While growing up in the 80’s, I was fascinated by all the amazing martial artists I saw on TV and in the movies. Because I was born in 1979, the years of Bruce Lee had come and gone and the most popular martial artists in cinema were Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Steven Seagal. These martial artists were so fun to watch because of their immense speed, agility, and their ability to show us fighting techniques that we had never even imagined possible. For me, these were the glory years of the martial arts.
I began taking Karate classes in the mid 80’s. After watching the 1984 classic “The Karate Kid”, my parents signed me up at the local dojo downtown and I immediately fell in love with the classes. While I did learn a lot about self-defense, the most important things that Karate taught me were discipline and respect for authority. As I got older and better at Karate, my self confidence grew, but I was taught to be humble and not fight unless in defense.
Fast forward to November 12, 1993, the day the Ultimate Fighting Championships hit pay-per-view for the first time. The UFC was meant to be a competition of individuals from many different martial arts in an attempt to help determine which style or instructor was the best. Out of this event, one thing became very clear….ground fighting is something not to be sneezed at. Prior to this event, the martial arts were characterized by people punching, kicking, and karate chopping to win a fight. After watching Royce Gracie win match after match by submission or choke, it became obvious that the martial arts would never be the same.
Since the first UFC, things have changed tremendously. While there are still dojos that only teach punching and kicking techniques, most schools that I visit now teach submission wrestling or ground fighting techniques in addition to their traditional routine. The martial arts are all about adapting to your opponent, and I think it is great how many of the traditional schools have adopted these techniques. We just need to be careful that we don’t lose the important values taught when learning the arts in a traditional dojo. Now at age 30, I’ve spent many years training in mixed martial arts schools, and while I like the casual environment many MMA schools embrace, I miss some of the old traditions like bowing in and reciting the philosophies of the style you are studying. While the mixed martial arts seem to be the direction everything is moving in, I will still always have a deep respect for the traditional arts I grew up with.