Is Old vs. New Really Necessary?

If you’re a martial artist or martial arts fan who isn’t into MMA, you’ve probably dealt with the criticisms of the traditional martial arts by the MMA crowd that they’re inferior since they don’t provide as much in the way of actual self-defense. In fact, there was a recent controversy in China over a bout between a Tai Chi master and an MMA fighter that was decisively finished in a matter of seconds by the MMA guy who was seeking to prove his practice’s supremacy over the others. He might have had the edge in that particular match, but his critics recognized something he failed to see: the traditional martial arts have a lot more to offer than protection from people with MMA and Krav Maga training.

Where do you engage most with martial arts practice, and what do you get out of it? That question is an easy way to address those sorts of criticisms. You’re more often than not in a relatively safe environment atop some comfortable martial arts mats, marveling at what your body is capable of when you push its limits, and ideally, you’re feeling a little meditative. Most martial arts masters will tell you that if you’re practicing karate in anticipation of having to punch or kick somebody who means you harm, you’re wasting your time—even the legendary Bruce Lee is said to have carried a gun, knowing full-well that his practice wasn’t the most responsible or effective way to protect himself. So, what else are you getting out of your practice?

Even though it seems like half the news about traditional martial arts has to do with some MMA fighter trouncing a karate expert or something, don’t feel discouraged if the modern self-defense-focused practices aren’t your speed. The traditional martial arts are as much about psychological and spiritual elevation as they are about the physical proficiency. So don’t worry yourself with popular opinion of the old arts—there’s a reason they’ve been around as long as they have.