you have a lot of work to do. If that's what you want, go for it.
I've seen people who studied traditional martial arts who were able to defend themselves just fine when they needed to, and that's what counts.
So if you want to make the case that some tough MMA guy could kick my ass, I'll cheerfully admit that it might be true. I'm old enough and wise enough to know that nobody can whip everybody. On the other hand, I don't ever expect to be in a fight against an MMA champion or a Golden Gloves boxing champ.
Put me in a time machine and let me emerge at age 20 and I'd love to study MMA style fighting for a while. But before long, I'd gravitate back to kung-fu because it's a lot cooler than MMA (there's a reason they make Kung Fu Movies) and because traditional martial arts -- for most of us who can see deeper than the fighting -- have a lot more to offer in many, many ways.
For the rest of my life, I'll do what good martial artists do -- avoid situations that can become violent. But if I ever have to take action to defend myself or someone else, it will much more likely be like the incident below instead of against an MMA fighter.
And this one isn't bad, either.