Thoughts from our Dojo

The Future of Martial Arts

By Sensei Bill Stimpson (Sep 2010)

I have been asked to compile an essay on the Future of Martial Arts. It is crucial at this time to keep an open mind, as this is only the opinion of a person who has only been exposed to the arts for a matter of 20 years.  This is a mere drop in the bucket in comparison to the lifetime of study of others.

Please keep an open Mind” is a phrase that is very critical in one’s training. The ability to hear new ideas and incorporate them or cast them aside makes one a student. We all start off as a White Belt or Beginner; we absorb each new idea shown to us as best we are able. Then the challenge becomes to use the technique shown to us. As individuals we all have physical strengths and weaknesses and are all different body types; male, female, tall, short, wide, thin, etc. The goal of the instructor is to keep the art form being taught as pure as possible.  This is to be said for all forms be it Goju Karate or Shorin-Ryu Karate, Kung-Fu, Ju-Jitsu etc. etc. All forms of Martial Arts have specific strengths and weaknesses also. The individual’s challenge is to find which style suits his or her physical strengths and/or body type. It is however, I feel, false to say that only certain people can do certain things. This is a racial and physical stereotype, not so. I feel any person can, with proper training, accomplish anything. People have for years been amazed by the Martial Arts. The mystery behind the feats of Super Human Strength; the examples of Board Breaking and Brick Smashing have often been witnessed with awe and wonder. The question then is “How are these things physically possible?” The link between mind and body now comes into play. The Martial Artist must learn to control not only his or her body, but also control the mind. The continuing study then becomes how to control both the body and mind to work in harmony.

People have long been fascinated by the strength of the Martial Arts, both physically and mentally. The link between good physical health and mental health was made by Martial Artists years ago. Chinese medicine far pre-dates most of our early medical concepts. Is there a link between Martial Arts and good health? I feel yes, most definitely. Through the practice of Martial Arts, you become physically active, this leads to better physical health and in turn better mental health. We see here again the mind-body link. It has been over the past few years, with the popularity of the high profile UFC and various other fight leagues, that people seem to be looking for a hybrid of Martial Arts – “the Mixed Martial Artist”. Here we ask the questions “What is a Mixed Martial Artist? What is a well rounded practitioner?” The fight leagues or pros such as UFC seem to lean towards a person who can strike like a Karate-Ka or Boxer, subdue an opponent like a Ju-Jitsu Artist with joint locks and holds, and a Wrestler on the mat to maneuver into the best position to dominate then pound your opponent to submission or knock-out. So it would seem that people are not just looking for a specific art, Karate, Judo, Ju-Jitsu, but a mix of all fighting skills combined. If we look at history we see Bruce Lee and his hybrid of various forms; Kung-Fu, Karate, Boxing, Fencing, footwork combined uniquely to form his Jeet Kun Do. I think that Bruce Lee was on an interesting path, to take the best of other art forms and combine them with his own.

If a person decides to combine and mix ‘n match styles, if you will, the question then is “What goes with what?” My personal opinion is that we first look at our own style to see if it is as complete as it should be, then what other forms blend with what we know. We must consider what it is we are looking for in a self-defense. Is what we are looking for realistic? A Law Enforcement Officer may be looking for ways to take down and control an opponent – realistic, others may look to be like Jackie Chan and take on all comers – not so realistic.

I am a Goju-Ryu practitioner; I have been in Goju for almost twenty years. When I first started in Goju I had no idea about styles of Karate, or not much knowledge of any Martial Arts for that matter. I learned like so many of us about Martial Arts from the media TV shows like “Kung Fu” and “Green Hornet”, movies such as “Enter the Dragon” with Bruce Lee, “Force of One” with Chuck Norris etc. I was taught the origins of Martial Arts, of its father and creator “Bo Darma”, a 4th Century Indian Monk who travelled to China to a Shaolin Monastery. There he taught the monks the early roots of what was to become Shaolin Kung Fu, one of the most well recognized and respected forms of that Art. I was also taught of a tiny island off the coast of Japan known as Okinawa. Okinawa is the birthplace of Karate, my personal favorite form Goju-Ryu to be precise. It was on this small island that the first Mixed Martial Artists began to train and develop. This island was a small trade port; it was at that time the World was opening up to trade. This small post was influenced by different cultures from around the World. The people of the island mixed different fighting techniques with their own to develop Karate. It was here, in Okinawa in the Nineteen-Twenties, that Chojun Miyagi developed what he had been taught into his fighting style, known as Goju-Ryu. Goju translates into Hard and Soft, a complete system of Karate. It is my feeling that the original versions of Goju were more complete, they included joint locks, pressure point applications, even throws as in Judo. I feel that after the War, the form of Goju that was taught was a changed version. Miyagi suffered personal loss as did most survivors of the War, on both sides. The result was that the Post-War Arts that were taught were not Combat Arts as before, but a gentler form; the Katas became the focus. The question then became “Where did the other techniques go?” I would submit that the techniques are still there if we search for them. I feel the Katas of our own Goju-Ryu style were changed for safety reasons when Karate was introduced to the school system in the 1920s. The killing aspects were not stressed for obvious reasons; this changed the presentation of the Katas to a softer approach. I feel to be a complete Artist it is important for us to research some, if not all of the lost teachings to fully understand the Art. I have heard it said that a practitioner can spend a lifetime on one Kata; Sanchin for example is a Life Kata.

Today, life is evolving at an alarmingly fast rate. Technological advances that put volumes of information at our fingertips and bring the other side of the World to our living rooms; all of this seems to be faster and faster, to what end? I wonder if people will want to train in an Art that takes a Lifetime to perfect. The Martial Arts must Change! The challenge for the instructor will be to offer a mix of forms that will satisfy the masses. The difficult part will be to stay true to the Traditions of the various Arts. One thing this does for a practitioner of a particular Art is to allow a deep dissection, to look long and hard at a particular form. The point, to see if your chosen art is well rounded, or does it have limitations. I have taken a deep look at my chosen style, Goju; and have determined that the more I look, the more if I find it to be very complete. Some would say this is a biased opinion; I would have to agree. My opinion is that to look to the Future, we must first fully scan the Past and Present. This may allow us to find the answers we seek within the style we currently practice!

If you don’t currently train in Martial Arts, perhaps I can strongly suggest one,

Goju, Perhaps!