Something has crept up not so subtly on the Martial Arts Society of today. That would be the use of Martial Arts for the sake of Self-image. A gigantic leap away from the path that most traditionalists would call "The Way". I had originally speculated that this would be just a passing phase that would soon be forgotten, what with my past experiences and the past experiences of other martial artists I know being filled with grueling training sessions comprised of blood and sweat. However, it would seem that I have been proven wrong. Not only are there a rapidly growing number of "martial artists" with no true grasp of the origins and the fact that these arts were based on the need for survival, but these "martial artists" are being validated in this false path by instructors that are either willing to sell out and abandon the path that they were on in order to see a fiscal benefit or false instructors with nothing past a basic level of knowledge in any given discipline that they turn around and sell it in a different package. Let's take a look at some examples of this: the fads, the lies, and the image. Lastly, I'll cover the truth.
The Fads: One of the easiest to pick out would be the "Ninja" fad. It is understandable to have masses of people wanting to know about and learn the arts of the Ninja. Yet, when most of the lovers of the Ninja are examined, you find what is really a "tricker". A "tricker" is a person who has become very proficient in the flashy moves most commonly associated with martial arts thanks to movies. They primarily use special skill sets, not martial art skill sets. They employ flips, impractical techniques and usually never have a steady grasp on basic level skills or how to execute any particular martial art procedure properly. Ask one of them to do a back hand spring and they will do it flawlessly, ask them to demonstrate and execute a proper cross punch and they will be utterly lost. In essence, you now have a very effective cheerleader... but a very poor martial artist. Even worse, these ninjas are usually quick to brag about their supposed fighting skills so now you have a cheerleader who thinks they're a tough guy who will unfortunately find out the hard way that doing a back flip with a kick to the face doesn't end well against a moving, hostile target. You'd be surprised to see how many of the ninja's truly believe that just like they have seen in the movies, their opponent will stand still in shock and awe of their acrobatic skills and allow them perform a highly complex spinning jumping kick that in all actuality only requires moving half an inch to evade the technique. Alas, thus is the media's effect on today's society. Thanks to this fad you also have a large number of people who doubt many legitimate martial artists skills because many true martial artists aren't extremely proficient in special skill sets, only very talented in the art of killing, maiming, and hurting people. In this case you can have a black belt in Karate demonstrate a perfect kata with all techniques performed superbly and immediately after people with the uneducated eye start wanting to judge the display of skill as amateur at best and start requesting the black belt perform a series of flips and aerial techniques without thinking of the fact that Karate is an art that requires the practitioner to be well planted to execute exceptionally powerful techniques, therefore complicated aerial flips and kicks are usually ruled out from what would be used in actual combat do to the high risk of injury against a competent opponent. There are more examples that could be listed but that would just lead to rambling on. For now I think my point is well illustrated.
The Lies: Again I will have to pick out the Ninja as a good example. This time it isn't so much the practitioner’s fault as is it is poor or false instructors. Walk into a few so-called Ninja schools and what you find is a watered down version of Karate or Tae Kwon Do. Everyone wearing their all black GI’s or Ninja uniforms, and all the students with bright eyes looking enthused about learning the sacred arts of the Ninja when all they are being shown is basic level blocks, punches and kicks. This isn't to say that all Ninja schools are lies but many people are unfortunately very trusting of instructors who claim to teach an art that is based on deception. Also, too many times I have heard of friends who have enlisted their kids in "martial arts" classes without the realization that most child level martial arts classes are nothing but glorified baby-sitting services. They shell out hundreds of dollars on overpriced uniforms and overpriced belt exams only to find out that their "Junior Black Belt" barely knows how to punch, has no self-discipline, and absolutely no idea what martial arts really is. If all you want is for your kid to have sloppy form and mediocre fighting prowess that will probably end up backfiring on them because as I know children have the same capacity for bragging as adults and will boost feverishly about their "formidable" fighting abilities and end up getting punched repeatedly in the face. Your call. My advice, any school you plan to enlist yourself or your kids it should be researched thoroughly. Not only because you want to make sure that the school is legit, and there are schools out there that teach legitimate martial arts to children, but upon studying what the style's core philosophies are about you may want to reconsider what kind of classes you are getting your kid into based on your own morals. That's a lesson for a different time though.
The Image: So now we hit the final negative of this article. The image of a martial artist is what I find that most people, primarily young men, are attracted to. I was a victim of media's glamorizing the image myself, but thankfully I have had some extremely well grounded people of many different styles to train with that have opened my eyes. I first began training in martial arts officially at the age of 19 after having seen a video that was comprised entirely of "tricking" and no martial arts, but I firmly believed that if I could learn to do all the flips and fancy aerial techniques I’d just witnessed that I would be a great martial artist. I was proved wrong... very wrong. What is portrayed as martial arts and devoured by the masses are either well-choreographed moves used to show techniques applied with perfect timing and space between the combatants or something closer to Parkour with flips. Even MMA which is frequently boasted as the closest thing to real combat that you can get is skewed. Its stances and techniques have built in flaws due to the rules places on the fighters. This isn't to say that there is anything wrong with it as a sport, but for practitioners of MMA to truly believe that they are learning the best way to fight when they are usually taught posture that leaves vital striking points such as the groin wide open is false. They will probably hold up well in a brawl but what people need to bear in mind is that traditional martial arts such as Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Taejutsu, and Gung Fu where made in times when these rules didn't exist and were designed to be lethal. While in order to have them stay current with the introduction of guns and other types of advanced weaponry does require some adjustments it doesn't mean that they are entirely outdated. Last time I checked the human body still breaks in all the same ways it did 500 years ago. Basically what I'm getting at here is that the image that people project and aim to obtain by taking most martial arts classes today isn't the true heart of martial arts.
The Truth: As I said above, the traditional styles have been around for so long for a reason. They work. It's as simple as that. At the heart of most of these traditional martial arts there were also the factors of self-discipline and control. This is helpful when in today's world you are required to stop defending yourself when you knock someone to the ground and in some states legally required to starting running away as soon as you break away from your aggressor, which is incredibly hard to do when your adrenaline is pumping into you and the only thing you can think of is crushing your opponent. Self-control comes in handy then. The truth is that martial arts at its core is a tough path to follow and most people, from what I’ve seen, lack the heart necessary to endure it. It's not about the attention, fortune or fame. Most of my training is refined to the inside of my house and I’ve debated with too many testosterone driven youths for me to speak as openly as I used to about my practices. Ultimately, just be honest with yourself, if you do martial arts forms and take the classes because you want to stay in shape, have fun while you do it, and maybe pick up so knowledge that can save your life someday – great! If you do MMA because you love the sport and you want to be a champion of it - great. If you have found in your heart that you have the calling of the warrior inside of you and you decide to walk the path of the modern martial artist. Amazing. Whatever you do and why you practice the martial arts is fine. Just be honest with yourselves and who you really are. Be it fitness enthusiast, tricker, sportsman, or martial artist.