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Is modern martial arts effectiveness intentionally reduced?

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( 4 months ago )


Reading the "Taekwondo Grappling Techniques" book (Dr. Tony Kemerly and Steve Snyder, Tuttle Publishing, 2009), the first chapter provides an interesting overview of Taekwondo history, and the influences from Chinese and Japanese martial arts. It goes into detail on how Okinawan Karate came to be, and how Brazilian Jiu Jitsu originated from Judo.

The general "thesis" of the book is that the block - counter attack techniques are watered down versions of the much more lethal block -grab - counter attack techniques, and goes on showing how each type of block can evolve into a grab.

The authors trace this trend back to 19th century Karate, when it was introduced in Okinawa's elementary school curriculum:

In 1868 however, this all changed. Japan moved from a feudalistic government to a democratic one that resulted in a few changes to the martial arts.

The martial arts began to be taught as a way to promote the values of the past. This was done by using the martial arts to foster health, spirit, morality, and national identity, instead of the most efficient way to disable an opponent.

Finally, a sportification of Japanese martial arts began. This switch to a more holistic, sporting martial art gained ground in 1908 when Itosu “Anko” Yasutsune was able to incorporate karate training into the physical education programs in all elementary schools on Okinawa. In order to do this however, a few changes needed to be made to the art. For these changes, he was often criticized for effectively watering down the combat efficacy of karate.

He disguised the more dangerous techniques, i.e. grappling, and taught the art as one primarily based on blocking and punching. No combative application was taught for any technique, meaning the patterns were taught without their application thereby making them no different than any of the traditional dances popular at the time.

Lastly, deceptive names were given to the techniques that were taught, such as “high block” or “low block”. Prior to this, what we know as a “high block” or “low block” was utilized as a striking or grappling technique in addition to its role in blocking. It is now clear that karate patterns did at one time contain more than just striking and blocking techniques.

This strikes me as generally true for modern martial arts, particularly Kungfu and Taekwondo, that tend to become sports or performing arts, rather than disabling or killing opponents.

Is it fair to say that modern martial arts are intentionally made less effective, in order to appeal to a broader range of people?



( 4 months ago )


Absolutely. Though I would say it's the case for modern "traditional" martial arts. There are some martial arts that have not been affected. Here are the main two reasons for what you're seeing (I use "scary", but I could have used "dangerous" or "violent" as well):

  • Fighting is too scary for kids

Effective martial arts are a hard sell for parents, and many large traditional martial arts gyms prioritize membership (money) over teaching effective combat techniques. Many parents would much rather their child throw some kicks at the air, or a bag, rather than see them learn to take someone down and sink in a rear naked choke. Fighting is brutal and violent, and there is an attempt to mask that from the general public that just want an activity for their child. Belt promotions come quickly and easily to keep the children interested, and the parents seeing "progress".

  • Fighting is too scary for adults

In the early 1990's MMA shot up in popularity. The UFC and Pride were major fighting organizations that showcased every fighting style that wanted to participate. This forced martial arts gyms to a fork: Can we train actual fighters? Or should we train the general public? (I should note that many MMA gyms do both) For many traditional gyms there was not a choice, their martial art was not effective on its own in MMA. A gym that wanted to teach strictly striking martial arts would not produce effective fighters, as they wouldn't train grappling. The same went for strictly grappling gyms that wouldn't train striking.

The result was a lot of fighters and prospective fighters moving away from the traditional gyms, to the MMA gyms. This left behind the hobbyists and sport fighters at the traditional gyms. Weeding out the fighters meant the majority of customers weren't going to demand an effective combat system. They weren't going to question a less hardcore curriculum. They were there to have fun and get a workout.

On a side note, two older martial arts that have not been affected by this are Boxing and Wrestling. These two were never popular with the casual crowd in the first place (I suspect due to live sparring being necessary). I came up in traditional martial arts and eventually switched to MMA, so I had the unique experience of seeing this unfold first hand.

what's your interest