Traditional vs Modern: wrong thinking

19 Nov


I occupy a rather unique position in the larger martial arts community. I don’t want that interpreted as “special,” or “better,” or as some sort of conceit. I am just explaining my perspective and how I arrived at it. I spent the early part of my life receiving some excellent traditional training. I’ve always said it was just blind luck; I take no credit for it. I stumbled upon the late Pong Ki Kim and received excellent, authentic Korean martial arts training. I stumbled upon my Hung Ga training, in a small private setting where I got quality instruction and personal attention. I stumbled upon Shihfu Jeng Hsin Ping’s Shuai Jiao (Chinese wrestling) school. I initially wasn’t even interested in meeting Chan Tai-San when he was first suggested to me. Can you imagine that?


My cross training, in modern methods, in modern combat sports, was a much more conscious effort. I actively sought out instruction in areas I felt I was either weak or completely lacking. However, I appear to have had the same blind luck in many respects; I had opportunities to train with so many great figures in that world. I was honored to even develop relationships and friendships with a few. Truly I tell you, I am not special in any way. I am just and extremely lucky guy who was blessed by forces beyond me.


As a result of my unique position, I have been able to develop some interesting relationships with some disparate groups. So I suspect my audience will be mixed and I’ve tried to write with the intent of connecting with each group and finding common ground. First, and I suspect perhaps the majority who will read it, come from Traditional Martial Arts (TMA) community. While some seem to have an automatic antipathy towards the modern approach to martial arts, most simply don’t know much about it. My hope is that this book might suggest to them the potential benefits and new insights the modern approach offers. For the second group, my friends in the modern, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) community I’d like this volume to suggest new training methods, ways of improving their programs in their schools and finally, to suggest to them that these two groups can benefit from each other and should be working together towards the future of all martial arts.

pkkim school

– Traditional Martial Arts (TMA)

As a person with an extensive traditional martial arts background who now runs a school and program with a modern, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) approach, I am still somewhat puzzled by the traditional martial arts community’s resistance and, at times, outright hostility to Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). If you are a real traditional martial artist, you should be thrilled to see the fighting arts finally getting the attention they deserve. You should also take this opportunity to re-invigorate your practice and your school.

If you haven’t already done so, sit down and watch a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) event; Straight punches, hook punches, front kicks, round kicks, sidekicks, foot sweeps, throws, takedowns, joint locks and chokes. These are techniques we’ve all practiced, which we all have in our self-defense programs, which we all have in our forms, sets, Hyungs or Kata.

If you are from the traditional Chinese martial arts community, I always point out that traditional Chinese martial arts has the “Si Ji Fa” (四擊法) or the Four Martial Arts Skills. These four skills are Ti (踢) Kicking, Da (打) Striking, Shuai (摔) Grappling and Throwing, and Na (拿) Seizing and Controlling. Is this not a central aspect of our tradition? Do Chinese martial arts not teach us that these four skills are essential and MUST fully integrated? To me, sure does sound like “mixed martial arts” is hardly a new concept, it is rather ALWAYS been a Chinese martial arts concept.

Clearly, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) didn’t invent the techniques being used in modern combat sports. They are drawn from traditional martial arts systems and we’ve all learned them. Nor is the idea of competitive fighting really unique either, but that’s for another book perhaps? The difference between Traditional Martial Arts (TMA) and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is not “what” they train; it is “how” they train.


– Modern Martial Arts (MMA)

I am certainly not the first person to substitute the word “Modern” for “Mixed” in the acronym MMA. It isn’t just marketing, or a gimmick. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) really is a modern way of viewing the martial arts, though its rapid growth has been accompanied by its own share of issues.

As I write this, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (“UFC”), the foremost Mixed Martial Arts event in the world, is over two decades old. The first UFC introduced (really re-introduced, but again, that is another book) the United States martial arts community to the idea of Mixed Martial Arts. Initially, the Mixed Martial Arts approach appealed to those who had backgrounds in traditional martial arts but had run away from the more restrictive and ridiculous aspects of traditional martial arts. People like me, with backgrounds in Chinese or Korean or Japanese martial arts, started practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling, started sparring with more contact and in more open formats allowing more legal techniques.

Today, Mixed Martial Arts has become its own community and many members of that community have never done a traditional martial art. People have actually grown up watching the UFC and its television series, “Ultimate Fighter,” and when they got old enough, signed up a facility dedicated to MMA. It’s cliché of course, but these guys show up in their MMA clothing and do a few punches, a few kicks, some takedowns and some rolling. Today’s MMA facility is NOT a martial arts school and these guys never get that sense of tradition, structure or respect.

When your community is twenty-something-year-olds whose entire frame of reference is the most elite, professional combat sport in the world, you get misperceptions of reality and you also risk raising a generation of potential bullies. The modern MMA person is under the false perception that every martial arts teacher should be a professional fighter and every student should also be some sort of fighter. This is clearly not reality. The MMA community is also quickly learning that a head instructor’s primary responsibility isn’t to be a great fighter; it is to be a teacher and a coach, and often a mentor.

In the combat sports community, I think my best friends are those affiliated with Muay Thai (Thai boxing). They engage in practical fighting, they approach training progressively, but they also have a connection with a tradition. It is somewhat ironic, but the art that gave birth to modern MMA, Brazilian Jiu-Jistu, is also a VERY TRADITIONAL in many aspects. They have uniforms, use belts ranking, bow in before class, have huge respect for their teachers and lineages, etc.

Personally, I think of my curriculum and school as a practical, hardworking but also TRADITIONAL martial art. I have two primary martial arts teachers; Chan Tai San and Pong Ki Kim. We respect them and realize the core of what we do is based upon their teachings. We have kept a ranking structure, acknowledge our lineage and try to cultivate respect. I am still “SIFU” in my school. I would say we have more in common with an art like Kyokushinkai than with the modern MMA facility.


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