Traditional Martial Arts ... are you sure?
Now let me start by saying this article is to promote debate and thought, not to make any claims or dogma.
However it is really quite an interesting thought, that our perceptions of the word ‘traditional’ in the martial arts world is perhaps accepted almost glibly without any real thought about it.
When does any martial art actually qualify for the tag ‘traditional’, a lifetime, a decade a millennium?
It may come as a surprise to many that actually English Ju-Jutsu is FORTY (40) years older than Japanese Karate. After all, Ju-Jutsu landed on our shores in the mid 1880’s and Karate was unheard of in Japan until the mid 1920’s.
Also, although Kunakoshi Gichin DID introduce Karate to Japan, and termed what he did “Shoto-Kan”, his Shotokan bears little resemblance to today’s Shotokan,
It was his son Yoshitaka who lengthened the stances and added or altered many techniques. Funakoshi was Okinawan and did Okinawan style Kara-Te ... short stances etc.
So what really is traditional Japanese Karate? Is it Funakoshi’s or Yoshitaka’s?
Another point well worth remembering is the role of ‘kata’ in karate ... most ‘traditional’ karate-ka will make a claim on the lines of “the real heart of true karate is in the katas” ... fair enough.
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Now ask these same people to list the 6 most common KICKS in Karate. In English they would probably be (in no special order) ...Front Kick ... Side Kick ... Roundhouse Kick ... Reverse Roundhouse Kick ... Stamp Kick ... Axe Kick.
Again fair enough, but if the ‘true’ heart of karate are the katas, and two of the most popular and often taught kicks are Roundhouse & Reverse Roundhouse ...Then where are the traditional Katas with these two kicks in them?
So it leaves us with what exactly IS traditional karate, given that most Japanese styles are less than 70 years, and some less than 40 years old.
Judo doesn’t escape it either .. Yes Jigoro Kano founded Judo in the late 1880’s. Yet he was a JU-JUTSU teacher, and early Judo was really another form of Ju-Jutsu. He (Kano) was known to be totally against Judo as a competitive art/sport.
Modern day Judo is really just an excellent form of jacketed wrestling (with all due deference to a great art). It certainly ISNT traditional in the same way as the ‘true’ origins indicate.
Tae Kwon Do ... many people actually believe that TKD is THOUSANDS of years old ... not so. It came about at the end of the Korean War in the mid to late 1950’s. LESS than 60 years in 2013.
Yet its ROOTS through Moo Duk Kwan, Tang Soo Do, Hwrang Do etc, do go back centuries, that’s true, but Tae Kwon Do as we know it today with its Olympic style and more ‘traditional style’, is NOT yet 50 years old.
So is TKD a traditional martial art?
The West doesn’t get away with it either ... take Boxing ... a great sport that many would call a ‘traditional’ British Art. Once tagged “The Noble Art of Self-Defence”, it’s far from that now as a modern well regulated and well organised sport.
Its origins are a combination of early Anglo-Saxon Fist Fighting and Roman Fist Fighting, known together as “PAG”. PAG became “PUG” , which became Pugilism.
We have had Pugilism, Bare Knuckle, Prize Ring, London Prize Ring, Broughton Rules all leading up to “Marquis of Queensbury”.
All slightly differing styles... after all you could Wrestle as well in Prize Ring, and there were no timed rounds or real weight categories.
Rules in Boxing have changed many times in the past 100 years and today’s Amateur and Professional sports are very different from their roots ... traditional? ... Hardly.
Wrestling ... well this would take several articles to cover it. Some ‘traditional’ styles like Cornish Wrestling are still more or less unchanged.
Catch, or Catch-as-Catch-Can came from “Catch Hold” wrestling, and regional rivalries and styles makes a genuine history very hard to research and produces many varieties.
To say wrestling is probably the OLDEST form of close in combat known to Man is probably true... but it is totally impossible to say WHICH style is the first and most traditional.
Some countries maintain a traditionstyle; others have evolved over the centuries.
Even weapons have both a traditional history and a modern equivalent ... Look at Breast Plate and Helmet of the Spanish Conquerors. Then look at Flack Jacket and Helmet of today’s Army... the same or different... both do the same job.
The Seal Knot Society ‘re-enact’ English Civil War Battles, Knaseby and so on. Yet although their clothing and weapons are ‘traditional’, it’s impossible for their battle-field techniques to be correct. After all a few dozen men charging at each other holding Pikes, and Swords etc could hardly attack each other with genuine techniques, they can REALLY stab each other etc. So even these ‘traditional’ re-enactments aren’t traditional.
So have a real think, when you make a claim that you are doing a traditional martial art. What MAKES it traditional ... is it just ‘time’ or just claims from its practitioners.
Chances are it won’t perhaps be quite as traditional as you might believe.
Dave Turton 9th Dan
EDITORS NOTE- Amazing article and thanks Dave