In reality, the ‘martial’ notion of traditionalism is really an enigma. Modern, for me, has to do with ‘current’ concerns…the word ‘tradition’ can imply many things (look it up) however the essence I prefer is “A set of such customs and usages viewed as a coherent body of precedents influencing the present.” How I relate to this is simple: the warriors before us learned simple truths about combat (sometimes the hard way) and their writing and research should influence us. However, we must also integrate and respect the important and obvious changes that time and evolution have engendered.
While I may read, respect and quote Musashi, I don’t practice katana take-aways because most people (I know) don’t carry swords…I do practice gun defense because that is a modern concern. Musashi’s psychology on training and fighting is timeless, but his paradigm is dated. (In the future, when space pirates carry lasers, those who practice gun take-ways will be considered traditional not modern.)
The mainstream populace has always feared change and modernization and this same ‘clinging’ mind-set prevails in many respects in the martial art world. Example: My system is considered to be a ‘modern combat’ system, yet I consider it to be very traditional. How is this possible? In my schools we have no real rituals to speak of. Sensei and Sifu has been replaced with ‘Coach’. We practice pure street defense all the time. How is it I consider it ‘traditional’? Because ‘Truth’ is perception based and perception is always subjective.
When a system or style is first developed, irrespective of it’s methodology, virtues or values, it is generally labeled or type-cast as modern, radical, irreverent, rebel-like and a host of other PC and not so politically correct terms that are commonly used to describe ‘breakers of tradition’. But today’s modern eclectic will become tomorrow’s tradition.
As the world gets meaner and more violent, serious martial art instructors need to offer educational havens for those seeking solutions to those very real problems of fear and violence. Necessity is the mother of invention and so, the arts must change to adapt to the reality of the street. We need to move past traditional roots to address the problems that face us today.
What about the argument regarding traditional values and the contention that ‘street’ systems spawn more violent students because of the omission of these traditional values? Good question.
The issue of honor and integrity is not so easily addressed. The psychology of power (tripping) is fascinating and most of the problems boil down to that pejorative part of the ego. This quote from Abraham Lincoln sums it up best: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
Behavior is like a leopards spots…you can’t really change it at the core level. Nor can it be remedied with more belts, or enforced respect and fear. There is only one type of discipline and that is self-discipline. Creating stricter classes, more rules and penalties will not churn out better people. Our world has become morally anorexic.
Ironically, life has likely always been like this. And that was part of my point about tradition being an enigma. The world has always been separated by the debate over Good & Evil. The pejorative ego, comparison, judgment and petty debates over theoretical superiority, has always been around; it’s just out of control right now, because we are now. We are living it, rather than reading it. I bet three thousand years ago people had this very same conversation.
We have martial arts instructors being charged with assault, negligence, fraud, sexual misconduct; we have get your black-belt by mail video companies (guess what? they’re in business too, folks!). As far as tradition goes, the re-investment of Traditional values, at first glance, seems to be a valid remedy for our martial ills – but this is a just a Band-Aid treatment, a panacea.
People are the problem. Not styles, or tradition. In truth according to researchers, we generally become who we are going to be during our formative first 5 to 7 years of our life. There’s your answer. Modern reality-based Martial arts instructors can reinforce and introduce new values and virtues, but if the seeds haven’t been planted and the mind hasn’t been nourished, the heart won’t embrace it.
A brilliant therapist once said, “I always like to meet the parents, it helps me forgive the children.” You want to help fix the martial arts world? Take care of your home. Then and only then will the martial world be a ‘community’ based on spirit, healthy competition and warrior virtues like truth, trust, courage and honor.