Are traditional martial arts a thing of the past?

While perusing a local book store I was in search of a few martial arts books when I noticed a shortage of books on the traditional martial arts.  There were few books on Karate, a few on Shaolin, and even fewer on internal martial styles.  What I did see, was a growing section on mixed martial arts and ultimate fighting. RadachPic.jpg

 So, to verify my suspicions I went to at least two more book stores of the national chain variety and I saw the same trend.  I began to wonder if we are seeing the death of the “classical” or traditional martial arts.  Have any of you seen this trend?  Do you think its a natural evolution or a trend based on the popularity of the mixed martial arts on T.V.?  Humm, maybe its just me.


17 comments on “Are traditional martial arts a thing of the past?

  1. Yes I’ve seen it. I’ve been running a weekly martial arts news for a few years now and it’s harder and harder to find news about classical martial arts.

    I hope it’s just a trend. It would be a sad thing to see traditional schools close.

    See my latest post. (I had to work hard to find stuff other than MMA)

  2. Pingback: Martial Arts News 9.28.08 « Striking Thoughts

  3. I think it is simply a media reaction to the popularity of MMA. There are lots of traditional schools around, and I think that book publishers are just jumping on the NEW HOT THING.

  4. That is a very good question. At one time I thought the traditional style of martial arts was dead too. By accident I found a studio called the Chinese Shao-lin Center. Here is a description of the art:

    “Shao-Lin Kung Fu” is the original form of Martial Arts dating back over 1500 years! It was founded by Buddhist Monks in the Honan Province of Northern China to disipline and preserve both the mind and the body. Their self defense skills were considered so impressive that these practitioners were called “Warrior Monks”!

    I am only a brown belt as we speak, but I have learned that the art is all about survival. It is definitely not a sport and their tactics are effective and brutal.

    We should be thankful to the teachers in this art that keep classical martial arts alive. If not for them, our society would probably descend into a beer drinking, smack-talking society of sports fighting and entertainment. I mean to say, that the original martial arts would truly be lost to us forever.

  5. Paul C, thanks for coming by and I really enjoyed the truth of the quote you added in.

    Aaron, I hope you’re right.

    Bob, I am happy to know its not only me seeing this trend. At one point I could go to the local chain bookstore and find almost any martial art. However, now the traditional arts are slowly being replaced by the MMA. The way the U.S. trends MMA could soon replace the traditional schools and we would be considered students of the past.

  6. For “effectiveness”, sure, (leaving sport vs. street debates out) more people practicing mma is likely more educational than a few people trying to mix and match something like judo + boxing on their own – more minds/bodies, more findings. There are no traditional battlefield fights with swords, etc., in this day and age, but why do we lament old arts of any kind giving way to new? Mostly it has to do with nostalgia and the inability of humans to adapt due to “attachments” (in the Buddhist sense), I would guess.

    As far as “traditional” arts disappearing, doesn’t seem likely for the most mainstream ones – try taking your kids to find a martial arts school – there is a lot of “traditional” taekwondo. Certain obscure arts, especially CMA, do seem to be disappearing, though.

  7. With or without mma, we are, almost by definition, students of the past. People talk about things like “effective on the battlefield” but they are talking about past methods of war. Not to say they’re NOT “effective” or to bring up the sport vs. street debate, but the whole context is different.

    The art that started the mma craze is bjj (Gracies starting the first UFC), which basically comes from judo, which in and of itself is a “mixed” martial art from various “traditional” jujutsu schools. At least in Japanese martial arts, “jutsu” gave way to “do” (or Tao or Dao) as the need for these battlefield techniques disappeared with those types of battles disappearing, and martial arts as a sport or self-actualization or fitness started to gain prominence. That trend has been going on for over 100 years – it is nothing new just because the sport format of mma as it exists today is relatively new.

  8. There is another problem that we are trying to solve which is to rate martial art schools so that parents and martial art beginners are able to find good schools and instructors. These are critical elements to start martial art !

  9. Sadly, I believe most traditional martial arts schools are fading away. They have become after school havens for child development. When old school fighting ( without safety gear ) gave way to tag. Much of the strong technique was lost. BJJ is great, as a belt system it may be the only hybrid/traditional martial art to survive. Of course muay Thai, and some forms of stronger kicking systems may flourish. But yes, Im afraid the Golder era is Gone. Ask yourself? Where have all the old Masters gone? Or have they just given way to new Masters,… MMA Masters. Who teach and understand complete fighting, from all ranges long, medium and short distance. I hope traditional Martial Arts will live on. It would be good for everyone.


  10. Monya, Thanks for coming by. Humm, where are the traditional masters?

    Martial Arts Supply, Greetings. A rating is an excellent idea. What would the ratings consist of?

  11. I feel that it is no so much traditional vs. MMA. When you look at MMA most people forget that it is in fact… A SPORT. Sports by definition, generally have a set of mutually agreed upon RULES. It comes back to what kind of instructor are you? If students are looking to be the next UFC champion that is wonderful. I hope however, that they donot lie and say that MMA is the “end all” art for the street. I feel that a MMA fighter and a traditional martial artist have equal chance to walk away with cuts in a knife attack. It is also important to remember that there is a major difference between Reality Based Martial Arts and Mixed Martial Arts.
    Finally, I feel traditional schools will always survive. It is the traditional schools that create better communities, it is traditional schools that promote peace as the way, and MOST IMPORTANT… IT IS THE TRADITIONAL SCHOOLS THAT TEACH THAT MARTIAL ARTS SOLE PURPOSE OF EXISTENCE IS TO PRESERVE LIFE!!!

    Enjoyed reading others thoughts though!

  12. I have read many posts on the Martial Arts in this venue. This one is interesting to me. Traditional schools may appear to be on the decline for many reasons. I don’t believe that we, here (USA), appreciate sufficiently what tradition is. Today all eyes are on MMA. That is OK by me. NO problems. Not everyone has the patience for the traditonal Arts. We don’t live in a Martial world anymore, and what we teach in traditional martial arts is just that…an art form. To many it’s boring. No one wields a Katana and Wakizashi any longer on the streets. Yet there are those who spend decades learning Iaido. The way of the sword. No one disembowels themselves through Sepuku today, yet again it takes decades to learn how to do it properly. After all, you only get one chance in reality to do it right? The same applies to the Japanese Tea Ceremony: Sha-no-yu. It is beautiful to watch and not much used any longer, yet to become properly proficient some will spend countless years learning exactly how many times the cup must be turned and wiped before it is placed in front of the guest.

    No, traditional karate is not going away. But there will be fewer who can truly claim a clean lineage to the old masters. But they will. But when you visit their Dojo, you will see people standing around chatting and socializing rather than focussing on what is to take place. Rather than performing the ritual cleaning of the dojo. After all, that’s the job of the sanitation guy, right? Wrong! Anyway, I can go on and on. But we traditionalists will be here for many years. Fewer, to be sure. But maybe less is better. Oss!

  13. Hiya – I found your oage by mistake. I was searching in Google for Accounting software that I had already purchased when I found your site, I have to say your website is pretty informative, I just love the theme, its amazing!. I don’t have the time today to totally read your entire site but I bookmarked it and also will sign up for your RSS feeds. I will be back around in a day or two. Thanks again for a awesome site.

  14. I think the “tradtional” vs. “MMA” debate is myopic. The vision we have of “traditional” martial arts is a myth perpetuated by popular media. MMA is also becoming defined by the media that is surrounding it.

    What does it mean to be traditional? Is it our appearance? If it means what kind of uniforms we wear, then there is nothing particularly “traditional” about old-style Chinese street clothes and samurai long johns. It was just the conventions of the day. The uniform of MMA is just the conventions of modern sport.

    Perhaps you mean training philosophy? There are as many MMA students who just want to hurt people as there are TMA students who want to learn “dim mak.” Both miss the point. When trained correctly, both MMA and TMA are about discipline and combat training.

    MMA is indeed the new fad. But so was “traditional” Karate, Ninjutsu, Shaolin Kung Fu, etc. What is it about the myth of MMA that is more offensive than the myth of TMA?

  15. As fighting systems, traditional martial arts have been obsoleted just as propeller airplanes, vacuum tubes and typewriters have been obsoleted.

    And not a moment too soon!

    When I was 18 years old (20 years ago, before UFC 1) I wanted to learn fighting skills. I thought that I’d find a boxing gym to learn punching, find a wrestling program to learn grappling, and join a karate school to learn to kick. There were not any boxing programs on campus and its hard to find someone to teach you wrestling after you graduated high school.

    But I found plenty of traditional martial arts schools (tae kwon do, aikido, wing chun) and they were a complete waste of my time. I trained hard for a few years and had nothing to show for it. If Americans had never gotten the idea that dressing like midieval Japanese rice farmers, dropping into deep stances and yelling “kiaaa” had something to do with fighting, I would’ve found a place to box and wrestle and had some fighting skill. I wish MMA had existed when I was young.

  16. Brant:

    In this debate, traditional martial arts means non-sport fighting systems and usually means systems that originated in Asia at least 50 years ago. You know it when you see it: deep stances, kata, chambered punches, screaming, counting in foreign languages, gi uniforms (when there’s no grappling), bowing and cult like behaviour.

    Boxing, wrestling, BJJ, Muay Thai, judo and MMA are not traditional martial arts because they are sports.

    Krav maga and “reality based” “self defense” systems are almost as bad as traditional martial arts (because they lack a sporting component) but probably wouldn’t be classified as traditional martial arts because they originated less than 50 years ago and are not from Asia.

    Your comment about all arts being both traditional and modern is a good point.

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