Saturday, April 9, 2016


By Phillip Starr

I once read a statement made by a popular martial arts teacher that said he hoped that his art would continue to grow and change with the times. That made me sit back and wonder if he really understood the implications of his words. And what, exactly, is meant by “changing with the times?”

As citizens of the 21st century, we like to think of ourselves as being fairly contemporary and “forward thinking.” Certainly, as our world becomes more modernized, many industries have found it essential to “change with the times.” We need only glance at modern medicine, the car industry, and state-of-the-art computer technology to understand the need and subsequent demand for what is “new and improved.”

Of course, we all know that just because something is labeled as being “new and improved” doesn't necessarily mean that it's good for you or for the environment. Oftentimes, what seemed like a good idea at the time sows the seeds of a disastrous future. This is certainly true of the martial disciplines that we practice.

On the sporting side of these arts, we've seen many changes over the years. I remember when the first hand and foot pads were introduced and I warned everyone that using these “new and improved” devices would ultimately result in a deterioration of our arts. No one listened. The results are now painfully obvious; real technique has, for the most part, been tossed by the wayside and a tap on the head is now scored as an effective “point.” Competitors have no real notion of what “control” means and the (combative) concept of distance has been all but completely obfuscated.

On the more practical side, we've seen some fairly dramatic changes. There are those who insist on training in military-style camouflage attire, complete with combat boots. They regard the traditional training uniform as old-fashioned and unrealistic. There are many who, being unable to “read the books” (understand the forms) that are used in the art(s) in which they have trained, throw them out the window and refer to them as being little more than “dances” or forms of exercise.

Times change”, they tell us. “So, the martial arts must change with them.” I agree that times change. The first part of such a statement is silly. OF COURSE times change! So, I would ask just what they mean when they say that “times change.” Are they inferring that people fight differently now than they did several hundred years ago? I doubt the validity of such a statement; none of us can really answer that question because we weren't plodding around this planet back then. Yes, I agree that the advent of the firearm certainly changed the situation to some degree but a number of well-qualified martial arts instructors have developed effective defensive maneuvers that can be employed against these kinds of weapons. Knives and bludgeons haven't changed much, nor have fists and feet.

I believe that the martial ways are just as valid today as they were several millennia ago. Sure, we've made some improvements in training equipment (although some of the older versions are actually superior to their more modernized cousins). We've improved teaching and training routines; back in the old days, students often learned by rote. They simply imitated the movements of their instructors without the benefits of being provided many of the small details and being permitted to ask questions. But is there a need to change the techniques and the traditional forms? I don't think so. Not at all.

They work just as well now as they ever did. They've survived the test of time; just because something is old doesn't means that it needs to be changed.